An Online Chat with SMS Contributors Lakshmi Chaudhry, Dan Carol and Adam Werbach

Join AlterNet and Moving Ideas for a conversation with bold progressive thinkers, writers, and activists about creative and practical solutions for building the progressive grassroots strength we need to turn our country around.

Start Making Sense, a new book from AlterNet, is an opening salvo on how citizens can begin to deliver U.S. politics from fear and fundamentalism.

Featured Panelists:

Dan Carol is founder of Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group. He writes regularly for his blog,

Lakshmi Chaudhry is Senior Editor of AlterNet and co-editor of Start Making Sense.

Adam Werbach is the executive director of the Common Assets Defense Fund. He is the former president of the Sierra Club and the author of the November 3rd Theses.

Moderator: Thank you for participating in this online discussion about the book Start Making Sense and the future of the Progressive Movement. Responses to your questions will be posted in the order in which they are answered. To see the most recent post, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Transcripts of this chat will be available at

        -- Diana, Moderator

Sara Williams: What the next cool thing in progressives' use of technology? How can we use it to our advantage to win on issues like Social Security or to fight back on the nuclear option?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: There are a ton of interesting apps we will see with wireless and SMS messaging but I think we have a lot of great tools for distributed democracy, house parties and the like. So I am a big evangelist for using the tools what we got and focsuing on integrating them into our field work, and deciding and fighting for what we are FOR. So I'd say, in one word, that the next cool thing in technology is....CONTENT :)
Posted: 2005-05-04 13:01:21

Cindie Slater: There are myriad progressive organizations contacting progressives like myself with requests that range from writing or calling members of congress to organizing meet ups or making donations. Every one of these groups are fighting the good fight and are worthy of my limited time and my limited funds. I'm sure there are many more like me who simply can't spread themselves any thinner. Isn't there some way to start combining our efforts and our money so we can make a bigger impact?
I just want to add that prior to last Novembers elections my efforts were mainly focused on national issues and efforts. I, like many others have learned the hard lesson that "act locally, think globally" is more than just a nice slogan. By December 2005 I and many others in my mostly rural county had begun efforts to organize with other like-minded individuals. We recently voted on a name for this group- Wayne County Network for Progressive Democracy and have sent out the proposed by-laws. It has taken a core group of about 15 or 20 people working every spare moment to get us to this point. The point I am trying to make is that many of us are reading about and hearing stories of other counties doing the same, some as part of their local Democratic Party and others, like us, independent from.
I sometimes imagine Karl Rove sitting in his White House office contemplating the thought of all of "those left-wing liberals" spinning their wheels trying to just keep up with the day to day national issues. Add to that issues being fought by residents in red states and it's enough to make a dedicated progressive consider New Zealand.
I suspect that this isn't even a realistic suggestion. Maybe it does take seperate organizations focused on different issues like media, courts,campaigns, or environment to accomplish objectives related to those issues. There must be some efforts that can be coordinated, though. I'd appreciate it if this question could be presented to the panel as a whole.
Thank you for asking for questions.
A Tired Activist,
Cindie Slater
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: I think your concerns are SPOT ON and agree that the old slogan think globally and act locally is spot on. My advice to you, and to myself, is to:
1- practice what we preach and honor and do local-state and REGIONAL work (and I know you'll wake up election days feeling good about something in years to come)
2-be patient that collaborative models are taking hold...list-matching by is a powerful example of quiet, critical but not so "sexy" changes that are rooting
3-take care of yourself, pace yourself
bestPosted: 2005-05-04 13:05:35

Jeff Cansoli: What can liberal folks do in their own communities to help people understand that the go-it-alone attitude of the Bush administration is a bad thing?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: Hmmm...good question. I think that we need to go look at how citizen diplomacy -- a wonky term for this new modern millenium -- which helped change the soviet-us chill in the early 1980s, can be re-tooled for the new era ahead. As a co-founder of the Apollo project, I also think our ability to lead on clean tech -- and then give that tech away -- will also be smart for us.
Posted: 2005-05-04 13:09:46

Nancy: I've been really frustrated with the whole values/church debate and the whole notion that Dems aren't down with God. I'm a person of faith and I'm a progressive. I think this is true of a lot of folks. What should we do better to help folks understand that lots of liberals are religious?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: Besides Sojourners and their good work, perhpas check out this new group which I am impressed with:www.christianalliance.orgPosted: 2005-05-04 13:11:21

Bob Reichenbach: What do you think of this idea for federal political campaigns:
1. Totally paid for by a federal fund (taxpayers)
2. Equal shares of the fund allocated by registered voters to the candidates of their choice.
Explained more fully at:
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: I think public financing of campaigns is the best public investment we can make to avoid taxpayer boondoggles brought to us by special interest controlled politicians.
This isn't a left-right issue either...look at the strange bedfellows group that tried to stop the 1996 telecommunications act boondoggle or how Sierra and Cato Institute work together on green scissors
Good luck!

