Progressives across the country experienced dual epiphanies on the heels of last November's elections:
First - victory tastes so sweet.
Second - that was close. It'll take work to sustain this victory.
Even campaigns which won by greater margins than expected faced a number of hurdles in terms of institutional knowledge in districts which hadn't run a competitive campaigns in a number of cycles and a shortage of trained staffers. Progressives have been wringing their hands for a while about the lack of programs available to progressives to build our base of skilled campaign workers. It's hard to find a progressive equivalent to the conservative training behemoth, the Leadership Institute. And those hand-wringing progressives are right - we don't have the training infrastructure that the GOP has. In fact, they've been ahead of us for years.
But all that's changing. We did, after all, win big all over the country in 2006. If you were to look closer at the staff rosters of these campaigns, you might notice the growing ranks of entry level campaign staff and "super" volunteers who have undergone training from a progressive organization. Progressive training organizations are undergoing a small revolution - we're growing, we're multiplying, and we're even (gasp) coordinating.
The successes of Wellstone Action, the Center for Progressive Leadership, and the DFA Training Academy (where I work) are just a few examples of grassroots, professionals, and donors all recognizing the need to invest in our own infrastructure. Killer messages, vaunted GOTV plans, and piles of money, don't just appear. Someone has to make it happen. Being able to run a good campaign is a skill and like any skill, we've got to train to master it.
Conservatives figured this out a while ago: You want trained doctors, you want trained pilots, you want trained electricians. Sure, you could do it yourself or have your best friends give it a try, but it's really not advisable. To build a lasting progressive political infrastructure, we need to invest in the people that build and run our campaigns - including and especially local down-ballot campaigns. Frankly, progressives don't have enough access to professional campaign training. Organizations (like mine) are working hard to fill that need. Campaign trainings aren't as sexy as the campaigns themselves, but they're important to the long-term growth of the movement.
And, okay - no surprise here - the MSM and the pundits just don't get it. That's fine with me, really. James Carville will never be a trainer at a DFA Training (sorry, James).
The important thing is that the grassroots do get it. Judging from my experience on the campaign training circuit - and I'm sure this is the same for the other training organizations - I can tell you that the DFA Training Academy has grown by leaps and bounds because of demand. From our pioneering online Night School training program to our frenetic travel schedule, the DFA Training Academy has made a point of equipping the grassroots activists all over the country with a serious, professional set of skills. This year - a so-called "off" year - is the season to train. So, the DFA Training Academy is doubling its reach this year. Waiting until 2008 is not an option.
For our first batch of trainings this year, DFA announced 17 weekend training events with an emphasis on the South and West. We'll soon add another half-dozen and we've opened up the process to requests from grassroots activists. This year DFA has teamed up with other organizations, including state Party organizations, and with labor groups such as the SEIU, to maximize our impact and cover broader communities. In case you're interested in checking out what I do, here's where I'll be in 2007 (with more to come):
Manchester, NH January 27-28
Las Vegas, NV February 10-11
Houston, TX March 3-4
Columbia, SC March 17-18
Cedar Rapids, IA March 24-25
Jackson, MS March 30 - April 1
Columbia, MO April 14-15
Austin, TX April 21-22
Knoxville, TN April 28-29
Bloomington, IN May 12-13
Baton Rouge, LA June 2-3
Salt Lake City, UT June 16-17
Albany, NY June 23-24
Tampa, FL June 30 - July 1
Frankfort, KY July 7 -8
Sacramento, CA July 14-15
Orange County, CA July 21-22