Washington State Rainbow

First, an excerpt from Section c of Chapter 1 of Beyond Classical Marxism:

     One political experience in Seattle worth relating concerns the Rainbow Coalition initiated in the 1980’s by Jesse Jackson.  In the aftermath of the 1988 presidential election, the Washington State Rainbow Coalition was formed with about 1000 members.  I was elected the state Corresponding Secretary, joining seven others to comprise the WSRC Executive Committee.  On March 3, 1989 I attended a meeting of the National Rainbow Coalition in Chicago as an invited representative of the WSRC.  There Jackson laid out a plan, which was duly approved, to essentially transform the state Rainbow chapters into his personal campaign committee.  The new National Rainbow Coalition was to be a completely top-down organization, with the NRC president (Jackson) able to appoint and remove chapter officers, determine the operating procedures of chapters, and reorganize, suspend, or terminate any state or Congressional District chapter.  I don’t begrudge Jackson’s wanting to convert the Rainbow Coalition for personal use, for he had created the organization in the first place, but what was abhorrent was the reaction of the WSRC leadership to this travesty of democratic functioning in what we were hoping to build.

     As soon as I got back from Chicago, I gave a written report to the WSRC Executive Committee which explained in full detail what Jackson was intent on doing.  To my amazement, there was no stated opposition (except mine) to the planned transformation of the National Rainbow Coalition.  One ExCom member even stated that she would never circulate my report to her constituents!  (She was a member of the Communist Party, but I don’t believe any of the other ExCom members were in socialist organizations.)  The ExCom evidently didn’t want to do anything about the coming transformation of the WSRC, so I did the only honorable thing:  as Corresponding Secretary, I maintained the organization’s mailing list, so I mailed out my report to the officers of all the chapters.  This action didn’t bode too well with the ExCom (sorry, my bad!), but amid the furor there was nothing they could do but hold an organization-wide meeting to discuss the matter.  At that meeting they presented a majority report and I countered with a detailed minority report, and I had managed to spike the liquidation of the WSRC into Jackson’s transformed National Rainbow Coalition.

And here is the aforementioned minority report:

A Minority Report!



By Dave Jette, WSRC Corresponding Secretary

March 25, 1989


          On March 3, 1989 I attended a meeting in Chicago of the Board of Directors of the National Rainbow Coalition (NRC), as an invited representative of the Washington State Rainbow Coalition (WSRC).  A major topic of this meeting was the organizational restructuring of the NRC, and a complete new set of bylaws was indeed adopted, as proposed by the Board of Directors’ ad-hoc Restructuring Committee.  The essence of this restructuring is to transform Rainbow into a campaign organization for Jesse Jackson’s 1992 Presidential bid, and the NRC is now organized in a completely authoritarian, top-down fashion, instead of becoming the democratic, grassroots-based membership organization which most of us had been hoping for and even expecting.

          According to the newly adopted NRC Bylaws, the NRC Board of Directors is a self-perpetuating body, electing one-third of its members every year on a rotating basis.  Membership in the NRC is open to individuals and organizations (without any distinction between these two categories), and such membership is regarded as being of the “supporting type” – i.e., dues-payers.  National conventions of the NRC are to be held every four years, but apparently without any real decision-making power – the NRC Board of Directors is the ultimate authority.

          The following points of the NRC Bylaws impinge directly on the democratic functioning of State Chapters:

1. The State Chapter’s highest officer is the State Chairperson (or Co-Chairpersons).  This person(s) is appointed by the NRC President (i.e. Jesse Jackson) in consultation with the NRC Board of Directors or the NRC State Chapters Committee (itself appointed by the NRC Executive Committee).  The State Chairperson(s) may be removed at will by the NRC President.

2. The State Chairperson, acting in consultation with the NRC State Chapters Committee and the applicable State Leadership (for that state), may appoint such other officers of the State Chapter or of any Congressional District (CD) subchapter in a manner to be determined by the State Chairperson acting in consultation with the (NRC) State Chapters Committee and the (NRC) State Leadership Council.  (Use of elections in this process is explicitly permitted, as an option.)  The State Chairperson also establishes and appoints members of state leadership councils, steering committees, etc.)

