Will we learn to fund progressive infrastructure?

With Spring in full-bloom, I decided to do some spring cleaning this weekend and clean out the way-too-many saved emails I’ve been holding onto for some inexplicable reason and delete old internet “bookmarks” I haven’t looked at for months (beats cleaning out closets). In doing so, I came across a number of wonderful and informative places that have actually closed up shop for lack of funding. Sadly, but not surprisingly, many of them are progressive sites which simply ran out of money. It’s not that they were lacking for a solid readership. But readership alone doesn’t keep a site going. It takes money and commitment by progressive groups and individuals to keep internet activism alive in California. Infrastructure is never cheap, although the internet is probably the best dollar-for-result-invested that political activism has seen so far.
We know that one of the right-wing’s strategies has been to burn up progressive’s financial resources by depleting our dollars while we try to fund safety-net programs that the government no longer supports. We’re asked to contribute to so many worthy causes; to right injustice, to help the needy, protect the environment from corporate onslaught, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. And then there’s trying to keep the progressive message and its critical infrastructure alive. Poltical internet sites know this only too well. Most of California’s progressive sites continue pretty much on love and commitment to what we’re doing.
This isn’t a fundraising pitch for Speak Out California (although if it does move you to contribute to our site, we’d welcome it—all you have to do is click onto the header captioned “Donate ” at the top of our home page.) We’re not alone in our neverending need for support. Every day I get a request to donate to progressive sites like,Truthout, which serves as a sort of on-line clearinghouse for daily news and opinion of interest to the progressive community.
I know from talking with other California progressive websites that generate dialogue and information to California’s ever-growing progressive community that they, too, are struggling to stay alive; that they are able to continue by dipping into their personal savings or doing other work in addition to maintaining their websites. They’ve tried advertising and fundraising on line. Not enough comes in to pay the bills and provide them with a living wage for their efforts.
Organizations that create internet sites as a secondary aspect to their mission -for example to provide information on their own activities are often able to fund their sites, but the goal of internet infrastructure is to provide independent information seen through a broader “progressive” lense. While different groups are doing important work, they tend to have a single or specific agenda- for example, Eco-Vote. This well-designed site is intended to provide information on the work and programs of the CLCV (California League of Conservation Voters) whereas the goal of progressive infrastructure is to articulate over-arching and fundamental values that extend to a broad range of issues and topics.
On the other side of the spectrum, the right-wing propaganda machines are functioning quite successfully. Why? Simply because wealthy right-wingers and big corporations understand and appreciate the importance of developing strong informational and opinion infrastructure on the internet. They’re willing to put the money in to get their pro-business, anti-government message out wide and far. Their on-line networks get “advertising” at above-market rates or get large contributions from right-wing companies and individuals to keep going, broaden their networks and plug their agenda.
If we want to keep educating and informing progressives in California on the state’s important comings-and-goings, continue a strong and pro-active voice for positive change, and combat the right-wing propaganda machines, we’ve got to see a greater commitment to funding these efforts.
The right-wing has always understood that love alone, will not win the day. It’s about time the good guys realized that as well or our work and message will be just a faint whisper in California’s internet political discourse.