Claire McDonough: It looks as if we post-Schiavo, Delay's ethics problems and with Bush having grabbed on to the Third Rail with both hands that we may have a great shot at the mid-term elections in '06. What do we need to be focusing on in terms of themes as we approach the '06 elections? Is there a realistic chance we can win seats and start gathering momementum for '08?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: One hopes.
I think that we have a sweet spot in terms of foreign oil dependence and Bush-Cheney's dinosaur policies versus the great US jobs and increased security we can build if we go for a new Apollo Project.
Bottom line: we need to be FOR THINGS and be optimistic in our vision of the future. Whetehr you are running for dogcatcher or congress. :)
See for more ways to plug in!Posted: 2005-05-04 13:17:50

Nathan:Is anyone but Dan answering questions? 8-)
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: I think I am your early ranter and then have to go soon. :)
Posted: 2005-05-04 13:18:31

Jen: By the time my generation reaches retirement age (30-40 years from now) social security as we know it will almost surely no longer exist, and the President's plan is not stitting well even with his supporters. What are some viable solutions to this economic situation?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: I am a "raise the cap" kind of guy. See the plan at: 2005-05-04 13:42:19

Jen: What are some way the labor movement can update their image an appeal more to a younger crowd who have little or no direct experience with/knowledge of unions?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: Here's my take:
Posted: 2005-05-04 13:43:11

Will Marr: First, congratulations to Alternet on what looks to be a very interesting book coming. I am looking forward to reading it.
And also thanks for the dialogue re: future of the progressive movement. I think its important to reach out and I applaud your efforts - along with MIN. Since the NY Times article from Matt Bai came out last summer on the "vast left wing conspiracy" I have been intrigued by the ongoing conversations regarding mapping what we have versus what we don;t and all the progressive shouting the next big idea for the big checks. It is an exciting time and I don't mean to be a cynic. BUT - I do want to express concern over the fact that two out of the three people on this panel are white men over 50. (Mind you, I am a white man - not quite 50.) I just think its time for you folks to step aside and perhaps offer some guiding light but not be directing these discussions. You had your chance and here we are. Lets get some new blood in the mix that is not predominately white or male. I do not proclaim to know much about the Democratic party but I hope that you'll see that it is not a dangerous thing for the party to look a hell of a lot more like who we represent. I say its time for a new energy policy ... and its has nothing to do with oil or the Apollo Alliance. =)
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: Hey, I am 47! :) Seriously, I think you make alot of good points. At this point, I think my main role is to be a trainer and bad data librarian for folks -- as in, don't do that we did that already. :)Posted: 2005-05-04 13:46:58

Diana: In your chapter, Rethinking Iraq, you talk about how the peace movement should become a pro-democracy movement. What would this look like? How could the U.S. peace movement connect with other movements around the world to develop a pro-democracy movement that works together?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: The first step would be building close working alliances with groups inside Iraq. The problem is that there is little or no coordination with or awareness of the different kinds of groups working to both free their country of U.S. occupation and create a genuinely democratic future for Iraq. Right now, our perspective is almost entirely dominated by domestic politics, which is really a euphemism for the Bush administration.

