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By Hardisty and Ana Perea


This report is intended to be of help to donors, especially women donors, who want to support the progressive movement, most often using a feminist lens and anti-racist principles.[1] The role of "progressive donor" has a noble history and is its most challenging when the progressive movement is under attack. Certainly, this historical moment demands thoughtful and strategic funding, coupled with an understanding of the prospects for progressive social change.

We have attempted to create a template for categorizing the progressive organizations you fund. First, we delineated two ways of looking at progressive organizations:

  • 1) Organizing Methods (the way they pursue social justice)
  • 2) Sectors/Issues (the subject matter of their work, and the specific issues that absorb their attention)

For each of these two categories, we have created a chart and a graphic "map."

We have not attempted to create a list of all progressive organizations by these categories. That assignment is a massive and daunting one that is beyond the scope of our resources. But the reader will find that nearly all progressive organizations can "fit" into one or another of the "organizing methods" we have chosen, and most progressive organization will also fit into one or more of the "sectors/issues" we have chosen. These categories are, of necessity, very general.In order to create manageable "maps," we have had to simplify.

In many cases a progressive organization uses more than one organizing method or works in more than one sector. In those cases, the organization falls into the "box" at the center of each map: "Multiple Methods" or "Cross Sector."

You will see that there is a spider web design in the background of each map.This web represents the vast number of interactions, collaborations, networks, and reinforcing activities that exist within and among the categories. The more integrated a movement, the stronger and more effective it is. You might see the web connections as brighter or dimmer, according to how well the movement is internally networked.

Ana Perea, drawing from a number of sources, created both the methods categories and the sectors/issues categories.[2] We do not assume that the charts and "maps" are definitive. We intend them as useful tools for donors, and nothing more.

How to Use These Materials

A common goal for progressive donors is to be more strategic in our giving. These charts and maps are intended to allow a donor to categorize her donations so she can see which parts of the progressive movement she is supporting.First, we suggest that you read this nine-page narrative that provides an overview of what social movements are and how they "work." Then we suggest that you use the charts and map to place each of your donations in one or another of the "organizing methods" or "sectors/ issues" categories (or do both if you want the most complete understanding of your funding).

As a result of this exercise, you may find that you are covering exactly the methods and/or subjects that interest you most. On the other hand, you may be surprised to see that there are important areas of progressive work that are untouched by your funding.

In either case, we hope that by using these categories, you will gain a clearer picture of exactly where your donations are going. This constitutes a major aspect of your funding strategy. Only a donor herself can say what she hopes to accomplish with her funding, what issues she feels are most important, and what organizing methods she favors at any given time. Using this map will not provide a reading of the needs of the progressive movement at a historical moment.But it will provide an accurate account of where your funding is going, so that you can compare that with your current understanding of the needs of the progressive movement.

Often we compare our funding from year to year by level. Did we give more this year than last year? If you categorize your funding by one or the other of the criteria presented here (organizing methods or sector/issues) you should be able to compare your funding year to year by content. And once you have done the exercise of categorizing your grants, you can simply repeat that categorization each year so that you will have a means of comparing your funding from year to year.

For example, you may not have seen funding immigrant rights as an urgent political priority until the events of Sept. 11 put the rights of all immigrants in serious jeopardy. Such events might cause you to take a look at your past funding and consider changing the balance of your funding priorities. Or you may decide to "stay the course" with your current funding "map."

What is a Social Movement?

"A movement is a collective effort to seek change."[3] Movement activists seek to change the status quo or preserve it, depending on the context.Movement protest is often against the dominant classes, and sometimes against the State. Movements include both individuals and groups and very often do not have a formal membership.[4] Just as there are discernible leaders and followers in a movement, there are often many more invisible sympathizers who might occasionally contribute time or money to the cause.[5]

To really understand what a movement is and what it does, we need also to look at how a movement acts to influence society, especially in terms of ideology and social consciousness, and how it influences participants inside the movement.[6] The basis for mobilizing the public and winning recruits to a movement lies in the movement's ideological principles. And so, a shared belief or vision of society is critical to a movement—both in terms of its emergence and also its continued existence.[7] Movements actively seek to reach out to potential sympathizers. In this, they are "by their nature evangelical; they seek to convert—to move—people both to new consciousness and to action."[8]

It is important to understand that a movement's success is not determined by its strength alone, but also that of the institutions it confronts, such as the State or counter- movements. For instance, one of the explanatory factors in the case of the recent success of the Right was the weakness of the Right's counter-movement, the progressive movement.

