“We the people” – In Action

August 5, 2014

How do you build a national movement, based in the states? And how do you build this movement so that it’s rooted in progressive values?  

Most importantly, how do you make sure that movement is built to win? With real governing power so that politicians are accountable to people, not Wall Street?

You call Wellstone.

Since its founding in 1998, the Working Families Party (WFP) has been a powerful, disruptive force in New York politics. They endorse candidates and they win. They take direct action and they win. They hold elected officials accountable and they win.  

The last few years have been a particularly powerful time of growth for WFP. Today, they are established in seven states. Their endorsement is hotly sought after. They are credited for critical progressive victories and are winning consistent national attention. In sum, they are a progressive force to be reckoned with, moving the center of American politics towards economic and social justice.

And they’re doing it the Wellstone Way.

We’ve been working with WFP for years. It’s a partnership built on shared values. “You guys train people to be progressive champions,” explains WFP’s New York State Director, Bill Lipton, “We can always count on Wellstone to be deeply consistent with our values.”

WFP believes in an economy that works for all of us. And so does Wellstone. They believe in a democracy where every voice matters. And so do we.

But shared values aren’t enough. Changing the status quo takes winning at the ballot box and then again in city halls, school boards, and the state house. It means running smart, strategic, power-building campaigns to raise standards for working families, and organizing and mobilizing a community base. That’s what we’re doing, together:

"If you are committed to making non-violent change, then politics has to be at the very center of your organizing. That's just how it is. And if you want to win, you'll find no better partner than the trainers, thinkers and organizers at Wellstone Action. Personally, I find winning preferable to the alternative, and our long-term partnership with Wellstone has helped us build the independent political organization and power that we believe is essential to saving this country that we love."

-          Dan Cantor, WFP Executive Director

When hundreds of WFP members gathered in a hotel just outside of Albany, NY earlier this summer to endorse for Governor, their Party Convention made national news. And we were there. As the Party spent a busy weekend endorsing candidates and making big, bold, plans for 2014 and beyond, they knew they also needed to be training the next group of candidates and campaign workers.  We trained dozens of candidates and, just as importantly, community leaders who are in a pipeline as prospective candidates and activists building power in their communities. We worked with their campaign staff, labor partners, and youth organizers.

Over the past ten years, Wellstone’s trained over 65,000 progressives across the country. Every year we grow, and innovate, and incorporate new best practices, because politics is always changing. “We rely on Wellstone to do top-notch trainings. We know when we have a big event, with lots of people, we can count on you as the gold standard in the progressive movement. Training is a vital part of our pipeline program, and when I work with you I know the training work is done, and I can go worry about other things,” says Lipton.

And through the years we’ve steadfastly held onto the values that make us, us: connecting community organizing with electoral politics to improve the lives of people and their communities. We’ve built a reputation for being the best, and being the best where it matters most.

WFP has a big job to do. It turns out that winning progressive power doesn’t come easy. That’s why it’s so important for us to be a partner that WFP can rely on. One that helps WFP and its members be part of something bigger. As Bill puts it, “Wellstone lets our candidates and campaign staff know they are part of a broader movement, and a community that cares about them. I have a deep trust we’re working towards a common goal: giving our candidates a totally rock solid training. You guys are incredibly easy to work with, no drama, flexible, committed, I feel very aligned with your values.”

The New York convention is part of a much bigger story that WFP and Wellstone are at the center of. It’s a national conversation happening right now about how to build a national independent, progressive political movement, rooted in the states, which integrates issues and elections through an explicitly racial, social and economic justice perspective.

We’re talking about that “independent political organization and power” that Dan Cantor mentioned earlier. It's a movement to win power by the people, for the people, so politicians are accountable to our communities, not corporate CEOs and backroom lobbyists. As our Director of Strategic Initiatives, Erik Peterson describes it:

“Core to our theory of change at Wellstone is that enduring progressive power isn’t going to come from Washington D.C., it’s going to come from the states, from a movement of organized people. So we’re working with WFP, and other leading stated-based organizations, to build Independent Political Organizations (IPOs) that are moving the force of gravity leftward in the states. It’s all part of a broader national effort, in which we’re playing a crucial role, that’s winning critical victories to build enduring progressive power.

We know this model works. We know it’s expanding and that it’s winning crucial victories. We’re committed to moving the conversation forward, and we’re passionate about working with our partners, in a spirit of deep alignment around core values to realize our shared vision.

It’s just like Paul Wellstone used to say, “If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” So we’re fighting. And we’re winning. And along with WFP, we’re just getting started.