The gay marriage campaign: This was one of the best organized campaigns in a long time. Since I live in Maine, which passed a gay marriage referendum, I could see it close up. Seldom have I gotten as many phone calls in such a short time on behalf of a cause. Their tone was friendly and personal, so I didn't find myself saying, "Oh no, not another one." I also went to a street event in Portland and was struck by the fact that there were more activists working the scene that I had seen in one place in a long time.
The marijuana campaign: More the product of the right time finally coming, but still impressive in an era when most progressive efforts can't get to first base.
The local food movement - Aided by the fact that, while many of us are not gay or smoke pot, we all like to eat, this movement has been extraordinarily effective at changing not just personal habits, but the business of food.
The ACLU - When I try to the list the most effective progressive groups I always feel a little strange when the ACLU rises to the top. After all, it was founded over 90 years ago. How many organizations have died since then?
I asked a state ACLU official why the organization has survived so well. Some reasons:
- Court cases rather than lobbying
- Specific projects
- Emphasis on support of state level organizations.
Plus, unlike the major environmental organizations, the ACLU is not beholden to business-as-usual big foundations. There are some notable exceptions - like 350.Org and the Natural Resources Council - but on the whole the national environmental movement is looking surprisingly weak given the eco-crises we face.
What lessons can we learn from the movements that have succeeded?
- Go local. There is far too much money spent in Washington and not enough in local organizing.
- Be specific. As the reaction to Sandy Hook shows, folks are most effective by specific stories and problems.
- Change the cultural environment as well as the laws. The local food movement and the gay marriage movement are examples of how a popular mood shift can make a huge difference.