Prerequisites for a Successful Social Movement

In the U.S., we have had a struggle between the left and the right throughout our history.The content of the struggle changes over time, and the make-up of the left and the right changes as various ideological positions on each side emerge, dominate, and then lose popularity.The success of one "side" or the other and the success of various ideological positions within each side (which cohere to make up a social movement), depends on good leadership and the skillful strategic exploitation of certain hospitable conditions within the nation and within the minds of U.S. citizens.Important predictors to movement success are:

  • A discontented group of politicized persons who share the perception that they have common grievances they wish addressed;
  • The recruitment of people into the movement through pre-existing social networks;
  • A core group of strategic leaders and local activists who effectively mobilize, organize, educate, and communicate with the politicized people;
  • The mobilization of resources that are available or can be developed to assist the movement to meet its goals;
  • Political opportunities in the larger social and political scene that can be exploited by movement leaders and activists;
  • The skillful framing of ideas and slogans for multiple audiences such as leaders, members, potential recruits, and the general public.
  • A movement culture that creates a sense of community that rewards the adoption of an identity as a movement participant.[9]

How Does a Social Movement Work?

A successful social movement has certain components:

  • An organizational infrastructure
    • Large organizations with connections to powerful political forces
    • Mid-size advocacy groups
    • Small grassroots organizations
  • Campaigns
    • Issues that resonate
    • Organizers on the ground
    • Resources that can be freed to focus on a campaign
  • Internal Coordination
    • Collaboration among groups and leaders
    • Exchange and debate of ideas, skills, and strategies
  • Leadership
    • Identifiable, dedicated, and "professional" leaders (fulltime movement activists) in contact with each other
  • Members and supporters
    • Those who make up each organization's base
  • Favorable economic and political conditions
  • Shared values
    • A shared vision, or at least unifying political proclivities
    • Messages and positions about values that resonate with the base
  • Individual sympathizers
    • A large number of people who are not affiliated with any group, but share the values and at least some of the ideology of the movement
  • Resources
    • Individual supporters
    • Institutional supporters, such as faith-based institutions, foundations, and political parties

In addition to these components, a social movement needs constant thinking. This is done both by the aptly-named "think tanks" and by advocacy groups, networks of leaders, and media organizations, who craft political messages, "spin" the movement's goals and accomplishments, and create policy initiatives to implement the movement's agenda.The thinkers can be researchers, ideologues, strategists or visionaries.

A social movement also needs diversity of all sorts – by race, age, gender, and class. We can see that the Right pays a electoral price in votes for not focusing on the needs of communities of color (although it has consistently recruited in those communities).

What is the Significance of a Movement Organization's Size?

Generally speaking, we applaud when a progressive organization grows and flourishes and feel a loss when one closes and disappears.That is because we often equate size with power and success. For this reason, it is intimidating to hear the budgets of right-wing organizations.The $111 million budget of Focus on the Family (1998), the $46 million budget of the Heritage Foundation (1998), and the $13 million budget of the libertarian Cato Institute (1999) are just examples.[10]

But size is more complicated than we think. Small organizations can be effective beyond their numbers.Large organizations can be cumbersome, lack smooth internal communications, or be spread too thin to maintain focus. They also can lack the

"float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" quality of small organizations.

The progressive movement needs both large and small organizations as part of its organizational infrastructure. Each plays a distinct and important role. What a healthy progressive movement does not need is organizations of any size that do low-quality work, do not relate to their constituents, pay no attention to the context in which they work, or lack passion and commitment. When an organization dies because it suffers from these shortcomings, we need not mourn very long.

But when an organization folds that has done high-quality work, served a constituency for which it speaks, played an active role in the larger movement, and brought passion and vision to its work, we must look carefully at the cause. Usually these are smaller organizations, and usually they close from lack of financial support. They may fall into the category of work that is difficult to get funded, such as film, video, conferences, publications, and books.Or they may be organizations that were of great interest to foundations a few years ago, but now are no longer considered "cutting edge." Or an organization's leader who was widely known and respected and thus able to attract funding moves on, and the funders fall away.

For larger organizations, such vicissitudes may be only a blip on the screen. The virtue of such organizations is that they carry on year after year, providing the movement with stability and a consistent voice. But for smaller organizations, any relatively minor setback could be fatal. With the loss of these organizations, the movement loses an important source of vitality. With less to lose, smaller organizations can often be more radical, more outspoken, more "in the face" of authority.

Bigger is not always better. Smaller is not always less important.

What Characterizes A Strong and Healthy Social Movement?

Social movements usually exist over a long period of time and experience periods of success and periods of failure. When a social movement is at its peak of effectiveness, political power, and social influence, it will have the following attributes:

  • A group of politicized persons with common grievances
  • Effective ways of constantly recruiting these persons and others who share their beliefs
  • A core group of effective leaders
  • The mobilization of resources
  • Political opportunities in the larger political context
  • Skillfulframing of ideas and slogans for multiple audiences
  • A movement culture that creates incentive and rewards

What Should We Do to Promote a Stronger Progressive Movement?

For twenty years, the Right has been politically successful. As a result, many of the progressive movement's campaigns and collaborations have been defensive and have responded to attacks from the Right.

