The following essay was published as a “Looking Forward” column in the October 2020 is of “:Works in Progress” of Olympia, Washington.
Our story begins with the 1988 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. All around the country, “Rainbow Coalitions” were organized at the local and state level in support of the campaign. In Washington state, there thus came into being an incipient state Rainbow Coalition with various components including the Thurston County Rainbow Coalition (TCRC).
In the aftermath of the November 1988 election various efforts were made to create ongoing Rainbow Coalitions. Here the state Rainbow Coalition under the leadership of Larry Gossett decided to hold a founding convention in February. Jackson, who had plans other than creating semi-autonomous democratic progressive electoral organizations, asked us to refrain from doing so, but we ignored his request not to hold our founding convention and went ahead with doing so.
At this time I was elected one of seven officers (Corresponding Secretary) of the newly formed Washington State Rainbow Coalition (WSRC). Organizationally, we got off to an excellent start, with top leadership being mainly persons of color; the WSRC Executive Committee (“ExCom”, consisting of the seven officers) had only two white persons including me.
However, in early March Jackson and his National Rainbow Coalition (NRC) tried to rein in the incipient local and state Rainbow Coalitions around the country by imposing on them a totally authoritarian, top-down organizational structure with the NRC able to appoint or remove any state or even local officer, to determine the state organizational structure, and to (only) call state conventions. Alone within the WSRC ExCom, I vigorously opposed this transformation of the WSRC, and I forced a statewide meeting of WSRC members by circulating the new NRC bylaws to the various local components. (Fortunately, as Corresponding Secretary I had the addresses of all the local officers and was able to do this, to the anguish of the rest of the ExCom, who would have preferred to keep the membership in the dark about what was going on.) The result of this meeting was to keep the WSRC on its track of building a democratic organization from the ground up; this whole experience is detailed in my article “Washington State Rainbow” on my political website www.bcmsocialism.org, at https://bcmsocialism.org/the-washington-state-rainbow-coalition/.
Fast forward to the middle of 1990. The TCRC had started publishing, in June, its free monthly newspaper Works in Progress (WiP). There were also strong signs of life in Yakima, but otherwise the WSRC was steadily going downhill, with a membership which had dropped from over 1000 to around 300; people were just not renewing their membership, and the WSRC was becoming but a paper organization. The TCRC asked me to write a regular column for WiP commencing in September, which I was very happy to do in order, first, to try to save the WSRC by enlightening members as to what was going on.
So I drafted as my first column “The Rise and Fall of the Washington State Rainbow Coalition”. It was rather far too long: it would have taken up three full pages of WiP. So we broke it up into two parts, with the first part giving the history and current status of the WSRC, particularly of its combatting the efforts of Jackson and the NRC to transform the WSRC into a component of Jackson’s campaign organization, and with the second part (published in October as “Rebuilding the Vision”) suggesting how we could resurrect the WSRC. Again fortunately, as Corresponding Secretary I maintained the membership role, so I gave WiP mailing labels and they sent the September issue out to all the remaining WSRC members.
Then the fun began, for the WSRC ExCom was aghast at my sending out on my own what they considered to be a trashing of the WSRC. I asked them for permission to send out the second part of the article, and although they were given the October issue, they didn’t seem to accept that it was positive in trying to reinvigorate the organization and forbade me to do this. Instead, they “fired” me as Corresponding Secretary, which was illegal for them to do under our bylaws, and I just resigned from that position.
I then went from Seattle to a meeting of the TCRC and asked them to send out the October issue to all WSRC members in defiance of the WSRC ExCom. This they agreed almost unanimously to do. (One person wasn’t happy with this course of action, but declined to block consensus.) A sheet accompanying that mailing started off with “You are not supposed to be getting this mailing!” and went on to explain that “we do not believe it is the proper role of the leadership of an organization to control, to filter, to restrict in any way, the flow of information and opinions to the members about what the organization is doing and how it is functioning”.
The TCRC had passed its baptism of fire, speaking truth to power. The critical importance of a free, independent press had been well demonstrated. And the deep respect with which Larry Gossett and I held each other had been unaffected by these intense struggles within the WSRC: in 1993 I served on the campaign committee which placed this outstanding African-American leader on the King County Council for the first of 27 years.
Thus commenced my close relationship with WiP. In the first two years I published twenty columns in my “On the Mark” series, mostly on theoretical questions such as democracy, socialism, Marxism, etc. Since then I published the occasional article in WiP, and now, of course, I am writing the bi-monthly column “Looking Forward”. I should like to impress on readers how politically significant the WiP project has been, not only because of its unabashedly progressive content, but also because in Washington state it alone has survived for three decades, from the ashes of the Washington State Rainbow Coalition. (In Seattle there have been several attempts over the years to create a progressive newspaper, but to no avail.)