3. Nevertheless, the NRC President, acting in consultation with the NRC State Chapters Committee and the applicable State Chairperson, “may appoint additional officers or remove officers of the State Chapter or any CD chapter thereof whenever such action is deemed to be to be in the best interests” of the NRC.

4. The State Chapters don’t determine their own operating procedures.  Rather, the NRC Board of Directors or the NRC State Chapters Committee, in consultation with the NRC President, establishes these regulations, which the State Chapters and the officers and members thereof must adhere to.

5. State Chapters, CD subchapters, and Committees and officers and members thereof shall seek prior approval from the NRC Board of Directors, the NRC Executive Committee, or the NRC President before publicly taking any positions or endorsing any candidates in the name of or on behalf of the NRC or any State or CD Chapter thereof.

6. The NRC President, acting in consultation with the NRC Board of Directors, may reorganize, suspend, or terminate any State or CD Chapter “in the event such action is deemed to be in the best interests” of the NRC.  The State Chairperson can appeal this action to the NRC State Chapters Committee.  (Lots of luck!)

7. State conventions are called (only) by the NRC Board of Directors, in consultation with the State Chairperson.  Like national conventions, these state conventions appear to have no real decision-making power.

          In summary, the NRC has now been organized along the lines of a “campaign model”, as it was termed at the March 3rd meeting.  What is considered to be primary is organization discipline, so that the NRC will march lockstep in advancing Jesse Jackson’s political career.


          Let me continue this report by giving my own ideas on how we should respond to the NRC’s organizational restructuring.  First, we should be clear on what our relationship presently is to the NRC.  In a word, this relationship is formally nonexistent.  The WSRC is an organization, not yet incorporated under the laws of Washington State, which formed on February 11, 1989 under a set of bylaws (our “operational procedures”) which we adopted at that time.  Our bylaws give two legally interchangeable names for us:  the “Washington State Chapter of the National Rainbow Coalition” and the “Washington State Rainbow Coalition”.  However, calling ourselves a chapter of the NRC doesn’t make us that.  Unless and until we modify our bylaws, we are governed solely by these bylaws, and in fact our bylaws state that they can be modified by the WSRC State Steering Committee only by a 3/4-majority vote, to meet the requirements of the NRC.  This may well happen, but for the present we are governed by, and only by, the bylaws which we have democratically adopted.  So there is no need to panic about the NRC’s restructuring – we are not going to be governed by the campaign model unless we ourselves decide to accept it.

          The question which lies before us is how – and whether – to apply to the NRC for state chapter status.  In my view, our answer to that question should derive from two basic criteria:

(A) The top-down campaign model is completely unacceptable to us.  Our vision of the Rainbow is of people’s self-empowerment through building a mass-based organization advancing progressive politics through both electoral and nonelectoral activity.  Such a grassroots political movement can be built organizationally only through complete internal democracy, so that people take up the struggle as their own rather than being external to themselves.  Our democratic functioning is nonnegotiable.

(B) At the same time, we understand Jesse Jackson’s need to build a campaign organization for his 1992 Presidential bid, and we acknowledge the tremendous inspirational role which he has provided, in building the Rainbow movement.  While Jesse is not the embodiment of the Rainbow movement, he is by far its most articulate spokesperson, and we should strive to further his political career as much as possible, within the context of building the Rainbow movement in Washington State.  Thus we should seek to work as closely as we can with NRC, while not giving up our own democratic functioning.

          With these two criteria in mind, I should like to propose an approach to developing a relationship with the NRC.  As our first preference, we should seek to join the NRC as a state chapter while retaining our present bylaws, making clear to the NRC that the campaign model is unacceptable to us.  (It is quite possible that the NRC, faced with the nonacceptance of its top-down structure by a number of strong state Rainbow organizations, will find a way to accept us as we are, perhaps through “grandfathering”.)  If this doesn’t work, the NRC may well accept us as an “organizational member” rather than as a state chapter; this would be contingent upon our accepting and cooperating with a separate Washington State chapter to serve as Jesse Jackson’s campaign organization here.

