08/16/2005 11:05 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The 50-State PLAN For the Future

Today in Seattle is the big kickoff of the new Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN) - an organization dedicated to passing progressive legislation in all 50 states. We are expecting (fingers crossed) a full house here in Seattle, as we have rounded up some terrific speakers, including Senator John Edwards, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and Center for American Progress President John Podesta. For more on what PLAN will be doing, read this terrific piece by John Nichols in the Nation yesterday.

This is really an exciting day for progressives - it means we are finally going to start cohesively countering the right-wing in the states, where for too long they have dominated. As a preview of today's events and the plan for PLAN, here is an early draft of the speech I will be giving to open the conference:

PLAN is all about using our power in the states to start making America work for the hard-working Americans who have long ago realized that their government has been bought by Big Money and ideologically extreme interests who work to lower wages, permit corporate price gouging, and intrude on the most private aspects of our lives.

Nowhere is this special interest agenda more powerful than in Washington, D.C. today, where things operate more like a rubber stamp politburo for the most extreme policies, rather than a democracy that represents ordinary people. But that is not necessarily how things work in the states.

Sure, special interests influence state policy – but state lawmakers are so much closer to ordinary people than Washington politicians. In fact, most state lawmakers are "ordinary" people themselves, coming from all walks of life in their communities. That means there is a much greater opportunity for progressives to overcome special interest forces and make real change in policies that, unlike much of what comes out of Washington, actually affects the daily lives of citizens.

And as this room shows, there are literally hundreds of state lawmakers all over America right now ready to fight on behalf of ordinary, hard-working Americans. As you well know, these lawmakers are not confined just to "red states" or "blue states." On many of the most critical issues of economic justice, both "red" and "blue" legislators are driving forces for progressive change.

But too often progressive legislators are overwhelmed by right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Now it is time to fight back. PLAN will give state lawmakers the tools they need to more effectively fight for a progressive agenda. From our board of current and former state lawmakers, we will develop model legislation applicable in all 50 states, using the best and most successful models from other states.

We will build a war room of policy specialists available to support you as you move a progressive agenda forward in your states. We will build a database of experts who will be available to testify on behalf of your bills. And we will work with grassroots groups to run issue advocacy campaigns in states, using all of the tools available to us.

Whether through paid media, or documentaries like Robert Greenwald’s new movie about Wal-Mart, or the power of Internet blogs, we will support you, our progressive lawmakers, who are serious about fighting for a progressive agenda.

Make no mistake about it – this is not a two or even four year project, and it is not going to be simply another group that purports to be "progressive" but is instead just a wing of one political party. As the conservatives realized in the 1970s, movements take longer to build than one or two election cycles, and they require a strong ideological commitment that transcend party labels.

That means PLAN will require us to start thinking like a movement based on ideas and principles, instead of disparate pieces of a partisan puzzle. As pundits and political operatives often forget – but as most of you know - people look at politics through the lens of values and world view, not blind party loyalty. That means that the key to winning politics is in building ideological movements that captures people’s hearts and minds, instead of in just cynically trying to capture their votes two weeks before an election.

None of this is impossible. Right now, America is being held hostage by one very conservative movement, and there is not an equally cohesive force to counter it. That means there is a genuine thirst in our country for a new grassroots political movement that doesn't use divisive social issues to pursue an elitist's agenda, but uses unifying economic and social issues to pursue truly populist policies.

That is what PLAN is all about – helping progressives build the cohesive movement that we all know is ready to be built, and doing it at the state level where so many movements have already started. This is the model for the future – a model that takes its cues from historical success of past movements. A grassroots model that embraces the power of sharpening an ideology that truly speaks for America's middle class, instead of clinging to the weakness of trying to simultaneously appease both the Big Money perpetrators and their middle-class victims in a corrupt political system gone mad.

It is all up to you, our state legislators, to start taking our country back. You are on the frontlines of this fight everyday. But rest assured that if and when you fight this battle, PLAN will be there to support you, and more importantly, so will America.