Three Wishes

Neil the Ethical Werewolf in a post on Ezra Klein’s blog:

Suppose you had the money and power to start three small liberal organizations — 527 groups, think tanks, PACs, ninja strike teams, or whatever. What would they be?

The commenters suggested, among other things, building a dorm for progressive interns in Washington, funding a group to help Democrats work (or attack) the media, and investigating electronic voting machines.

I’m not a big fan of starting more organizations. I think we have plenty of them lying around. But I’m going to play the game for a few minutes.

First, I would start a group devoted to developing progressive strategies for reaching people who don’t care about or enjoy politics. I’m one of those people, so perhaps this is a bit self-serving. But I think many people who are overwhelmed or alienated by the ugliness of politics could be allies in public problem-solving if approached correctly.

Second, I would cheat and throw some money at the Public Works project at the Demos Center for the Public Sector:

Public Works is undertaking a deliberate campaign, grounded in the states, to build a vision of governance for the contemporary context that can restore respect for public service, trust in government’s protective capacities, and belief in the efficacy of government intervention on behalf of the public good.

I don’t believe that there was ever a time in American history when everyone trusted the government and paid taxes willingly, but I do believe our nation’s vision of government could use some work. We won’t have high enough expectations of it if we don’t believe it can achieve great things. My funding for Demos would include one condition: stop using the word “efficacy”.

Third, I would fund an organization to work in coalition with groups across the country that organize in low-income neighborhoods. Its goal would be to generate voter turnout that leads to victories for progressive candidates in local elections – then help communities hold those elected officials accountable. Shakespeare’s Sister made the point recently, also in a post on Ezra Klein’s blog, that the median income of the electorate is much higher than that of the country:

It’s easy to dismiss this line of reasoning with the old “there’s obviously a difference between the Democrats and the Republicans” line, as if that ought to be enough, and for many of us, that difference is apparent. But I have worked with the truly indigent – not the working poor, but families who have been homeless (or are homeless), or have languished generation after generation in the projects – and the differences we may see between the Democrats and the Republicans do not help them. Neither party effectively addresses their needs. They didn’t “do better” under Clinton than Bush.

If we want lower-income people to be engaged, we have to deliver on our promises. And quite honestly, if we want to live up to our progressive values, we’d better care about what happens to people in these communities and be willing to fund leadership development there. Local is the easiest place to see success, and a success story in one community can be used as a teaching tool in the next community.