The book includes a great interview with Naomi Klein -- which you can also read here: -- that talks more about this. She points out how we have time and again missed the opportunity to reinforce and amplify these demands, be it for debt forgiveness or genuine reconstruction.Posted: 2005-05-04 13:47:59

Shawna: I'm assuming that the market for Start Making Sense is progressive types. Do you think that books like this will really move people or that the same insider types will read it? What kind of influence might the book have?
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: My sense is that the books and the meetings will help and inspire some folks, and annoy others as just talk etc.
The reality is that we are in a profound period of realignment, some of us are mad and angry, some are inspired and organizing non-stop, and I always assume that folks are coming at this from different mental pictures and we need to try and honor them all.
I don't think we can bumper sticker one method or message; we need to experiment, build bottom up and see what bubbles up.
I have to be an optimist about our chances, and I think we have spent far too much time tracking how the other side is kicking our a-- and not enough time head down executing on strategies and ideas we believe in.
That's my "story" and I am gonna stick to it -- and wish you all well.
I am gonna go now, thanksPosted: 2005-05-04 13:51:57

Michael: Your excerpt says the anti-war movement has to be a pro-democracy movement and not merely call for leaving Iraq. Well, of course - what significant part of the anti-war movement is actually saying we should just cut and run and not consider the harm that's been caused? That seems like something you'd say to convince pro-war folks that we're okay, not something to say to your allies. Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet:
As I explained in my response to the previous question, it's one thing to say that we're in favor of democracy in Iraq, but quite another to make it one of the primary goals of our movement. To be honest, I don't remember any major protests in the United States that demanded anything other than getting the hell out, bring our boys home, not in our name etc.
For example, we didn't march in D.C. to demand that the Bush administration spend the reconstruction money -- U.S. taxpayer money allocated by the Congress which remains mainly unspent because it entails more oversight (read, can't just hand it to Halliburton) -- on the goals that it was intended for, and in ways that create jobs and opportunity for the millions of skilled, educated and talented Iraqis.
Posted: 2005-05-04 13:54:21

Manny: Hi Dan: In response to your reponse to Claire about being for something. I agree with that but it seems like the stuff progressives are for doesn't really fit into a nice, neat package. I get how economic justice, civil rights, peace, women's rights, and the environment are connected but that seems like a harder case to make to the general public.
Dan Carol, Carol/Treveylan Strategy Group: Final shout out to Manny
We are for:
starting gate equality that includes community internet/high speed access and great neighborhood schools
high road economy and jobs (
a smart war on terrorism (which includes ebing tough when need be, and girls education across the globe and citizen engagement and tolerant values but not just saying "no war in iraq" --not if we want to be in majority)Posted: 2005-05-04 13:55:00

Diane: I think Bush and the Republicans are doing a good job of digging their own hole. But I think Dems are failing in showing they are a good alternative, that they would do any better of a job. Do you think it is because they have to some extent abandoned their progressive roots?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: You're right. The problem with the Democratic leadership now is no different from what was wrong with Kerry's candidacy. He felt that Bush's own mistakes and extremism would be sufficient reason for people to vote for him. He was wrong -- people don't vote for "nothing."
So yes, the GOP is going way too far and shows signs of being in trouble. But it's not going to translate into a meaningful victory if the Democrats don't offer a different, truly progressive vision -- even if they say win the Senate in 2006 or the White House in 2008. They'll just warm the seat until the Republicans figure out a way to get all of it right back from them.Posted: 2005-05-04 14:00:41

Mary N.: Thank you to AlterNet for creating Start Making Sense! I can't wait to read it. I wonder if there is the potential for AlterNet to encourage book groups or something like that to get folks talking together about how to take what is in the book and make change nationally and where they live.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: The entire point of the book is just that -- to start a national conversation about how to build a truly grassroots, reenergized progressive movement that can win. There are tips both in the last section of the book -- DIY movement-building if you will -- and if you need more ideas or share what you want to do, there's a contact email on the SMS website, which you can check out here:
We're hoping as the book tour gets rolling and we start building out the website, folks will want to start their own SMS MeetUps and book parties. As Don and I write in the book, "You're the movement," not a bunch of talking heads, including me.
Posted: 2005-05-04 14:07:28

Tim Harding:Isn't it the case that "Iraq" is a creation of the British empire, and in effect a region with ethnic and religious entities with no real reason to have governmental affiliation? It's not like in the West where, say, Texans aren't like San Franciscans, but they share government. These people are radically different, and hate each other.
Why then do I read in progressive outlets like yours that we need a "stable" Iraq? I think it's going to take a guy like Saddam Hussein to hold Iraq together.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: I think a lot of Iraqis would disagree with you very strenuously. This isn't to deny that there aren't ethnic tensions, but to say that they all hate each other to the point of wanting to secede is overstating the facts. I think sometimes in the West we're too quick to make accept the notion of bloody, intractable, ethnic or religious conflicts in non-Western countries. A lot of Iraqis are nationalists too -- they have a developed sense of national identity.
And here's something else to chew on: one of the theories floating around is that not only did the neocons never want to build a democratic Iraq, but they were even counting on the chaos and anarchy that would follow the invasion. The endgame being to balkanize and therefore neutralize Iraq. I'm not sure if that's true, but it's interesting to consider whose interests a badly fragmented Iraq would serve.Posted: 2005-05-04 14:14:07