Since the early 1990s, many activists and funders have been talking about the need to "rebuild" the progressive movement, accurately seeing it as in a one-down position. Rebuilding involves a delicate balance between stabilizing the infrastructure while retaining the movement's vitality.

There are lessons in movement-building that we can learn from the Right's experience:

  • Listen to peoples' fears, anger and ambitions. Work to draw attention to issues of justice.
  • Develop the most unifying and powerful visions and messages possible.
  • Have a long-term strategy.
  • Maintain a constant focus on networking. This involves collaboration and coordination, but also mutual respect.
    • Don't allow the Right to drive wedges between sectors of the progressive movement. Work to unite the movement around a common agenda.
  • Work in the electoral sphere. Real change can occur there.
  • Let our leaders lead.Progressive leadership differs from hierarchy based on charisma, money, or manipulation. But leadership that is grounded in democratic principles is essential to a successful movement.
  • Work on behalf of the vision of social change at all levels – local, state, and national.
  • Gather in those who work in isolation! Reach out! Recruit!!!

There are lessons our own experience has taught us:

  • Work to ensure that progressive organizations look as we want the world to look, in terms of diversity, inclusiveness, and democratic internal organizing principles.
  • Expose the deceits and manipulations of the Right, but don't go the extra step of engaging in demonizing them.Make your case to the public by detailing the merits of what you are supporting, not simply by exposing the motives of your opponents.
  • Encourage networking.
  • Respect the work of others and work to advance tolerance and solidarity within the movement.
  • Promote "quality" work.
  • Involve, listen to, support, and promote youth.
  • Focus on recruitment.
  • Be brave.
    • Do public policy work.
    • Don't be afraid to be "controversial" if your position is correct.

Organizing in a New Post-Sept. 11 World

The tragic events of Sept. 11th have given the Right new opportunities to exploit, distract, and harm the goals of the progressive movement. Because this is a crucial moment for the progressive movement, funders must think about the questions all progressive people now face.

These questions include:

  • How will the "war on terrorism" and its domestic political fallout affect the progressive movement's current sense of fragmentation and lack of vision?
  • Might the increased power of the Right and its outrageous assault on our most fundamental rights reinvigorate the progressive movement? Or might it further discourage progressive activists who already were on the defensive and who now may be fighting feelings of hopelessness and despair?
  • How might the attacks of Sept. 11 and the subsequent "war" enhance or endanger existing international coalitions?
  • Where is funding needed most now? and
  • How should we use our personal political energy at a time when domestic and foreign policies are increasingly threatening our lives and ideals?

In 2001 all progressives are under attack. Progressive funders have resources of time and money that could make a difference at this crucial moment in our country's history and in the history of the progressive movement. Whether in domestic or international political work, we should strive to use those resources generously and strategically. To do so matters now, perhaps more than at any time since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Without a vigorous mobilization of money and political will, there is no doubt that the George W. Bush administration will complete and surpass the Right's "Reagan Revolution."

Political Research Associates 1310 Broadway Suite 201 Somerville MA 02144 617 666-5300 e-mail pra@igc.org

[1] In this report, we use the term "progressive" to represent liberals, leftists (many of whom identified at one time as New Left) and people who sympathize with liberal and leftist positions. "Progressive" is an umbrella term currently used to capture most people who are left of center. The most conservative wing of the Democratic Party, usually known as "new Democrats," may or may not include themselves in the category "progressive." At times they collaborate with progressives and at other times they make a point of distinguishing themselves from progressives. Some leftists, especially those who are political Old Left, would insist that they are "radicals" or "leftists" and find "progressive" too fuzzy a term to describe their politics.

[2] Books and websites consulted include: Michael Tomasky, Left for Dead The Life, Death and Possible Resurrection of Progressive Politics in America (New York: The Free Press,1996); Chuck Collins and Pam Rogers with Joan P. Garner, Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving Your Money for Social Change(New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2000); Doug McAdam, John D. McCarthy, Mayer N. Zald, eds., Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996);Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment:Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999); The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, A Democratic Landscape:Funding Social Change in California (April, 2000); The Peace Development Fund, The Listening Project: A National Dialogue on Progressive Movement-Building (1999); and information from three websites: The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, http://www.iglhrc.org/about/index.html; Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/about/whoweare.html; The Interfaith Alliance, www.interfaithalliance.org.

[3] Leslie J. Calman, Toward Empowerment: Women and Movement Politics in India (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), p. 4.

[4]   Ibid.

[5]   Ibid.

[6]   Ibid., p. 5.

[7]   Calman, op. cit., p. 6.

[8]   Ibid., emphasis in the original, citing William Gamson, The Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1990), p. 16.

[9] See these factors discussed in: McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald, eds., op. cit.; Bert Klandermans, The Social Psychology of Protest (Cambridge, MA; Blackwell Publishers, 1997); and Hank Johnston and Bert Klandermans, eds., Social Movements and Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

[10] Information from www.Guidestar.org