When it comes to the big issues of our time — like healthcare, energy and climate change, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and building a more just economy — I’ve long believed it will require a strong inside-outside strategy to push progressive solutions through Congress. That’s why I was so pleased when Darcy Burner was recently named Executive Directorof ProgressiveCongress.org. (Full disclosure: I’m a board member.)
The organization’s purpose is to bring together progressives both inside and outside of Congress to craft strong policies and work cooperatively to implement them. Burner knows the grassroots, netroots, and political landscape as well as anyone, and her close Congressional races in Washington state against a Republican incumbent in 2006 and 2008 are a testament to that fact. A former Microsoft manager, she was also the architect of the “Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq“.
Last month, ProgressiveCongress.org asked people to submit and vote on questions regarding healthcare reform via its website. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) then answered the questions on the House floor, where proceedings are broadcast on C-SPAN and entered into the Congressional Record.
The results exceeded all expectations.
Tens of thousands of people responded and Caucus members were “very enthusiastic” about “having more direct interaction with normal Americans out there who are interested in [these] issues.” Then this past week there were approximately 47,000 votes on which Energy Bill questions to ask — a response Burner called “unbelievable.” (Caucus members answered those questions on the floor this past Thursday and video will soon be available.)
“This was an experiment,” Burner said. “My tech background tells me you try ten things, eight of them will fail, and the other two will succeed. The catch-though, is you can never predict ahead of time which two things it’s going to be. So, this being our first foray in trying to connect some of the progressive grassroots to the Caucus… it has succeeded spectacularly.”
This is exactly the kind of creative experimentation people can expect from Burner and ProgressiveCongress as it works to connect progressives outside of the beltway with those on the inside — leveraging the strength of both.
“I’m a huge believer in small-d democracy — the idea that you want as many people to be actively participating in government as you can manage,” she said. Burner wants to translate the “huge upsurge” in progressive participation in elections “into an upsurge in participation in governing…. This is the next obvious step. How do you get from merely electing people — which I’ll grant is very important — to actually having people participate on a day-to-day basis in the process of governing?”
Both the grassroots and the CPC stand to benefit from this kind of focus on the progressive infrastructure. Burner noted that the progressive grassroots and their representatives in Congress haven’t been aligned historically and that “makes both less effective.”
“The members of Congress… because they don’t know what people are thinking, because they don’t have either the input from the outside world or an effective echo chamber talking about what they’re doing to help reinforce it — have been a lot less effective than they might have been,” Burner said. “The flip side… is that the progressive movement, for all of the unbelievably smart people who have been talking about issues… writing about them, and communicating with each other… For all of that, they haven’t had any real foot in the door of changing policy in this country. So, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
But working to build that whole is no easy feat.
“I was referring to it for a while as ‘duct tape’ — to connect progressives in Congress with progressives outside of Congress,” she said. “And I was told that it was going to take a lot more than duct tape and at the very least I needed to add some baling wire….So, duct tape and baling wire.”
Add to that a whole lot of sweat, determination and creativity — and you. This is a critical effort. Get involved now.