Failure to Support Progressive Movement Dooms Another Organization

This is a guest post by Dr. Katherine Forrest, Co-Founder of the Commonweal Institute. It originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute Blog.
The Rockridge Institute wasn’t the only progressive infrastructure organization that folded this spring. Another was the Center for Policy Alternatives , which shut down in April, 2008, after having been around for 32 years. CPA provided policy ideas for state governments, published an annual collection of policy recommendations, and trained future legislators. Like Rockridge, CPA’s executive director, Tim McFeeley, stated in his final e-mailed message that a main reason for CPA’s demise was the lack of support for infrastructure organizations among progressives.
Dealing with the need for ongoing support for their political movement’s operations is a challenge that needs to be addressed successfully, regardless of whether modern “progressives” align themselves more closely with independents or liberals or any particular political party.
I know many people who call themselves progressive, and even more whose sentiments I would consider to be progressive. But VERY few recognize that ongoing support, year after year, not just at election time, will be needed to build and sustain a political movement that works for the things they care about. Fewer still act on that recognition.
This seems to be a blind spot for progressives. They exemplify two American traits–fixation on personality and lack of patience and perspective. Progressives keep looking for a messiah candidate who can lead them out of the wilderness, pumping their dollars into candidates and campaigns, while ignoring the need for continuing work on moving public opinion and building the progressive base between election cycles. Progressive funders, notably including many in large nonprofit foundations as well as individual political donors, tend to make grants for short-term efforts (seldom exceeding 2-3 years), after which they are eager to move on to some exciting new venture, rather than supporting long-term social change efforts that reasonably will take a decade or more to achieve.
Notably, some working with disadvantaged communities are talking about how to do fundraising to “resource the social justice movement.” We can only hope that movement awareness spreads to encompass other issue areas, instead of remaining limited to social justice. After all, we’re all in it together–across the board, people have economic, housing, legal, environmental, educational, medical, and transportation needs–and that list just scratches the surface.
A progressive movement is what we need, and that movement needs SUPPORT. Too bad it didn’t come in time to save Rockridge Institute and Center for Policy Alternatives.