\o7 Political and social activism appears on the rise in San Diego County--in part sparked by a renewed struggled between the New Left and the New Right. Fueling the struggle is the Reagan Administration's involvement in the Iran arms-sale scandal, which appears for the first time to make President Reagan a vulnerable target for his political opponents. As expected, both the New Right and the New Left claim to be winning.
The New Left says public confidence in the politics of the New Right has been shattered because the scandal has tarnished the image of Reagan, for six years the standard bearer of the conservative movement. The New Right says it has been unaffected by the Reagan Administration's problems and accuses the New Left of blowing the scandal out of proportion in an attempt to revive a movement that has been dying since the end of the turbulent 1960s.
In truth, however, both the New Left and the New Right have gained considerable ground in recent years. For the New Left, the focus of recently formed progressive groups has been issues such as American aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, women's and minorities' rights, and the continuing nuclear arms buildup. The New Right has seen its ranks swell as the result of increased membership in established organizations such as Young Americans for Freedom, which has nearly doubled in size in two years, and religious fundamentalists, such as the Rev. Dorman Owens, who have been among the strongest supporters of the New Right.
\f7 Frank Gormlie sees a great amount of irony in the fact that the Reagan Administration's involvement in the Iranian arms-sale scandal has given the New Left its biggest boost in years.
After all, he said, President Reagan's landslide victories in 1980 and 1984 were largely responsible for the rise of the New Right.
"The New Right has had its chance," said Gormlie, editor and publisher of the Whole Damn Pie Shop, a quarterly journal of leftist opinion that is distributed through a network of San Diego bookstores and health-food restaurants.
"The New Right has twice elected a president, and over the last six years it has become stronger and better-organized than ever before," Gormlie said.
"But now, a lot of the President's programs are failing, and with the Iranian arms-sale crisis, more and more people are becoming disillusioned and asking questions."
Locally, Gormlie said, the resurgence of the New Left is apparent both in the expanding audiences at leftist talks, rallies and presentations, and in the growing number of leftist and progressive groups (which he said now total more than 200) that are being formed all over San Diego County.
Some, like Friends of Nicaraguan Culture and the Teachers Committee on Central America, support the efforts of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua by sponsoring a variety of educational programs, lectures, concerts and film presentations around town.
"Four years ago, a group of us went down to tour Nicaragua and meet with some of that country's leaders, including Daniel Ortega," said Tanya Winter, a founding member of Friends of Nicaraguan Culture.
"When we came back, we were so appalled at the discrepancy between what we had seen and what the American people were being told by the media that we felt we had to organize some sort of grass-roots group to provide a more accurate portrayal of Nicaragua."
The Friends have sponsored concerts with Nicaraguan folk groups like Grupo Mancotao, readings by Central American poets like Isabel Alegria and performances by the Peasant Theater troupe of Nicaragua, among other activities.
Other progressive groups, such as the Chicano Federation, the Black Writers and Artists Assn., and Womancare, are concerned with domestic issues such as minority and women's rights.
"There's a lot of progressive activity that's being done by groups that don't throw up little flags and say, 'We're leftists,' " said Peter Brown, a director with the Grass Roots Cultural Center in Golden Hill, which since 1979 has served as an umbrella agency for many progressive groups.
"But in many ways, these groups are on the cutting edge of the progressive movement in this country. They're the ones who are actually taking steps to bring about social change instead of simply talking about it."
Then there are the old-school leftist groups, like the Communist and Socialist Workers parties of San Diego and the League for Revolutionary Struggle, that seek to change the social and political structure of the United States as a whole, not just as it pertains to the individual issues.
Socialist Workers Party activities include the running of Pathfinder Books on B Street and hosting meetings which have included an eyewitness report from Nicaragua, a panel discussion on the crisis in the Philippines and a report on a trade union conference in El Salvador.