          Finally, the NRC may adopt an antagonistic attitude toward us, and have nothing to do with us so long as we don’t accept their campaign model of organization.  In that case, we shall be faced with the decision of whether to carry on on our own (perhaps in association with other Rainbow activists across the country) or to disband.  But let us try to avoid having to make this decision, and instead seek as close and mutually supportive a relationship as possible with the NRC, while retaining our completely democratic organizational functioning.  This would be the ideal way to continue building the Rainbow movement in Washington State.


          In preparing for this meeting to report back to the membership on the NRC’s restructuring, the WSRC Executive Committee (consisting of the eight newly elected WSRC officers, at present) formed a four-person subcommittee to draft a presentation of its views on how to deal with the NRC.  These views are being expressed in this meeting in the form of a draft letter to the NRC, and in an oral report by the WSRC President.  After continued struggle within the Executive Committee and within this subcommittee, I have found myself unable to agree with the approach of the majority towards dealing with the NRC, and I am therefore presenting this minority report.  It should be made clear, however, that all of the Executive Committee who have been meeting together find the authoritarian character of the NRC’s restructuring repugnant and desire to have it changed.  In my view, the approach of the majority of the Executive Committee is principled and arguable, but wrong in certain fundamental ways.  At issue, concretely, is whether the WSRC should tell the NRC clearly that its undemocratic procedures relating to the functioning of state chapters are unacceptable to us.

          Let us be frank.  The organizational restructuring of the NRC is not some sort of aberration, some inexplicable departure from the norms of democracy which guide practically all grassroots organizations in this country.  The NRC has been restructured for a particular purpose:  to destroy Rainbow as an independent, mass-based progressive political organization which can effectively challenge the status quo (or rather, to prevent its developing into such an organization, for the Rainbow is still organizationally in its infancy).  There are extremely powerful forces operating at the national level of Rainbow which seek to push back into the bottle the genie of progressive politics which has been called forth by Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns.  This is why Rainbow has never developed a democratic national structure, why we were told not to hold our founding convention in the aftermath of last June’s Democratic National Convention, not to hold it in the aftermath of the 1988 presidential election, and even not to hold it last month.  The March 3rd restructuring of the NRC constituted the consolidation of control of Rainbow by these conservative forces.

          So what should we do in this situation?  Those of you who have read my original (March 6th) report to the WSRC Executive Committee on the NRC’s restructuring, will see that my first reaction was to call for our having nothing to do with the NRC so long as it was governed by these outrageous bylaws.  But I now do agree with the rest of the Executive Committee, that we should seek to develop as close a relationship with the NRC as possible, consistent with maintaining our own completely democratic functioning.  The question is, how do we do this?

          I think there is no alternative to laying our cards on the table and saying, politely but firmly:  this is what we are, we would like to work closely with you, but under no circumstances will we accept such undemocratic procedures as appointment or removal of officers from above.  If, in requesting state chapter status, we pretend that our bylaws are consistent with NRC’s, we are going to be continually pressured to place into positions of leadership persons who accept the NRC’s authoritarian structure – this will be the deliberate policy of the forces who now control the NRC.  (This is already happening, concerning making a certain person a co-chair of the WSRC.)  At each point we will look for compromises, rationalizing that in the future we shall be stronger and better able to resist, but in the end we shall wind up with an organizational structure which is democratic in name only.  If the forces now in control of the NRC will not accept us now as a completely democratic organization, they will surely not accept such blasphemy in the future, when they have consolidated themselves and weakened the democratic forces within Rainbow.

          Even more important is the question of where our source of strength lies:  with our relationship to the NRC, or with our membership?  There is no doubt that Jesse Jackson has played a tremendous inspirational role in creating the Rainbow, but it is we – our membership at every level – who have built the WSRC.  And we have built the WSRC through two basic factors:  our progressive politics, for which there is such a need in this country; and our democratic functioning, which enables all our members to take up the struggle as their own.  Completely democratic functioning is absolutely essential to building a progressive mass-based movement, for there are such powerful forces working against us that we have got to actively involve and rely upon all our members.  But how can we keep, or even attract, members when in practice we consider our relationship to the NRC to be more important than our democratic functioning?  How can we present ourselves to the people of Washington State as building a grassroots movement when we tremble in fear at challenging the NRC’s authoritarian structure?  Whom do we really represent?