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.