- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
YPP Interview: Brandon Silverman, Center for Progressive Leadership
Last week I conducted an email interview with Brandon Silverman, of the Center for Progressive Leadership. CPL was formed with the goal of helping create the next wave of progressive leaders. Read on, and if it interests you, seriously consider applying for their 9 month fellowship program. My questions are inbold.
I have heard CPL described, and have described it myself, as attempting to create a "farm team" of Democratic politicians. Is that an accurate description?
Not quite. First off all, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization...which means, among other things, that we are not specifically tied or affiliated with any party. Our goal is to invest in the long-term development of progressive leaders...individuals who believe that government has an ongoing responsibility to help build a moral economy and a more just society, as well as ensure basic individual rights, protect the environment, defend the rights of the minority, and work for global cooperation.
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Second, it is not just about candidates and politicians. It is also about students, activists, political operatives, community organizers, organizational directors, and more. There is a much broader universe of political leadership than just elected office, and while we are certainly going to be helping develop future candidates, we are also investing and building leaders at every other level at the same time.
On that note, could you see a situation where a CPL candidate challenges another, less progressive candidate in a primary? Is that something that would be encouraged? I ask because in a place like Philly, everyone is a Democrat, to the point that it is does not carry that much in the way of ideological definition.
Well, let's be clear, there are not going to be any official or endorsed CPL "candidates". Once a CPL alumni or graduate declares for a race, we will not be able to support or be involved in any way in their actual candidacy. So, even if there were two CPL alumni running against each other in a primary, it wouldn't matter because we would not be involved in the actual race.
More importantly, though, is that we are not focused or even interested in elections themselves. While our programs are certainly going to produce individuals who will run for office; our goal is to expand the quality and the quantity of our leaders at every level of political involvement.
And in fact, this speaks directly to the space that CPL fills. In the current landscape of leadership development and support organizations, the most over-developed portion is the one that includes short-term, political organizations that are built in order to help candidates win the next election. PACs, party committees and more provide financial, institutional and additional support on a cyclical schedule; it is election cycle to election cycle.
While these organizations play a crucial role in helping progressives win office; the truth is that we have fallen way, way behind conservatives in providing ongoing, long-term leadership development and support. We are trying to help candidates win in the short-term rather than thinking about how to build an infrastructure that will provide us with more college organizers, more community leaders, more campaign managers, more organizational directors, and in the end, which will also produce more candidates.
The numbers speak for themselves. For instance, right now conservatives invest $25 million every year in 501(c)(3) organizations that focus exclusively on long-term training and development of conservative leaders.
We spend less than $1 million.
In the last election, we spent $2 billion trying to win. Conservatives have already spent 25 years, and nearly $100 million, building the talent pool that won the election.
And that same pool is going to consistently win them elections for the next several decades. Its time for us to catch up.
It certainly seems to be a good long term goal. And, the idea that this is not only building for elections is clearly a good thing. I saw that the organzation takes a lot of its values, etc from George Lakoff. But, one thing Lakoff pointed out was that the far-right had a few very, very rich people (Coors, Scaife) who were willing to help build conservatism with years and years of huge money infusions to places like the Heritage Foundation, etc. So, it is good to see "our side" doing the same thing, even if it is on a smaller scale.
That said, how do you measure success? CPL still has to raise money, right? It seems like there is all this talk about a lot of liberal "venture capitalists" who are willing to put money into party building, or simply progressive building. But, if you rely on donations, isn't there an inherent pressure to produce clear "results," a la candidates winning? Is there enough patience to see this through?
If you got a chance to meet some of our participants in the latest Springboard Trainings, I could easily point you to some successes we have already had. There were individuals who had never participated in political organizing before...charismatic, smart, and well-spoken people who had thought about organizing and this was their first experience. Engaging those kinds of folks and teaching them how to organize on their own behalf and on behalf of their communities is a very tangible success for us an organization.
Moreover, there are a lot of other specific metrics outside that we can use to measure our impact...including the total number of youth, activists, political operatives, organizers and future candidates trained in our programs, measuring the diversity of our trainings, how effective we are in engaging new folks in the political process, the ability of our graduates to get into positions of leadership, the total hours of coaching we provide in a given year, just to name a few.
Is this is enough to sustain the kind of annual giving we are aiming for? Yes... and a large part of the reason is that we are a 501(c)(3). Donations to our organization are tax deductible, and that gives us a lot of leverage to raise large sums of money from top-level donors and in addition, use that money to build endowments that can fund us over the long-term. Moreover, we will also continue to see financial support year to year from our own fee-based programs, ongoing foundation and family grants, and grassroots fundraising.
On top of all that, and perhaps this gets to your real point, we're starting to see the first real organizing effort on the part of top-level progressive donors all over the country...an effort that may make Lakoff's point less significant. Organizations like the Democracy Alliance, Billionaires Club and more are going to be an entirely new and powerful source of funds for progressive infrastructure building in the next ten years.
(Also, for the record, it is very much our goal to match and surpass the full breadth of 501(c)(3) conservative training programs. And if it not CPL that does it, we'll fight to make sure that someone does...because it simply has to happen if we want to succeed.)
In terms of methods of training, I assume you aren't reinventing the wheel. Are there programs that you look at as models? Does studying what the Heritage Foundation, et. al. does with their own summer fellows, or whatever they call them, provide a good lesson, or is the progressive method of organizing distinct from the conservative one?
On the progressive side, have you looked at what has been achieved with Camp Wellstone?
Among all the training organizations and leadership programs we've looked at over the last two years, we've been the most impressed with a very specific model - the fellowship model. And our plan is to use that model as the basis for the majority of our programs. So, we are not reinventing the wheel necessarily...but we are putting what we think is a proven and impressive set of wheels on a brand new car.