Nathan: I asked this earlier as an open question, but I am wondering what you (and others) think of some of the startegies that are being developed that build on progressive organizations strengths in civic engagement and how that can be used to also mobilize people into the streets and into the polling places.
For example, ACORN and Project Vote are in the process of greatly expanding their Precinct Leader Action Networks in neighborhoods with low voter turnout, but generally progressive leanings. These structures work to develop the skills and expertise necessary for these citizens to overcome their alienation and make the connection between say, bad education, and school board elections or low minimum wages and Congressional representation. Thoughts?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: Since I don't have a background in organizing, it's hard for me to give you a useful answer to this. But here is my broader take on this. The ACORN and Project Vote effort seems to be on the right track for the following reasons. One, any successful movement is built from the bottom up. In otehr words, it must be organized by people who have roots in the community, which is why the Republicans use the local church, gun club etc.
Two -- and this is more controversial -- I think in all this talk about communicating with Red Staters (whom we imagine to be of course redneck white males) we forget that there the people who lead progressive national organizations or party structures don't even communicate very well with our own communities of color, working poor, single women etc. So I think in terms of developing "skills and expertise" the learning has to within progressive organizations before we become the teachers.Posted: 2005-05-04 14:25:34

Conni Carlson: After this book is out there and folks are hopefully inspired, what comes next?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: What's next is really up to you and all the other readers. That goes for the future of the progressive movement. I think it's really important that we start thinking about we want to do next. Start a club, an alliance with other groups, come up with a strategy to change something -- your local school board, local environmental laws, that huge Walmart on the corner. That's how the right took over this nation.
Anything is possible as long as we do it one step at a time -- instead of throwing all our energy and passion into one single mega-election every four years.Posted: 2005-05-04 14:32:34

Tim Harding: Just because some "neocons" want it split isn't a reason to not split it, is it?
And calling them Iraqis doesn't make them Iraqis, or does it?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: The answer is "no" to both. But do you really want the folks in control over there -- i.e. the U.S. government -- to start out with that assumption. Runs the risk of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.Posted: 2005-05-04 14:35:03

Perry Tyron: After reading this over, it's clear you don't know anything.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: Knowledge is, like, too hard and stuff like that. Thank you for sharing.
Posted: 2005-05-04 14:36:47

Jill: Is Alternet coordinating book signings and readings across the country to promote the book?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: Yes, we're just getting started. You can get the details here:
Andd if you'd like to organize an event in your area, let us know.
Posted: 2005-05-04 14:40:07

Mary: Much has been made of Lakoff's book, but isn't it really just old fashioned debate technique? We liberals talk a lot while conservatives actually get things done.
I've been to meet-ups, to neighborhood meetings and to political organizational gatherings on issues on which I choose to spend my time and money. I have left nearly all of them in disgust because they turn into rants against something rather than plans for action. Meanwhile, conservative organizations like evangelical churches are literally on the streets in neighborhoods converting people to their cause with food and hope. Don't we have those things as well?
Other than Dean, who was castigated for being angry, I don't see anyone leading the charge, articulating the focus and method for a large scale progressive movement. Everyone has advice, but few do the work - like gathering parents together to demand that school board's use funds well or getting the teachers' union to work with other unions on common issues. I go to those meetings and I'm often the only one of twenty who promised to show up, who actually do. It's discouraging to hear about support rather than see it.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: I don't think George is trying to say that just changing the way we speak about issues is going to be some kind of magic bullet. It's just something we have to pay very close attention to in a media-saturated age, when message is god.
I agree that we need to actually "do" more. But as I said in one of my previous responses -- and you suggest in your question -- the trick is to focus on things that are doable so to speak. Change starts in your backyard. The school board may not be as glamorous as high profile political campaign, but you can likely make a bigger difference.
Posted: 2005-05-04 14:43:30

