Our mission is the mission shared by the entire progressive movement: we want governing power. That means more than winning any one campaign or policy battle. It means that progressive ideas will dominate the public debate, that we will have a large, politically-active base of support for those ideas, and ultimately that our leaders will be empowered to enact and implement policies that are based on a progressive worldview and vision for this country and for the world.
There are many ways to articulate that vision, but here’s how we put it: We believe in policies for the common good, which perform the basic functions of government of protecting and empowering individuals, enabling them to reach their highest potential, striving on an even playing field in a secure and environmentally sound world.
Our Role: Integrator
For decades, conservatives had an undeniable advantage in the practice of politics – a permanent infrastructure – financial base, think tanks, media outlets – all of which exist permanently in support of any individual candidate or elected official. They could change out the person at the top, but everything underneath still remains.
Ten years ago, progressives had very few of these resources. Today we have more, but now we have a different problem: our organizations operate independently to a great extent. Progressives will create ad hoc coalitions to pursue a particular campaign goal, but as soon as those campaigns are over, all too often, the infrastructure that was created for them disappears as well. The result is that whether they are trying to build a base, influence public opinion, or influence policymakers directly, all of the different organizations are competing for attention – for mindshare; they sometimes are working at cross-purposes; their impact is diluted; and there is little shared strategy for achieving either short- or long-term gains for the progressive movement.
The Commonweal Institute’s primary role in trying to solve this problem is to be an integrator. That means that we build connections among progressive organizations; we convene them in order to foster strategic conversations, and we catalyze collaborations. We believe these steps will lead to the goal of a more connected, more cooperative, and more effective progressive movement.
In our work as a connector, our core program is a nationwide alliance of think tanks and activist organizations called the Progressive Ideas Network. Heretofore, the baseline in this ideas community, as in the progressive ecosystem as a whole, has been independent operations and a lack of alignment. We are building connections among these organizations, by hosting meetings, creating communications conduits, and fostering joint projects. The result of these connections is a greater degree of alignment – it happens organically. Connected organizations develop shared strategy across multiple issues, and coordinated tactics.
As a convener, we use our Progressive Roundtable program to bring the think tank network together with networks of grassroots groups, networks of elected officials, and media networks. These convenings build more alignment by identifying our shared values and goals, by facilitating conversations about strategy, and by sparking collaborations.
Finally, we act as a catalyst for collaborations: through funding and operational support, we provide a platform for collective actions that will have maximal impact on base-building, on increasing public support for progressive policies, and ultimately on policymakers.
We also engage in certain activities more typical of think tanks. Our Fellows and staff members work as public intellectuals, leading values-based conversations about progressive ideas in blogs, traditional media outlets, and live appearances, and writing reports on topics relevant to the progressive movement. We also conduct Workshops on persuasive communication techniques and provide strategic consultation for progressive organizations and activist groups.
For more about the rationale behind Commonweal Institute’s work and our theory of change, click here.