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November 13, 2002

Fight the Right: The Commonweal Institute

Seeing The Forest has an extensive post on the goals of the Commonweal Institute, an organization aspiring to be the Heritage Foundation of the left, meaning a "think tank" that aggressively promotes a left alternative while rallying progressive supporters across the country.

The effort is based on a basic idea-- the problem for the left is not lack of money but that it's money has been spent too diffusely and without building a broad infrastructure that is oriented to fighting the Right on multiple fronts.

Ideas matter and communicating them to the public in a whole variety of ways is a key to succeeding.

Some other groups do this kind of work as well-- the Economic Policy Institute where the esteemed Max Sawicky does this kind of work largely tied into major labor unions. But EPI as a whole is a bit Washington DC-centric. An advantage of the Commonweal Institute in some ways is that they won't be located in DC but centered out on the West Coast, so they are likely to maintain a focus on mobilizing broad grassroots opinion rather than failing into the trap of worrying most about present-day politicians.

Posted by Nathan at November 13, 2002 09:35 AM

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Here's what's different about Commonweal:

1) A major part of Commonweal's concept is to be a "communications engine." Take a look at Commonweal's Board of Advisors. These are communications people - expertise in translating messages into the kind of emotional language that resonates and changes attitudes.

2) Commonweal's goal is to change underlying attitudes in the general public away from right-wing market-based, "culture war" stuff being pumped out by places like Heritage. This means communicating to the mainstream public in ways that reach them. (I'm a former VP Marketing.) There will also be a "heartland" communications office staffed by people who know who Dale Earnhardt was. This also means a more general, multi-issue approach to research AND incorporating the research from think tanks like EPI.

3) Pursue a long-term strategy. Getting good research out about the value of raising the minimum wage is great. But raising the minimum wage might take a 5-year, multi-phased marketing operation to change the underlying attitude of the general public step-by-step. This kind of effort would have the added benefit of creating a more appreciative environment for progressive and moderate politiciansin general.

Accomplishing this will require a change in the way that progressive and moderate philanthropic money is distributed. Early on, using private seed money from individuals, Commonweal will pursue a marketing/PR project to reach the philanthropic community. This is where the ROI (return on investment) argument comes in. If you fund programs without changing the underlying environment the money is wasted. Funding a Save the Redwood effort doesn't do any good if the right wing's philanthropy goes to electing politicians who appoint judges who order the trees cut.

Posted by: IssuesGuy at November 13, 2002 11:18 AM

If Will Marshall is a part of it, I don't know if it will be advancing the cause of the "left."

Posted by: Paleo at November 14, 2002 02:24 PM

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