I couldn’t let Election Day come and go without offering a top ten list of progressive groups working for change on November 2nd and beyond. Here, then, is my far-from-comprehensive list of organizations embodying a new progressive spirit and infrastructure that will mobilize first-time voters, protect every vote, help to elect John Kerry and provide the basis for progressive victories in the future.
The majority of these groups are affiliated with one of two coalitions. National Voice is coordinating non-profit groups such as ACORN, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, and the USAction Education Fund (as well as 1,000 other nonpartisan groups) to create a new kind of voter registration, education and outreach effort directed at the millions of Americans usually ignored by the campaigns.
The November 2 Campaign is the most effective voter mobilization group in the National Voice coalition. Its simple “November 2” slogan is plastered on t-shirts, billboards, buses and ads in movie theaters. “You want people to come up and ask you what the shirt is all about so you can engage them in conversation about voting,” explained Mark Ritchie, NV’s executive director. There’s an inspirational and optimistic quality to it, combined with real service, reminding people when to vote, how to get register, how to find your polling place. It’s civics with an edge. Having recruited 200,000 volunteers, the November 2 Campaign has upped its registration goal to 5 million new voters.
Election Protection 2004 (EP2004 ) was launched by Ralph Neas’ People for the American Way (PFAW) and other coalition public interest partners to provide educational tools and legal assistance to minority voters in battleground states. PFAW has set up 58 field offices in the targeted states, and along with its strategic partners in the coalition it is mobilizing nearly 20,000 volunteers including 5,000 lawyers. “What Freedom Summer was to 1964,” Neas says, “Freedom Fall will be to 2004.”
America’s Families United Voter Protection Project, as I wrote here in August, understands that election protection begins long before Election Day. For months, AFUVPP has been working in some 100 counties and 20 states to clarify ID rules, monitor election officials and ensure that registered voters remain on the rolls. AFUVPP, says Director Penda Hair, is “adding additional activities” prior to Election Day, is “very active” in Ohio, where GOP poll watchers are seeking to suppress African-American turnout, and is trying to prevent the election from being thrown into the courts. “Our lawyers are now developing a county-by-county strategy for dealing with problems,” explains Hair.
Rock the Vote, also a member of National Voice, was founded in 1990 to promote freedom of speech and artistic expression and mobilize young voters. Rock the Vote has registered 1.3 million new voters in this cycle. By emailing fake draft cards to 650,000 youth, it “substantially cranked up the volume on the already loud Internet buzz surrounding a possible military draft,” said the Los Angeles Times.
Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) is fighting to mobilize 22 million voters that, until now, the Democratic Party (and even progressives) have ignored–unmarried women. “What we know is that these women are concerned about affordable health care, job security, a livable minimum wage and the environment, and progressive groups should approach these women and respond to their concerns,” says Chris Desser, WVWV’s co-director. WVWV has registered 150,000 women so far, and dozens of organizations have used its lists in battleground states to register unmarried women.
A second coordinating group, America Votes, is a coalition of 33 progressive national mass membership organizations combining venerable Democratic organizations like the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and US Action with newer, well-financed groups like MoveOn.org and America Coming Together.
America Votes has conducted door-to-door canvasses, run phone banks and spearheaded registration drives in 17 battleground states. Active in America Votes are the largest grassroots organizations in the US, representing 20 million people and doing work to protect the environment, guard civil rights, support labor rights, promote choice and mobilize voters in under-represented communities. This unprecedented coalition is deploying 30,000 volunteers in swing states on Election Day.
America Coming Together (ACT) says its efforts will result in “the largest voter mobilization effort in history.” ACT is funding more than 12 million phone calls and delivering 11 million pieces of literature to voters in battleground states. Its 45,000 paid canvassers complement the Democratic Party’s GOTV efforts and give Kerry a leg up.
MoveOn.org has taken on Fox News, the Gallup Poll and the Bush Administration’s disastrous Iraq policy. MoveOn.org is “recruiting 50,000 volunteers to turn out 440,000 additional votes from 10,000 targeted neighborhoods across the country,” establishing itself as a linchpin in the new progressive movement.
Citizen Change (CC), which was founded by P. Diddy, has recruited celebrities including 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Leonardo DiCaprio to mobilize the hip-hop generation. CC intends “to make voting hot, sexy and relevant” to youth who regard politics as irrelevant in their lives. CC’s message: “Vote or Die.”
The League of Pissed Off Voters (LPOV), as our Nation cover story pointed out, wants “to establish a voting bloc specifically on the basis of being young and angry.” Punk rock fans, argues LPOV, should vote “to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office,” as the title of its book urges.
Alongside edgy groups like Punk Voter, LPOV is crafting a first-time appeal to a disaffected voting bloc; The League has close to 100 local chapters and over 500 organizers using the internet and other creative 21st century strategies to spread the word. Its members recently embarked on an 80-city swing state tour. LPOV encourages folks to hold “Politics n’ Pancakes” brunches “to learn and teach each other in the environments we hang in anyway” and it is committed to “building a long term progressive power base.”
Progressive Majority is a farm team for recruiting the next generation of progressive public officials at the local and national levels. As I pointed out in this space last December, Progressive Majority, led by veteran organizer Gloria Totten, was launched in 2001 with the purpose of electing progressive champions. As the only national organization dedicated exclusively to supporting the next generation of progressive candidates, it is dedicated to long-term change, and to countering the DLC’s centrist candidates and efforts to steer the party rightward.
In the end, then, this is a grand (though by no means comprehensive) coalition of progressivism. The hard work of these groups over the past two years will pay dividends on Election Day. Equally important, however, is that these groups represent a kind of shadow Democratic Party–that has arisen due to new campaign finance rules and the Party’s weakness–offering a fighting chance to progressives who are committed to protecting the vote, mobilizing progressive voters and revitalizing democracy in the decades ahead.
These organizations–and the values they represent–are finding strength in numbers. Regardless of who wins, progressives aren’t going away after November 2nd.