Last week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate founder Norman Lear’s 90th birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network.
The event highlighted Lear’s legendary career as a television producer, and how in 1981, he turned to that medium to express his concern about the growing right-wing movement in America – and People For the American Way Foundation was born. 30 years later, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – consisting of nearly 700 progressive officeholders between 18 and 35 years of age – are at the forefront of change in their communities.
Members of Congress, celebrities, members of the board and community leaders were in attendance to celebrate Norman Lear, the YEO Network and the mission of People For the American Way Foundation.
From left: PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan and board member Jane Lynch
From left: Board member Kathleen Turner and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison
From left: YEOs Kesha Ram, Melvin Carter and Angie Buhl
Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing. We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here.
This week, we’re pleased to introduce Elena Swartz, representing Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
Recognizing the importance strong voter turnout in order to foster positive change in her community, Elena chose to organize a Civic Empowerment Summit at Bryn Mawr as her Blueprint for Social Justice. The summit provided information on how students can be a voice for change through vote work on campus and in their community, and was strategically planned in the spring to help students plan their voter engagement work ahead of the upcoming fall elections. During the training, Elena shared strategies for effective campus and community outreach, volunteer recruitment, data management, voter registration and more. Elena’s project is so important because the right to vote is constantly under attack by those who want to disenfranchise certain groups of voters for political gain, such as students.
Across the country, states are implementing Voter ID laws that exclude student ID’s from the list of acceptable forms of identification, imposing strict residency requirements to register to vote and some are even requiring college students to travel to their home precincts to vote instead of casting a ballot near their campuses. By organizing and educating her fellow students, Elena is helping to empower young people to take a stand against these measures and strengthen our fundamental rights.
By Erik Lampmann
Norman Lear, more so than almost any other, understands the inspiration, joy, and revitalization to be had by bringing together a diverse and wide movement to share in moments of success -- large and small. This week, I was honored to attend Norman Lear’s 90th Birthday celebration and the kick-off to the Young Elected Officials Network’s national convening. An alum of the Young People For (YP4) millennial fellowship program, I was invited to the event to share my experience and represent young people active in the progressive movement. While being in the presence of celebrities, major donors, and political leaders would give any college student simultaneous sensations of absolute fear and overwhelming excitement, I think the most poignant emotion I felt during the night was a profound sense of purpose, of drive, of calling.
Of the activists and organizers I met Thursday, I was continually impressed not by their successes -- be they electoral, issue-based, or local -- but by their resounding human spirit. From Norman Lear’s keen ability to enrapture a crowd -- whisking them from applause line to somber reflection -- to the YEO members who not only envisioned change but came to embody it within themselves, I was humbled. From talking to students from different campuses about the wins and losses of their organizations this Spring semester to discussing the Presidential Medal Freedom with Dolores Huerta, to hearing Jane Lynch give an interview on the consequences of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, I was astounded by the grace with which my peers in the movement campaigned for justice with compassion.
I will confess that I am, at times, disillusioned with the progressive movement, in general. As a campus organizer working on progressive public policy and LGBTQ justice in Richmond, VA, I am often disheartened at the gap between what we’ve currently achieved and the ideal that we continue to pursue. While everyday I see the stifling states’ rights conservatism of the former Capital of the Confederacy, local progressive wins seem much slower coming. For these reasons, the reinvigoration of the PFAW Foundation celebration of this past week could not have come at a better time. As I complete a summer research fellowship on political theory and strategize for next year’s mobilizations on-campus, I am reminded of the inclusive, accomplished, and intentional family of YP4 and the dedication of People For the American Way Foundation in the pursuit of justice, equality, and the American Way even despite the challenges ahead.
Indeed, our fight as a movement has never been more necessary or the challenges we face more dire. Most recently, conservative ad hominem attacks on Attorney General Eric Holder continue to distract Congress from meaningful action. Out-of-touch elected officials continue to hold hostage major pieces of policy legislation from confronting the student debt crisis to tackling the federal deficit. Voter suppression bills are -- this very minute -- actively disenfranchising the elderly, youth, and communities of color across the country. Reproductive justice continues to be vilified and erased from popular discourse by those who censure speeches in the Michigan State House, for example, or close all of the abortion clinics in Mississippi simply in order to devalue the personal autonomy of women. Racial profiling continues to make life for undocumented people in Arizona and Alabama that much more difficult. Queer folks continue to challenge a heterosexist culture that seeks to tokenize their experience while the elderly, young people, and the differently-abled are shunned to the margins of political discourse.
Reflecting on the significance of Thursday’s event as well as the struggles to come reminds me of a refrain within this piece, the need for solidarity and union within our movement family. I think my sentiment is expressed best by a quote I first heard at a YP4 training: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” -- Assata Shakur.
Erik Lampmann is a junior studying political theory and French at the University of Richmond (VA) and a 2011-2012 YP4 Fellow.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has created damage-control web site, “I Stand With ALEC,” asking people to submit a letter to members of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board and member legislators in support of the ultra-conservative, secretive organization. The form letter is here:
Stand With ALEC
Dear [Decision Maker],
As our economy continues to struggle, the need for strong leadership that promotes free markets and free enterprise is more crucial than ever. It's through limited government and a stronger private sector that we can create jobs and grow our economy. As a member of ALEC, I expect you to work on these types of solutions.
But I've seen in the news that these values, and groups that support them, are under attack by extremists. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are important defenders of these free market ideals. You should know that this is exactly the kind of organization I expect you to work with. Don't let extremists sway you any other way.
It is through free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles that we can get the states and whole nation back on the right track. As a customer, I'll be watching closely to ensure that you represent those views in your decisions.
[City, State ZIP]
After the massive outrage sparked by revelations that ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force was responsible for the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC tried to disavow that committee and claimed that it was “refocusing [its] commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles.”
ALEC’s portfolio of harmful policies goes much farther than that, including model bills that disenfranchise voters, destroy public education, block access to healthcare, damage the environment, weaken public safety and harm working families. So far, 19 corporations, 4 non profit organizations and 54 state legislators have left the organization for these reasons.
If ALEC thinks it can repair its reputation by asking the American people to send reassuring letters to its members, it should think again. A petition drive and phone campaign led by People For the American Way Fundation, Color of Change and other organizations has already directed over 500,000 signatures and calls to ALEC’s corporate members demanding that those companies end their ALEC memberships immediately. The American people have already spoken on this one, and they don’t stand with ALEC.
This afternoon, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would discontinue its membership in ALEC, making it the 19th corporation to do so.
The running tally of organizations and legislators leaving the American Legislative Exchange Council, as of today:
• Corporations: 19
• Non-profits: 4
• State Legislators: 54
ALEC’s agenda is as secretive as it is extreme, but the American people are sending a loud and clear message that legislation drafted by corporate lobbyists has no place in our statehouses.
PFAW President Michael Keegan said the following after Johnson & Johnson’s announcement:
“The extreme ALEC agenda harms all of us on a daily basis. It’s disturbing that so many American companies still have a hand in advancing legislation that suppresses the right to vote, impedes access to health care, weakens public education and jeopardizes public safety. I commend the persistence of the hundreds of thousands of activists who have demanded accountability from corporations supporting the ALEC agenda. Johnson & Johnson’s departure from ALEC is a big victory, and the other corporate funders who have yet to leave ALEC should take note.”