The Need for Local Progressive Think Tanks
by gatordemocrat, Sun Apr 16, 2006 at 05:07:26 PM EDT
A special thanks to Chris Bowers - for seeing the blogosphere as I also have seen it: an institution for positive progress, hope, and new ideas, not one for continued helplessness and gnashing of teeth."Communities under attack can prevail in this next chapter of conflict with the right, but they themselves need the knowledge, research skills, and resources to fight the right locally."
-Lee Cokorinos, author of Target San Diego, a report on the right-wing's assault on the progressive movement in San Diego and urban democracy, as well as its implications nationwide.
In the great debate over how to repair the Democratic Party, and in the larger sense the progressive movement, the discussion has briefly turned to the need for progressive think tanks. However, much of the discussion has been focused on the national level. This is good, as there certainly needs to be much improvement in terms of progressive think tanks strength and resources, however the just as dire need for progressive think tanks at the local level have been overlooked. And in local progressive think tanks I mean think tanks with a local policy focus ("Crashing the Gate" in terms of local ideas, if you will.)
Think tanks are regarded as "ideal fuel" for the respective political parties and ideological movements they support. Not only do think tanks produce new and innovative ideas for policymakers, but also they provide for and support supportive policymakers with daily briefings, model legislation, and in the case of the right, vital connections to other areas of the right wing's vast and comprehensive infrastructure.
As we all well know, the scale is lopsidedly tiled toward the right in terms of the number, resource capacity, and overall strength of think tanks. We have seen the right's infrastructure, led by main strategists such as Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, use think tanks to produce, in my opinion, "junk research" to support their privatization schemes, with which Republican and conservative policymakers can use to cover and defend themselves as prospective policy is debated.
On the left, our think tank power has been mostly focused on the national level, with state and local think tanks mainly condensed in solidly blue states where Democrats remain relatively entrenched. Our national level think tanks, most notably the Brookings Institute, are relatively small in terms of resources and capability when compared to right-wing "mega tanks" such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the State Policy Network (SPN).
Looking down the road, however, local think tanks (connected, of course with the national, soon-to-be state think tanks, and Democratic Party infrastructure) will play an intensely important role in revitalizing the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Democrats need bold and innovative ideas to implement at the local level if they are to build the kind of support structure (which later leads to more organized and disciplined local parties as more and more concerned citizens become involved in the process having been pushed into the system through the encouragement of new hopes and ideas generated by these think tanks) needed to win not only at the local level, but also the state and national levels.
Local progressive think tanks will be able to provide county and city commission, school board, water management district, and other local candidates "idea fuel" to build on their convictions and some ideas they might already have. They will also be able to provide progressive officeholders and bureaucrats the information they need when making crucial policy decisions (policy briefs, reports, studies, etc...)
The current system of well-intentioned and even knowledgeable local Democratic candidates running for office with little to no local party support or ideological support in the form of think tanks against not-so knowledgeable Republican candidates with lots of local party and idea support just doesn't work.
We all already know that the main thing Democrats and the progressive movement needs more than anything is better organization and infrastructure. What we also need to do, in tandem with political party growth at the local level is the development of local progressive think tanks, connected with all other elements of the progressive movement, which clearly and articulately diagnoses local ills and proposes progressive solutions.