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Building A Progressive Majority | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Building A Progressive Majority

It's no secret that progressives need to build a stronger political infrastructure if we're going to achieve an enduring majority for positive change in this country. After all, the Right's success in defining politics in the US over the past generation comes in no small measure from its independent institution-building and operational capacities.

As the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, if our whole is going to equal the sum of our parts, we need to build a powerful progressive force that recruits and supports the next generation of leaders, at both the grassroots and national level. He had an abiding belief in the importance of building a permanent infrastructure which could identify and train people to run for local, state and national office; apply effective grassroots organizing to electoral politics; provide support for candidates; run ballot initiatives (campaign finance, living wage, the right to organize); offer a vehicle for coordinated issue campaigns; and galvanize a network of media-savvy groups with a broad-based message.

Progressive Majority, and its program, PROPAC, are just what Wellstone had in mind. Led by veteran organizer Gloria Totten, Progressive Majority was launched in 2001 with the sole purpose of electing progressive champions. In their first cycle, they built a nationwide network of tens of thousands of small donors for targeted races. Now, with PROPAC, they are adding a sophisticated plan to recruit, train and support the next generation of Paul Wellstones.

"The time is right for all of the new organizing that is happening on the Left," Totten argues. "George W. Bush and his wrong-headed policies have galvanized us." But, more importantly, she continues, "there is an emerging leadership on the Left that is not willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections."

That's where her group's work comes in. Progressive Majority is working closely with many other "Beat Bush" efforts underway and plans to increase those efforts. But, as the only national organization dedicated exclusively to supporting the next generation of candidates who champion a broad progressive economic and social agenda, Progressive Majority is uniquely positioned. And through PROPAC, its newest political program--the name and idea are conscious echoes of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC, the vehicle by which he rose from Congressional backbencher to House Speaker in 14 carefully plotted years leading up to 1994--Totten hopes to raise some $2.6 million over the next year to recruit and train the next generation of progressive candidates at the grassroots level.

"For too long," Totten believes, "progressives have allowed the Party to dominate candidate recruitment. As a result, the Party has drifted to the political right due to the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)." Totten's ambition is nothing less than to design a bold new strategy to redefine progressive electoral politics by transforming Democratic Party candidate recruitment programs.

As Totten sees it, "It's the first step in a long-range project to fill the pipeline with the next generation of progressive elected leaders." PROPAC will also lend critical fundraising support, tapping candidates into a growing network of more than 20,000 small donors and helping them develop their own donor bases. What we won't be, Totten insists,"is another group from Washington that swoops into a community, tells people what to do and then leaves. We are working at the grassroots to develop lasting relationships to continually identify and recruit good progressives to run for office." (PROPAC'S coalition partners include USAction and their local affiliates, Wellstone Action, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and the PAC for the Hispanic Caucus; they will also work with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and other labor organizations.)

In the 2004 cycle, PROPAC will be active in five "battleground" states--They have begun work in Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, and they will add Arizona, Michigan or Florida as funding allows, all of which could swing either way in the Presidential race. The group plans to add five additional target states in 2006 and five more in 2008 until they have a permanent recruitment operation in the most competetive states in the nation. Ultimately, Progressive Majority hopes to elect enough local and statewide candidates--a "farm team"-- to have an impact on the redistricting battles of 2011. "I want candidate recruitment and development to be a permanent part of our politics--not just an election-year priority," Totten says.

With Progressive Majority and PROPAC emerging as savvy players at this crucial time, there's hope that sometime soon a new generation of passionate and principled leaders will drive progressive values into the political debate and the electoral arena.

Click here for more information about Progressive Majority and PROPAC.

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