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We Need To Tell The Public, Too

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Here is something that you and I know to be true: progressive values and policies are better for people than conservative values and policies.

Progressives believe that we're all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.

You and I know this. But the pubic-at-large doesn't know our side of this argument, because we aren't telling them. While conservatives market their philosophy through every conceivable information channel there is very little outreach explaining the progressive side. When you turn on the radio or the TV or read the newspapers you just don't see or hear about the benefits of a progressive approach. So the public-at-large is only hearing one side of the story -- the conservative side -- and they are hearing that side loudly and often.

It so happens that marketing works, and polls show that the conservative marketing campaign brings results. A 2007 Rasmussen poll, for example found that "41% of the voters think of themselves as conservative when it comes to the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business while 41% consider themselves to be moderates and 12% say they are liberal." A 2008 Battleground poll found that 59% of Americans consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative and 36% say they are somewhat or very liberal.

So how do we reach the public? We have to identify target audiences, build the channels that reach them, and talking the cultural language of each target group. Yes, this is marketing talk. And to accomplish this we need to build organizations that do this work. Marketing works, and marketing science has evolved to become very effective. Companies understand this and do it. Conservatives understand this and do it. Progressives need to understand this and do it.

Here is a key, key point and I want to stress it: This is not about election-oriented organizations. This is about a long-term effort to change underlying public understanding and appreciation of progressive values. This requires a different kind of approach and a different kind of organizational structure than winning each next election. Election outcomes will certainly result from such an effort. In fact, with a public that is pre-disposed to be want progressive candidates and policies instead of conservative ones, elections will be dramatically and lastingly affected. This is why conservatives have built up a network of think tanks and advocacy organizations -- hundreds of them -- designed to change underlying public attitudes. And this is why those polls I cites show they have had such great success.

At my personal blog I wrote a July, 2007 post titled, While Progressives Talk To Each Other, Conservatives Talk To The Public. That post ended with,

Progressives need to start reaching the general public with the truth as well as each other. We need to start working together to fund and build the organizational infrastructure to develop and test messaging, then coordinate the use of messaging, train speakers, employ pundits, develop media channels, etc.

Now, two years later we're still largely talking to each other, especially here in California. But there are some improvements nationally. An organizational "progressive infrastructure" is growing up a bit, with the Center for American Progress, Media Matters and other organizations starting to show some strength.

But in California very little is getting done along these lines. The Courage Campaign (go sign up) is one great organization and is gaining strength, boasting an email list of 400-700,000. But even this is only about 2% of our population, and their netroots audience is predisposed to support progressive policies. What they are doing is hugely important and a huge start. But it is one organization when we need dozens, all funded and operating as different components of a cohesive progressive infrastructure. We need think tanks employing scores of experts to conduct the necessary research and come up with and test and refine the policies, wording and strategies to take the progressive message to the rest of the state. We need to develop communication channels that reach into every single geographic and cultural community. We need to train hundreds of public speakers that talk to every single group. We need to develop relationships with interest organizations including hunting, sporting, creative arts, technology, and other kinds of clubs. We need to get the writers reaching out of the blogs and into the newspapers and magazines and on television and radio.

California Progress Report is a site that rounds up California political news, from a progressive perspective. Frank Russo left to take a staff position in the Assembly, and the site is now operated by the Consumer Federation of California Foundation. This is an important component of infrastructure, but CFC is looking for funding to maintain and expand it.

Calitics is California's premier progressive community blog -- and you should get an account there, join the community and add your two cents. And you should take note of that "Donate" button in its right column.

And, speaking of donating, please sign up for Speak Out California's e-mail list. And click here to donate and help us stay online. It is your donations that keep us and all of these organizations in operation to help reach out and work to bring progressive policies to California!

Leave a comment and let me know which organizations, etc. I missed.

California is a big, big state and changing public attitudes is a big, big job. Conservatives launched their persuasion effort almost 40 years ago. Isn't it time we got started?

Click through to Speak Out California