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Seizing the Time: The Role of Independent Groups in 2008

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"I had been inspired by the civil rights movement and the idea of people working at a grassroots level to bring about change, to get people involved in shaping their own destiny.... I believe that change comes not from the top down but from the bottom up.... That's the way political organizing should work. It means that whatever organizing we do outlasts the particular political campaign." - Barack Obama

This is our moment. This is our time.

Barack Obama said those words when he secured the nomination on June 3, and he was right. The moment we are in is an incredible opportunity to change this country for the long term, and now is the time for us to seize it. We must harness the electricity in the air in cities and towns and states all across this country into sophisticated, coordinated, unstoppable progressive change.

Contrary to earlier reports about the demise of independent efforts this cycle, the work in 2008 will be robust, vibrant, and more coordinated than ever before. In 2008, the progressive movement is taking on an unprecedented collaboration of grassroots groups to raise $100 million that will mobilize millions of new voters and engage them in effective organizations that will be around long after November 4.

Major donors across the country are as inspired as everyone else about this important moment, and significant investments are being made to make the most of this opportunity. In addition to widespread non-partisan work, many of these efforts will support progressive candidates up and down the ticket, helping elect Barack Obama, picking up Senate seats, flipping state legislatures and permanently reshaping the electoral landscape in key states across the country.

The Democratic primaries illustrated our country's hunger for a progressive agenda as millions of new and previously disengaged voters expressed their desire for change at the polls. Young people and African Americans and Latinos voted in record numbers across the country (1 million new Latino voters turned out in California alone.)

PowerPAC, an organization whose primary purpose is to advocate for social justice policies and increase voter participation for people of color, was fortunate to participate in this historic moment. We were the first group on the air in South Carolina in January with get-out-the-vote radio ads targeting African American voters. We partnered with churches, labor and community-based organizations to increase Black voter turnout in 14 states with a focus on the South, including Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia. In California and Texas, we contacted over one million Latino voters to make sure that they were educated and prepared to make their votes count.

Following our successful work in the primaries, PowerPAC is moving to expand our efforts and collaborate with other independent grassroots groups to build a permanent progressive infrastructure that will not only have a tangible impact on this campaign cycle, but will continue to work for positive change long after the last campaign posters have come down.

The work we will do in states across the country will also impact statewide Senate races, as well as local and regional candidate and issue campaigns down the ballot that have direct impact on people's daily lives.

Through an effort dubbed the Jimmie Lee Jackson Project, PowerPAC will collaborate with groups like the NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Pushback Network, and others to coordinate non-partisan registration, education, and mobilization efforts of African American voters during the General Election. Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 24-year-old civil rights demonstrator whose death at the hands of Alabama State Troopers led to the Selma-Montgomery march and passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Our coordinated Black voter drive will register and mobilize one million new Black voters through a $10 million, multi-state mobilization in states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia.

PowerPAC will also collaborate with the major grassroots mobilization efforts led by America Votes and its 30-plus partner organizations, representing the largest progressive issue-based organizations in the country. In a national collaborative table and a series of collaborative tables in 14 states, these groups are dividing up constituencies and coordinating communication and mobilization efforts to educate voters about the national and down-ticket races.

Working from a common voter file, long-standing groups like the Sierra Club will contact 700,000 members and other voters concerned about environmental issues; the Campaign for Community Change will organize immigrant advocates and workers; Emily's List and Planned Parenthood will carry the message to female voters; and the United States Student Association, Young Democrats of America and League of Young Voters will mobilize the millennial generation.

A confluence of factors has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reorder priorities and reshape public policy for decades to come. To seize this opportunity, progressive leaders, donors, and activists alike all must rise to the challenge.

In his victory speech on June 3rd, Senator Obama closed by saying, "Generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless." In order to convey that message to future generations, we need a massive mobilization now of Americans from all backgrounds who hunger for change. At PowerPAC, we are proud to join with our allies to do our part to make the most of this historic moment.

Steve Phillips is the Chairman of PowerPAC.org.