Good Progressive Movement Happenings

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 18:40

If your work involves amorphous terms like 'building infrastructure' or 'leadership development' in an independent political movement, it can be incredibly difficult to keep yourself accountable to a set of values and/or to keep the confidence together that what you do makes a difference.  There's a whole superstructure in the military, in academia, within the right-wing, and in corporate America designed to validate people who do this, but this does not exist in the progressive movement.  We have to find meaning ourselves, believe that what we do is making a difference even if progress is random or non-obvious and seems unconnected to any immediate work we do.

I know that when people ask me what I do, and I tell them that I'm a blogger, the first thing they ask is 'How do you make money at that'.  And I describe how I make money through ads, donations and some consulting, but these conversations always seem to end with some skepticism.  I don't really care, I love what I do, it's fascinating and I find meaning in it, but it does wear on you after awhile.  No one likes to think their life is purposeless.

It is much easier to work on elections, where the results are stark one way or the other, the feedback immediate, or to go out and try and make money.  But the consequences of that kind of lifestyle are a prioritization away from change itself and towards  the activity on which you are focused.  Winning an election does not matter unless it is connected to something larger, but the people who provide that larger sense of meaning have limited to non-existent positive feedback mechanisms, so far.  I imagine that teachers or social service workers feel similar, putting in a good amount of effort for something that seems right and is joyful, but with a lingering question in one's mind about whether there's a real effect.

But there are real effects.  And so it is important to recognize our successes.  Today, I learned that Ezra Temko was just elected to the Newark City Council in Delaware.  Temko's slogan was 'Economic Progress, Environmental Sustainability, Responsive Representation'.  He ran a grassroots campaign and knocked on every door in Newark.  He also graduated from college in 2006, and comes out of the Young People for the American Way training program.  He is now entering the Young Elected Officials Network, another People for the American Way program.

It takes a long time to develop and nurture talent, to learn how to run campaigns and to build support networks to make sure that progressive policies follow the election of progressives.  You can just look at the collapse of congestion pricing in New York City to see how electing Democrats, even progressive ones, and keeping them unconnected to larger networks will prevent us from reaching our goals.  Conversely, looking at FISA or net neutrality shows us that the networks we are building become much stronger than their individual parts.

Young People for the American Way and the Young Elected Officials Network deserve a congratulations today.  They set their sites four years ago on building the next generation of leaders, and they are here, running organizations, and getting elected.  And three other fellows from Young People for America have announced their candidacies for local elections, including a native American in South Dakota.

Building diverse leadership is going to take decades, but the payoff is going to be a kinder, saner, and gentler world.  It's what we've all been working towards.  If you date the founding of our movement in 1998, with the creation of Moveon, and you look at the creation of organizations like YP4 and YEO just four years ago, you can see that it's really happening.  People like Ezra Temko, Daniel Biss, and Darcy Burner are already showing remarkable levels of leadership, and showing all of us that our work, our effort, our energy, our invested money, is showing signs of real impact.

Matt Stoller :: Good Progressive Movement Happenings

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Open Left makes a difference (4.00 / 4)
In the time I have been reading OL I...
-Have felt a stronger sense of community in the progressive movement
-Have learned and thought more about politics than in all my reading before that
-Have developed real faith that we can breathe life back into the Democrats
-Have given money for candidates and causes that I would not have heard of otherwise.
-Have written posts on subjects I had not thought of before


We won the Battle. Now the Real Fight for Change Begins. Join and fight for progressive change.  

No way do I agree with that dating... (0.00 / 0)
I don't know what "movement" you are dating from 1998. MoveOn didn't start in a vacuum.

If you want to date the effective melding of on-line tools with progressive institution-building, then okay, I'm with you. But dating a movement to 1998? Why not 2000 with the Battle In Seattle?

If you want to talk about the rise of the Netroots from 1998, then fine. But Young People and YEO aren't really Netroots spawned institutions.

I don't mind giving lots of credit to folks and showing how far we've come in a short period of time, but the historian in my gets itchy with dating a "movement" to 1998 when movement organizations like progressive organizing unions and ACORN have been pushing progressive movement building for decades.

Just sayin'.

IMO (4.00 / 1)
One of the most important organizations in movement building right now is Wellstone Action the group that Wellstone's kids and the whole Wellstone movement founded in the aftermath of Paul's death. They have trained 16,745 people. And 153 of them have been elected. It is really a great organization and now they are starting Camp Wellstone's for High School Students to get progressives trained earlier and I am proud to be a part of that.

There are lots of great groups fighting the good fight. We just need to make them stronger.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Thanks for the post (4.00 / 1)
Building a strong infrastructure is important.  I am glad the Dems and progressives are finally doing what we should have done years ago.  Very positive sign.

On another note, as a NYC resident I am so pissed about the death of congestion pricing.  The car wins again over public transportation even in a city where more than 70% of commuters use subways and buses.  Uggh!

That's the same Ezra Temko (0.00 / 0)
who helped found the Oberlin College Republicans in Spring 2005, and served as their treasurer for the first two years.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

Yes, the same great Ezra Temko (0.00 / 0)
I had the great fortunate to work with Ezra both at Oberlin College and as a fellow with Young People For.

Ezra's belief in the real value increased civic engagement explains why he constantly fought for access and participation at Oberlin. Whether it was helping the CRs restart their organization or other students create an organization to oppose genocide in Darfur or establishing and running a chapter of the progressive Roosevelt Institution, he helped students gather and debate. He worked consistently to increase student access to and participation in Oberlin's governance.

Ezra's belief in grassroots participation is genuine. He's a good guy. And he'll be a great member of Newark's City Council.

[ Parent ]
Cheers to YP4 (4.00 / 1)
There's a reason we've highlighted YP4 in the past:  their Fellows are doing amazing work, in a context that supports them, teaches them and -- what's critical to us Living Liberally folks -- networks them.

They also realize that the YP4 organization alone isn't enough network for their Fellows -- so they work hard to connect with other groups to expand the contacts for their young leaders.

This leads to a spirit of collaboration that is important for progressive politics today.  It also led to YP4 forming a program called the Leadership Academy that placed recent college grads in Fellowships with progressive partners tackling two challenges:  creating opportunities for young progressives in the movement, and supporting the capacity-building endeavors of partners (yes, including us).

Getting elected helps tell their story -- but they have many more successes that are pinned to campus victories and community change that are just significant in demonstrating the impact of their long-term work.

Can you tell we're big fans?

New World: Meet Old World (0.00 / 0)
"Building diverse leadership is going to take decades, but the payoff is going to be a kinder, saner, and gentler world.  It's what we've all been working towards."

Impressive words, but given the venomous vitriol spewed by BIG O's followers (particularly in online blogs), and the "love" words of Randi Rhodes, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the blatant sexism displayed toward HRC supporters, and the sexism and ageism directed at older white women voters who support HRC, I'm not optimistic. In fact, the "new" progressives remind me a whole lot of the "old" progressives from the 60s and 70s.

In fact, my optimism about a "kinder, saner, and gentler world" under so-called progressives has plummeted like a stone in recent months.

"Meet the new boss; same as the old boss."


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