Lots of people talk about building permanent progressive "infrastructure" to the point where the term "infrastructure" has become a political buzzword unto itself. But there's a difference between talking about things, and actually doing them successfully. And when the latter happens, as it has over the last year with the Progressive States Network, it is a big achievement - one that could not have been done without the continued and critical support of the grassroots.
Though the organization has been around for only one year, the staff has been involved in a wide array of campaigns in the states, offering technical, legislative, media and promotional support to state legislators carrying the progressive agenda. The organization has, quite literally, fielded hundreds of requests for expert support in the current legislative sessions on wide array issues - from payday lending to public financing of elections to renewable portfolio standards, we've been there.
But no campaign has gotten as much attention as the Progressive States Network's Anti-Escalation Campaign. We launched this campaign in mid-January on a national conference call with scores of state legislators and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). In the following weeks, the Progressive States Network helped 23 states introduce resolutions demanding Congress use its full power to stop the so-called surge.
But introducing legislation in a vacuum is not building infrastructure - using that legislation as a vehicle to construct widespread national pressure is. And that's exactly what the Progressive States Network has done. Thousands of citizens used the organization"s online tool to contact their state legislators and demand they support these resolutions. And as the massive local media exposure shows, the pressure grew.
Scores of local newspapers and television stations have continued to cover the resolutions as they have moved through legislatures - especially important in states like Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Iowa, and Georgia where conservative U.S. Senators have been slow to support efforts to stop the escalation.
This has led, finally, to national media attention. Last week, the New York Times published on the front of its National section an article about the state-based effort. The paper followed up that report with another one Saturday noting that state lawmakers have "been banding together in state legislatures around the country to pass their own nonbinding resolutions and are pressing Congress to do more." ABC News even called the Progressive States Network "positively Grover Norquistian" in the organization's aggressiveness and success in pushing the issue. As the Progressive States Network's executive director, Joel Barkin, told Stateline: "A big goal of this is to raise public pressure - it's to localize this issue. This is not just a Washington issue - this is an issue that affects every local community in America."
None of this, of course, could have been done without the Progressive States Network's board members, organizational allies and incredible staff. As you can see, from the beginning we worked hard to break the "single-issue" silos by bringing together truly diverse groups: organized labor; grasroots groups like Moveon.org, ACORN, Working Assets and Free Press; philanthropists; think tanks; and, of course, legislators from all over the country. That diversity has strengthened us as an organization that aims to exist not for the duration of one or two election cycles and not just for high-profile work like the Iraq campaign - but as permanent progressive infrastructure working in the less glamorous but critically important arenas too often forgotten by the Washington-centric media and a celebrity-obsessed political culture.
It also could not have been done without strong grassroots support - both in activism/direct advocacy and in financial donations. This is why periodically I ask folks to make contributions (and hope you forgive me for being incessant about it): because we can't build this critical infrastructure without ongoing support from you.
Obviously, we have made an impact. Just last week, legislative chambers in California, Vermont and Iowa passed the Iraq resolutions - with the latter sending a strong message to presidential candidates to stop merely talking about the war, and start doing something to bring it to an end. Tomorrow (Tuesday, 2/17) from 1:00-2:00 PM EST we will be having another conference call with legislators and Sen. Kennedy that is open to the public and that will update everyone on where both the congressional and the state legislative campaign is on Iraq. This fight is far from over and I encourage you RSVP for that call and join in.
This is what building permanent progressive infrastructure - rather than just talking about it - is all about. And with your help, all of us in the progressive movement will be successful in finally taking back our states.