Fellowships take varying formats, but most include individual coaching, mentoring, networking, and group participation over the course of 6 to 12 months. The nonprofit and private sector has long been using fellowship models to provide ongoing support for emerging leaders (e.g. the Aspen Institute and Coro Fellowships); however, few progressive organizations have maximized the potential for the model to develop and train political leaders (including conservative organizations).
And as it turns out, fellowships are the most efficient training models available to us. Too many people get funneled through one-day and weekend programs without ever being getting any follow-up to see if the workshops, lectures, and information translated into political ability and power. Fellowships, on the other hand, give trainers and consultants the chance to really develop and hone individual skills over an extended period of time. Its just not about giving someone information...its about personal development.
(The only model more intense than a Fellowship is a full-time corps model, i.e. AmericaCorps, PeaceCorps, EMILY's List Corp program; however, the cost per participant rises dramatically from the fellowship to the corps models).
In terms of your other question....from the very beginning of our existence, we've probably spent the most time studying the progressive political training landscape, including Camp Wellstone, Progressive Majority, DemocraticGAIN, 21st Century Democrats, People for the American Way, Emily's List, certain labor unions, and more. And in addition, we've actually been closely associated a few of these. For instance, we are currently partnered with People for the American Way and jointly running a college fellowship program in Michigan. And Kelly Young, the ED of 21st Century Democrats, is on our Board of Directors. It has always been very important that we as an organization are working collaboratively with other training organizations....and in fact, in the end, we continue to fit into a very specific and large niche.
In terms of our specific relationship with Camp Wellstone, they are doing a lot of great things. Personally, I know a lot of their alumni and they continually run the highest level programs; organizationally, however, we differ from them on a number of levels ...our fellowship models goes far beyond a lot of their one-shot, weekend campaign trainings, Wellstone's trainings have almost entirely been election cycle focused, and all of their Wellstone Camps are done through their 527 and PAC structures (only their nonprofit leaders training is done through their 501(c)(3)).
I know PA has been targeted as a place for CPL to start. Can we expect to see CPL and its fellowship programs maintain their presence in PA over at least the next few years, or does the program move on to a few other swing states?
Our plan is to be a permanent presence in Pennsylvania for as long as we have the resources to run our programs. On a national level and in each individual state, the overarching goal is to build a sustainable infrastructure for developing leaders.
At the same time, we are also going to continue expanding to other states. We are currently building state offices in Arizona and Michigan, and will hopefully launch programs there by the end of the fall. After that, we will most likely begin expanding into Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Missouri, Maine and other to be determined states.
In the same way that we are building an ongoing presence here in Pennsylvania, each of our subsequent state offices will be the foundation of a permanent CPL presence in the state as well.
The price tag for the fellowship is significant to low-budget young’uns, like myself. Are there enough scholarships available that prospective fellows without the ability to come up with that kind of money should not be dissuaded from applying?
The price is very high; and part of the reason is that we specifically want the Fellowship to represent a very serious and very genuine commitment on the part of applicants in their own political future. So, coming up with the money is an important part of the process.
That being said, there are scholarships available for applicants who cannot afford to raise or come up with the fee.
Lets say the fellowship provides great general organizing training. What do you do if conservatives start applying to the program?
To be clear, our Fellowship provides a very progressive training. For instance, six out of the nine months of upcoming PA Fellowship are focused on topics that are going to be infused with progressive ideology...including constructing a message, leading from your values, working within the existing progressive community, and more. The only "general" trainings will be about dealing with specific skills like performing well in front of a camera, handling a press crisis, etc.
Moreover, outside of the ideology naturally woven into our trainings, the structure itself is very different from conservative programs in a variety of ways (and this may get to your previous question about the difference between progressive and conservative organizing). Our Fellowships are less didactic, more issue-based, more interactive, and more diverse than similar programs at the Leadership Institute and Young American's Foundation, for instance.
If a conservative wants to apply for the program, they are welcome to; however, they'll get about as much out if as a progressive who spends nine months at a conservative training learning how to effectively talk about a "culture of life", mobilize college students to lobby on behalf of the death tax, and raise money from the Christian right. In reality, our applicant pool is going to end up being naturally self-selective.
OK, wrapping this up, by sort of getting back to a question I asked earlier.
This blog ends up being very focused on local, Philly-centric issues. One thing that we have all discussed before is that it is hard to make a difference in Philly with a national type progressive platform. IE, almost any Philly pol would sign off on the CPL values statements, because they don't play out on a local level, or mess with the Philly power structure. That said, Philly has obvious needs for change, and for reforms. But, they really are hard to pinpoint under the progressive/conservative viewpoint. How do we harness the momentum of CPL for reforming Philadelphia?
Look, the truth is that, in a lot of ways, Philadelphia is not a hot target for us. There is already a healthy, vibrant, and diverse progressive community here (and a lot of my friends are a part of it). Which means, among other things, that for all the effort we are making to do outreach in the city, we are spending twenty times as much effort (if not more) reaching out to the rest of the state.
However, that doesn't mean that our programs can't be a resource to help make Philadelphia progressive leaders better fundraisers, more effective speakers, more powerful organizers, and more inspiring leaders. We're not going to endorse or prescribe a specific path to successful Philadephia reform...but we are going to provide leadership development opportunities those who want them. Its not just about knowing the path to success, but its also about being able to walk down it.
I think, however, that the Philadelphia progressive community can also play an important role in helping us as an organization. We will continue to grow as we get support from the active progressive communities in the state to help reach out to rest of the commonwealth, build and develop our programs, recruit top mentors, advisers and trainers, and help us prove to the rest of the country that the PA model will work on a national level.