Green and lefty groups band together, pledge millions to fight right-wing evildoing
A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP, the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.
At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues—potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. …
The liberal activists have dubbed this effort the Democracy Initiative. The campaign, Brune says, has since been attracting other members—and also interest from foundations looking to give money—because many groups on the left believe they can’t accomplish their own goals without winning reforms on the Initiative’s three issues.
As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune puts it, “We’re not going to have a clean-energy economy if the same companies that are polluting our rivers and oceans are also polluting our elections.”
The Democracy Initiative, which first started meeting last June, now includes 30 to 35 groups, and Brune expects that to soon swell to 50. “[A]ttendees at the December meeting included top officials from the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Public Campaign, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, Voto Latino, the Demos think tank, Piper Fund, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, National People’s Action, National Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress, the United Auto Workers, and Color of Change.”
[Brune and other instigators] say the Democracy Initiative is no flash in the pan; they’re in it for the long haul, for more than just this election cycle and the one after it. It took four decades, these leaders say, for conservatives to shape state and federal legislatures to the degree that they have, and it will take a long stretch to roll back those changes. “The game is rigged against us; the corporate right has done such a good job taking over the Congress and the courts,” [says Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford]. “We’re saying we need to step back and change the whole game.”
The first order of business is pushing to change the Senate’s operating rules and curb use of the filibuster, which probably has to happen by Jan. 22 in order to take hold in this new Congress. Wondering why filibuster reform is so important? Grist’s David Roberts explains.