Putting the Party Back in Politics

Editor's Note: The following is a message from Mike Dolan, organizing hero of the Seattle WTO demonstrations and now chief organizer of the Rolling Thunder tour.

On Saturday, March 23, Austin, Texas, will host the kickoff stop on the nationwide Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour, a traveling extravaganza of grassroots political activism, music, speakers, workshops, food and drink. Down the road, it will be coming to Tucson, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Seattle, Madison, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis and maybe Hawaii.

The daylong event will be held at the Travis County Expo Center from noon to 10 p.m. and feature a lineup of nationally prominent speakers including:

- Michael Moore, author of the current #1 bestseller, Stupid White Men

- U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois

- Ben Cohen, the ice-cream guy

- columnists Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins

- 92-year-old activist Granny D (Doris Haddock), who walked across America in 1999 to promote campaign finance reform.

It's a county fair with guts, a revival with a reason, a concert with consciousness.

Motivated by the grassroots energy of individuals and groups working all over this nation to fight for justice and democratic rights, the Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour is a series of local gatherings with pizzazz and festivity, as well as a seriousness of purpose -- a sort of travelling democracy organizing festival. Held in various cities across the country, these "Chautauquas" -- named after similar 19th century festivals that started in Chautauqua, NY -- will help broaden, connect and strengthen the phenomenal progressive activism that is already out there.

What these travelling citizenfests aim to foster is the essential next step of "connection." Individuals and groups have been intently focused on their own particular fight, scrambling to contend with whatever issue they have in front of them at the time. However, if they are to succeed they must find ways to join together the existing movements, making the progressive whole greater than its separate parts, increasing its grassroots ability to take back the power from the elite, the wealthy and the corporate -- placing it back in the hands of the people.

What makes these Chautauquas unique is that they come from the very heart of "We the People." Each Chautauqua must belong to the community -- this is not someone else's tour -- this is YOUR tour. The Chautauquas will work with cities where local organizing folks want to broaden their movement and augment their shared power base, localities that show a commitment to reaching beyond the obvious progressive allies to include young activists, people of color, elderly, immigrants, farm laborers, etc. Equally important is that these events be filled with community life and FUN, meaning music, games, food and drink and other entertainment to put the party back in politics!

The Austin Kick-off event will also include musical performances by Ruben Ramos, Michelle Shocked, Marcia Ball, David Garza, MC Overlord, Medusa, Nook, Grupo Fantasma, Lee Ann Atherton, Shade (w/Heather Bishop), The Therapy Sisters, Foscoe Jones and Dwarf Nebula. Future Chautauquas will include other great performers, many of whom you've heard of, donating their talent to the great and good grassroots.

Check out the down-home page -- www.rollingthundertour.org -- make an online donation to the new populist Chautauqua movement, and keep organizing.

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