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Wed Jan 9, 2013, 01:53 PM

Revealed: The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics

It was the kind of meeting that conspiratorial conservative bloggers dream about. 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. "It was so exciting," says Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director. "We weren't just wringing our hands about the Koch brothers. We were saying, 'I'll put in this amount of dollars and this many organizers.'"

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. "This isn't an optional activity for us," Brune tells me. "It is mission critical."

Liberal groups have joined forces around issues—and elections—before. Health Care for America Now (HCAN) was a megagroup formed to support Obama's health care reform bill in 2009. And in 2003, leaders from EMILY's List, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO, and Sierra Club formed America Coming Together, the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation in the history of Democratic politics, to help elect presidential candidate John Kerry. Indeed, progressives have collaborated specifically on voting rights or campaign finance before, too. But the Democracy Initiative may be the first time so many groups teamed up to work on multiple issues not tied to an election. "This is really the first time that a broad spectrum of groups have come together around a big agenda that impacts the state and national level," says Kim Anderson, who runs the NEA's center for advocacy and outreach and attended the December meeting.


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