L. Aldmen:So how do we get Democrats to take a position? It seems they're all afraid to do so. Is this something a grassroots movement can work on?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: Yes, absolutely. In the end, Democrats are elected by us and therefore are answerable to us -- not the folks over at CNN or the Republicans across the aisle or the NASCAR dad in Alabama who is unlikely to vote Democrat.
First, if we demand vision and courage, we need to reward it when we see it. Two, we need to punish cowardice and appeasement. MoveOn just recently started targeting Democrats in Congress who sell out their own consituents. We don't have the grassroot structures in place to do this in a systematic way -- and that's something we need to think more about. Progressive grassroot structures tend to issue-based. So for example, environmental groups might lobby and fund a senator who is great on green issues. But how do we hold him accountable for caving on social security, for example?
Posted: 2005-05-04 14:53:41

Paul Siegel:How do we fight Christian fundamentalists who are trying to convert America to a theocracy? I call them fundamentalists, not the religious right, because I think there are religious people on the right that are not fundamentalists and do not want to change our government.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: First step is to make the distinction that you just made -- i.e. not lump all religious conservatives together under this amorphous label of the Christian Right. There are a lot of evangelicals, for example, who personally felt Terry Schiavo's feeding tube shouldn't be pulled but were opposed to the government interfering in a personal decision.
The second is to broaden meaning of religious faith -- to continually remind America that James Dobson does not speak for all devout Christians, for example. Part of that is to kick our habit of only speaking publicly about religious sentiment when it is a "problem" to be opposed -- as in abortion, homosexuality etc. There is a lot of positive work people of faith, progressive or otherwise, are doing and we need to recognize that.
Third is to recognize that these mega-churches and other religious institutions that we are so afraid of are fulfilling a real need out there -- for not just a sense of community but in fact concrete direct services such as child care, job counseling, food banks etc. And then ask ourselves what we should be doing to address those same needs.
The good news is that a vast majority of Americans do not agree with and are increasingly worried about the antics of the far right. We're not alone.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:10:02

David Bartholomew:It's been said that conservatives have an advantage over progressives in that they have bumper sticker messages and that progressives don't. I was wondering if you thought that there was any way that progressives could shorten the things we believe into a digestable soundbite?
Lakshmi Chaudhry, AlterNet: I have to get back to attending all my various AlterNet-related duties. Hopefully Adam will be online very soon.
But to answer your question, I think the important fact to recognize is that bumper stickers work well because they appeal to some knowledge readers already possess. "Dissent is Patriotic" is an example of a progressive slogan that works very well. If we haven't been able to reduce our vision to these kind of slogans, it's because we haven't done the hard work of making that vision a part of people's everyday knowledge. And there are other times we just haven't given it enough thought -- the culture of life, for example, ought to have been a progressive slogan. Now that the Republicans have used it, it means something else entirely.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:20:09

Robin Ozretich:The environmental costs of the world's reliance and oil are relatively well-known. However, the threat of worldwide recession posed by the escalating cost of oil, as it passes the peak oil threshhold, is not widely recognized. This crisis requires rapid development of renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. By taking the lead in the development of these alternatives, the US can protect itself from recession and create hundreds of thousands of good jobs. As gas prices go up, more Americans are taking an interest in energy policy. How can we best translate this increased interest into support for developing the renewable energies of the future?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: thanks for your question. the idea behind the apollo alliance was to build a compelling narrative around energy independence. It's been interesting to watch how economic issues have been much more important than national security to most people who've been part of the project.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:29:00

Becky: I read your November 3 thesis and have been following the debate in the environmental community as well as with progressives in general about the future of environmentalism. I feel like the environmental community is sometimes outside of or separated from the rest of the progressive movement. How can that change? How can progressives who work on budget policy or welfare issues come together to work with the environmental community toward mutual progressive goals?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: The most distressing response for me to the November 3rd Theses ( was my friends from the environmental community who felt that it was inappropriate to move beyond environmentalism into broader progressive politics. I don't think we have a choice.
One of the challenges that liberals face right now is that we're all busy claiming that our particular issue area is the most important thing in the world. The truth, of course, is that each one of our issues is tied together by a set of values that we've totally failed to articulate. That's one of the reasons I think that saving public education from becoming a solely regligious responsibility (the new campaign from our friend James Dobson) is such a high priority for ALL progressives. Without public education there is NO chance for a progressive society.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:33:59

