“Stand your ground,” politics and CForward
I recently came across a talk given by Tom Tresser, a Chicago-based organizer, educator and civic activist, who questions the nonprofit community’s reluctance to effectively engage in political action, citing the National Rifle Association’s influence in national and local policy-making and argues that there needs to be a similarly effective political instrument for the nonprofit community. Tresser notes the work underway by CForward, a nonpartisan, 501(c)4 organization that “champions the economic role of the nonprofit sector and supports candidates who include the sector in their plans to strengthen the economy.” I love what CForward is doing and it’s no surprise that the forward-thinking Robert Egger, founder and CEO of DC Kitchen, is behind it. Tresser really espouses the value of sustained political engagement and is pushing Chicago’s creative community to organize around its seemingly disparate political interests.
Not accidentally, the NRA is among the most dominant political influences in America, along with the Christian right and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. What would the political landscape look like if CForward really became as influential in policy-making as the NRA? The legislative impact of the NRA cannot be understated. Consider “stand your ground” laws which have gained considerable attention in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. The NRA and its allies have spread the law to over 30 states (it’s law in 25 states) and gun control advocates like political talk show host Bill Maher admonish the Democratic Party for rolling over on the issue and conceding far too much ground to the NRA. The nonprofit sector on the other hand, particularly social service groups dependent on government funding, lacks sufficient political capital, and is constantly at risk for underfunding or defunding.
Both Tresser and Egger understand that even an imperfect political system weighted heavily toward deep-pocketed business interests can be used to advance their agendas. They’ve acknowledged political campaigning is imperative and efforts like CForward have taken a page from the Republican Party’s winning playbook and use it to optimize the political agenda of the nonprofit sector. Labor unions have come to a similar conclusion; while fully aware that the Citizens United ruling is far more beneficial to corporations, unions are exploiting the ruling to offset corporate money flowing into conservative groups like American Legislative Exchange Council.
More importantly, labor unions are changing how they engage in politics. As A.F.L.-C.I.O. president Richard Trumka told the New York Times,
The way we used to do politics is we’d set up a structure six months before the election, and after Election Day we’d dismantle it… Now we’re going to have a full-time campaign, and that campaign will be able to move, hopefully, from electoral politics to issue advocacy and accountability.
It’s good to see that the nonprofit sector might eventually move in a similar direction.