Most of the beards are gone, along with the anti-war placards. Gone, too, is the conviction that politics is necessarily a shell game in which the people wind up the losers.
As 150 self-described progressives wound up a four-day meeting here, they seemed to have replaced the slogans and symbols of the past with a new conviction that social change can be accomplished by working as Democrats at state and local government levels.
"Most of them agree you should be left-wing Democrats, which is a change from the 1960s," said Derek Shearer, a California economist and social activist. "Back in the '60s, because of the war, people felt there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans."
The Denver gathering ending today, was the third annual national meeting sponsored by the Washington-based Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Politics. Its executive director is Lee Webb, a onetime organizer for Students for a Democratic Society, and its members include such prominent onetime antiwar activists as Action Director Sam Brown and Madison, Wis., Mayor Paul Soglin.
Instead of planning demonstrations or shouting about the number of kids supposedly killed by LBJ, the activists of today spend hours in highly sophisticated workshops on such issues as "financing neighborhood development" or "manpower monies, tax strategies, and regulatory agencies at the local level."
The ranks of the conference were "greatly augmented," as Brown put it, by various trade union officials who had supported the Vietnam war and by persons too young to have been involved in the war issue on either side, annoyance at press accounts that recalled their antiwar exploits, preferring instead to talk about their more recent state and community achievements.
They had much to talk about. Amond the success stories discussed were:
The recent achievement of Hartford, Conn., in creating a Municipal Citizen Investment Corp. that will provide home insulation and other "winterization" services for residents in the Hartford area. The homes of poor people will be insulated for free. The corporation was started with a $75,000 grant from the city council and will provide 88 jobs, using federal work-training funds.
The creation of a $10 million Community Development Fund in Massachusetts that will provide venture capital for a variety of projects, including the purchase of an industry that is being divested by a multinational corporation and would probably otherwise leave Massachusetts.
The placement of public members representing consumer interests on marketing boards in California. This was begun by Ruth Yannatta of Los Angeles who served on the Egg Advisory Board and played a role in reducing egg prices in California. She later became a director of consumer affairs to California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. who since has named public members to all of the state's vocational licensing boards.
The development of policies encouraging investment of public deposits in banks that have "socially responsible" policies. When Sam Brown was state treasurer of Colorado, he initiated bidding procedures for public deposits and rewarded banks that made a high percentage of small business, housing and student loans.
The imposition in North Dakota, under the leadership of state Tax Commissioner Byron Dorgan of a 50-cents a ton severance tax on coal. Several conference participants from resource-rich western states agreed with Dorgan that coal and gas companies should be required to provide "environmental insurance" in the form of severance taxes so that their states would not become another Appalachia.
The improvement of occupational health and safety standards in Vermont under the leadership of John Froines, a biochemist and onetime member of the "Chicago Seven" who is now Vermont's director of occupational safety. One of Friones' achievements was determining that the families of workers in a lead battery plant were being poisoned from lead that was carried home on clothing. The plant accepted the evaluation and changed its clean-up procedures.
The Chicago Seven were anti-war protesters who were tried for disrupting the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Froines and an another defendant were acquitted, and the convictions of the others subsequently were overturned. Another of that group showed up at the Denver meeting. He is Rennie Davis, now a 37-year-old Denver insurance salesman who talks hopefully of assisting firms that do things with "human values and human interests."
Though most of the conference participants consider themselves Democrats, they differed widely in their evaluations of the Carter administration.
On the plus side, President Carter won praise for canceling the B-1 bomber, and his jobs program, even though criticized, was seen as a big improvement over the programs of previous administrations.
But the loudest applause of the conference went to Barry Commoner of Washington University in St. Louis for a critical and systematic attack on the President's energy program. Commoner said the program would lead to nuclear development at the expense of solar energy and put the burden of paying for energy conservation on lower-income Americans.
The participants also gave considerable applause for the anti-Carter remarks of Barney Frank, A Massachusetts state representative who said that the President's "fundamental moral flaw" was that he didn't intend to do anything to help the poorest and hungriest people in America.
"Life under the Democrats is like life under the Republicans except that [U.N. Ambassador] Andy Young's indiscretions are morally preferable to Pat Moynihan's," Frank said.
The main criticism leveled at Carter was that he is committed to balancing the federal budget at the expense of social welfare programs.
Brown, who defended Carter in a speech to the conference, told reporters that Carter's budget-balancing policy was "a mistake" but said thatthe progressives should address themselves to the question of who pays for the budget balancing.
"There are a lot of people here who don't feel that Carter's moved fast enough or far enough." Brown said, "The President doesn't feel that there's as much of a constituency for change as there is against change. It's up to the people here to demonstrate that they are such a constituency that cannot be taken for granted."
Brown said there was no immediate danger of a political threat to Carter from the left but he acknowledged that such a threat could arise if progressives felt the President was resistant to change six months or a year from now.
As Brown defended many of Carter's policies, notably his fight for a consumer protection agency in the face of strong business pressure, and pointed to the complexity of the problems facing the administration. In a comment that might also have served as the slogan for the alternative conference. Brown said, "It was a lot easier when stopping the war was the only issue."