Jenny O.:Is environmentalism really dead? What do you make of all of the discussion in the environmental movement about the issue of whether or not the environmental movement is able to reach out to the middle and such? Are these discussions resulting in any concrete changes?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Environmentalism as a category is certainly dead, in that it's no longer serving the political purpose that it was born to deal with. There are still many environmentalists who are struggling to find ways to connect their core belief in interdependence to the political realities.
Here's the core -- when you're losing at an increasing rate, it's time to make some big changes.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:37:04

Holly:I'm really glad that there is so much positive energy from the panelists in their responses to questions! It seems that progressive tend to get mired in doom and gloom so it's nice to see a refreshing optimism. Thanks :)
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: It's a depressing time right now. We've all had to accept the fact that we're in the minority, e.g. the majority of Americans have a very different worldview than progressives do.
The exciting part is figuring out where we go from here. My belief is that it's not going to be in the political arena where we see our first victories against the "empire."Posted: 2005-05-04 15:39:30

Manny: I think your response to Becky makes a lot of sense but as someone who has worked in issue specific movements, it is hard enough to build your brand, communicate effectively on "your" issue and the like that the thought of fighting for free public education when your issue is reproductive choice or something is rather daunting.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: It is daunting. That's one of the reasons we all have to start learning to think about mental postures, values, and worldviews rather than in issues. The way people feel about issues is only an articlation of the way they see the world. We need to change the way people see the world -- then they'll be with us on the issues.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:41:55

Paul:I am disappointed in the Democratic Party, and none to thrilled with Republicans, especially because the influence of the Far Right and Religious Right over the GOP. Like many Americans, I tend to more of a moderate. What can folks like us do?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Start a local dialogue. That's the best thing we all can do right now. We're going to build from our neighbors out. One thing we're trying to do is launch a Progressive Film club that facilitates these types of Discussions -- send an email to if you're interested in learning more about it.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:48:44

Valerie Sanfilippo:Many of us progressives believe that voter fraud is our number one issue. We would be in power today except for voting fraud. I am asking every progressive organization to make this their number one issue and to repeat in every speech every day that our vote was stolen in 3 elections to take over our government, and what can we do to get our vote back? Passing laws, lawsuits and voting absentee.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Voter fraud IS a critical issue. But let's make sure we don't allow people to believe that it's just "cheating" that explains why the conservatives are on top right now. They're winning because more people agree with them right now. That's a hard fact.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:50:40

Tim Mattson:What ever happened to all the inovative americans who came up with real sollutions?
Did we ever have real sollutions or were we the ones who created all these environmentally degraded technologies?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Ahh, I love this question. We need to get back to the innovation mindset in America. Unfortunately we're too busy supporting legacy technologies. America based invented solar technology, but now 80% of the industry has moved to Germany and Japan.
It's time for some invention.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:53:16

Art Dolin: Why don't WE realize that we need a presidential candidate who has chutzpa & ability to make people comfortable & confident that he's in charge?...and full of fight, but with an ability to COMMUNICATE to the public...a la FDR, Kennedy, and Clinton.
Issues DO matter; but vboters must feel empathetic with the candidate, which--sad to say--Senator Kerry did NOT display.
It takes a person comfortable with everyday people...which shows.
Without this kind of candidate, the chances of winning an election on the "issues" becomes very problematic !!
Who is this candidate? Where ? Is there anybody who fits this description??
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: George Bush walked into an ideological framework that was already built for him; Kerry, like Democrats before him, was forced to create it on his own.
Posted: 2005-05-04 15:57:11

Constance: I really appreciate opportunities like this to communicate with folks who think a lot about the challenges progressives face. Lakshmi talked about how religous folks, of all stripes, are filling a need for community. How can those of us who aren't really religious build other venues for community? I like your movie ideas. Any others?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: One out of every six Americans lives in a gated community. That's a stunning fact to consider. If you live in a gated community, the chances are that your definition of community is quite different than someone who doesn't. That doesn't mean that you don't care about community, but it does mean that we have to consider that there are radically different models for organizing than when canvassers could reach everyone's door.
So, what do you do in your community? What does your community need? I head a great story on NPR about a Kiwanis Club in NC that bought shoes for kids who didn't have them in a local school. That's community. What does your community need? What do you like to do?
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:01:56

