Liberty Tree’s major work in 2006 employed local democracy to develop a new program area, Democratizing Defense. Liberty Tree provided legal, media, and other key strategic support to organizers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, and California who wanted to bring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan home by placing anti-war ballot measures on municipal, town, and county ballots. The Wisconsin campaign, led by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice and the Wisconsin Greens, was the most successful of these initiatives, with voters in 34 of 42 Wisconsin municipalities voting for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan. The campaign drew international attention, with front page headlines in newspapers from Italy to Australia to California reading “Wisconsin votes for troop pullout.” Within a year, over 200 communities across the country had adopted similar resolutions. Liberty Tree founder and attorney Ben Manski provided legal research and representation to the Wisconsin effort, and worked with attorney David Austin to bring successful legal challenges against three municipal governments that attempted to prevent their citizens from voting on the withdrawal initiatives.
Our Local Democracy Program built on the antiwar ballot measures and on Liberty Tree’s earlier work on participatory budgeting to convene the first Local Democracy Convention in September of 2006. This national gathering brought together leading proponents of local home rule, community self-determination, and participatory democracy from across the country, including major speakers Rev. Ed Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jane Anne Morris, Shannon Biggs, Gar Alperovitz, Joshua Lerner, City Council Presidents Brenda Konkel and Austin King, and Daniel Chavez of the Transnational Institute. One direct outgrowth of the gathering was the formation of a standing Local Democracy Network, which met again several times in subsequent years. Another, more indirect result was the formation of the Participatory Budgeting Project.
Work continued on other fronts as well. Liberty Tree’s Democratizing Elections Program built off the base laid with the No Stolen Elections! campaign and the Ohio Recount to convene a Voting Rights Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. This was later followed by co-convening an election reform and voting rights gathering, the first Claim Democracy Conference in Washington, DC, with our partners at FairVote.
The Democratizing Education Network (DEN) partnered up with the organizers of Tent State University at Rutgers University to help them spread the Tent State outdoor, popular university model across the United States. DEN affiliates at several campuses were attacked by campus police, most notably at UC Santa Cruz, in a foreshadowing of violence later experienced by campus activists in the Occupy movement. DEN also organized a national Virtual March on the Corporate Lobbyists, in which tens of thousands of students and their supporters deluged state and national offices of the Chamber of Commerce with demands that they stop lobbying for higher tuition via cuts public education funding. Later that year, in September, activists gathered for a leadership meeting of the Democratizing Education Network, held this time in Chicago. Participants drafted a Democratizing Education Charter intended to guide their future work and to serve as a statement of principles for constitutional reforms in the education sector.
Continuing its involvement in the World Social Forum process, Liberty Tree sent several staff members and Liberty Tree Fellows to participate in the Social Forum of the Americas, held that summer in Caracas, Venezuela.