Constance:Thanks for answering my question, Adam! In response to what I like to do, I guess reading and biking would top my list. But I'm not sure how a book club or something like that (which I belong to now) translates from building community (which this small group has) to political power. I think maybe I'm missing the point.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Political power will come. We first need to get clear on our values. Progressives tend to focus and maintain their tactics rather being regid about values. My experience is that the best place to build values-based relationships is in social settings that have some sort of progressive screen on them. A book club is a great way. A regular biking outing is another.
John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, didn't talk about politics when he was hiking, he knew that people would figure it out once they saw what he saw.
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:08:50

Delian:So what do we do to show mainstream America that progessives have the values? And that the conservatives have words but they're morals are bankrupt?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: We need to pick some fights that demonstrate what our values are. It's ok to lose a fight as long as you lose while fighting for something you believe in. The other thing to do is to get involved in the practice of asking questios and sharing wisdom. There's a new organization called Dropping Knowledge that you should check out. They're trying to spread the practice.
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:14:55

Jeff Williams: It seems to me that the Supreme Court battle could provide a real opportunity for progressives to galvanize people and make some of the connections between movements that folks are talking about here today. How can we help folks understand that the courts matter?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: YES!!! The Supreme Court battle will be the battle royale, and we should all be prepared to drop everything to fight it. The problem is that the best thing we can acheive is keeping antoher Clarence Thomas off of the court, which will be no small feat. Meanwhile, we better start building up our values based majority.
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:17:14

Nathan: Can you talk for a minute about various startegies that are being thought about to move low-propensity voters, who generally vote progressive on economic issues, to the polls? I know that the FL minimum wage amendment pushed by unions and ACORN got over 5 million votes, 2 million more than Bush, and carried every county. If progressives were to really tie their campaigns and messages to things like this wouldn't that be one way (but, of course, not nearly the only) of increasing progressive voters? What do you think of similar efforts that are being pushed in AZ, OH, and MI?
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: I'm glad you raised the minimum-wage campaign in Florida, because it was a bright spot in an otherwise depressing election year. The living wage/minimum-wage is an overwhelmingly popular idea that needs to be raised in state after state and federally. It has the ability to create strange allies as well. For example, if we raised the minimum wage, Wal-Mart would make more money. Why? More people who make minimum wage shop at Wal-Mart than work there.
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:27:57

Casey:I still can't seem to get over the 2004 elections. I'm shocked that the conservatives are still in power and we seem to be getting clobbered on so many isuses. It is great to have a book like SMS to try to get folks moving beyond Nov 2, 2004. I know I'm not the only one who is still licking his wounds. I plan to share the book with my friends.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: I have to admit that I'm still shocked too. Waking up on November 3rd, I had the worst headache of my life. It was as if all the things I thought I knew were turned inside out. It's hard to admit that we're not in the majority....but I'm taking solace from the fact that more and more people are making the courageous decision to just be honest about our predicament. Only from that honest place can we build something new...
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:39:22

Shari: When I go to rallies or demonstrations it seems like it is the same old crowd with the same old messages singing the same old songs. It seems like if those same chants haven't worked yet they probably won't. I'm looking for some fun in my activism! I think having more fun and less of the same-old-same-old would help various movements draw in more people.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: YEAAAHH!!! I love you. Me too. I'm sick of angry activists who have forgotten that a movement is actually supposed to MOVE. It's almost time for a new Spring.
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:48:26

Cari P: How can we reach out to middle America? I'm from the midwest and people are so nice there but when I talk politics or policies, they automatically start spouting off things that sounds like Fox News. I always try hard to hear where they're coming from but it seems to me that folks who care so much about their family and friends are so uncaring about helping poor folks.
Adam Werbach, Common Assets Defense Fund: Thanks for your question. This is, again, where politics is failing us. We're stuck in these old liberal frames that don't quite work any more for the modern problems that most Americans are facing. Credit Card debt, no time to exercise, time stress, can't afford the things you want, worried about having a job, hate your job...these are the things that most Americans are thinking about right let's speak to those issues, and the politics will come later.
Thanks for the chance to speak with you all. You can reach me at
Posted: 2005-05-04 16:58:17

Moderator: Thank you to our panelists and participants for this lively discussion about
the future of the progressive movement! Please check out AlterNet's Start Making Sense page for updates on the Start Making Sense book tour.

Feeling inspired to get more active after this online discussion? Check out the Moving Ideas Action Center for ways you can make a difference today!

        -- Diana, Moderator

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