Edi­tor’s Note: This month and this week, NPI is cel­e­brat­ing its tenth anniver­sary. This is the inau­gur­al post in a sev­en-part series reflect­ing on NPI’s first decade. Each install­ment will be penned by one of NPI’s board members. 

As I reflect on NPI’s tenth anniver­sary, I find myself think­ing back to where we were as a nation, as a state, and as a soci­ety in 2003.

Ten years ago, I had just moved to Wash­ing­ton to begin a PhD pro­gram in his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. I was pay­ing close atten­tion to nation­al pol­i­tics, and in 2003 became active in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Howard Dean.

At the time, fight­ing back against the con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da being imple­ment­ed by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush seemed the high­est pri­or­i­ty, and the first pro­gres­sive pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of the new cen­tu­ry was the place to begin. Many pro­gres­sives across the coun­try still count the Dean cam­paign as their entry to polit­i­cal activism.

I was also try­ing to get a han­dle on the pol­i­tics of a new state, a state I was unfa­mil­iar with. One of the only things I knew was that Wash­ing­ton was under siege by a right-wing anti-gov­ern­ment zealot named Tim Eyman, who had spon­sored a series of uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, unsound ini­tia­tives pur­pose­ful­ly writ­ten to destroy pub­lic ser­vices by gut­ting their rev­enue sources.

Com­ing from Cal­i­for­nia (the home of Howard Jarvis), it was a sto­ry I knew well. Eyman was work­ing to defund the pub­lic insti­tu­tions and ser­vices that helped fam­i­lies pros­per in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, and was hav­ing a lot of success.

It also did not appear that many peo­ple were fight­ing back. Eyman’s ini­tial vic­to­ries at the bal­lot caused Democ­rats like Gov­er­nor Gary Locke to become reac­tive and look for ways to appease a sup­pos­ed­ly anti-tax electorate.

As pro­gres­sives began work­ing to build infra­struc­ture across the coun­try to stop the Bush agen­da, it was clear that a sim­i­lar need exist­ed in Wash­ing­ton to not only stop the Eyman agen­da, but to make a clear and full-throat­ed defense of Wash­ing­ton’s long­stand­ing pro­gres­sive values.

Some­one was already work­ing to build that infra­struc­ture. His name was Andrew Vil­leneuve, and across the lake in Red­mond, he had seen the same need for pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship, start­ing with fight­ing Tim Eyman. Rather than wait for some­one else to take the lead, Andrew stepped up and did it himself.

I first got to know Andrew in 2005, after he had already start­ed NPI. I was impressed that at a young age he had already begun build­ing the online infra­struc­ture need­ed to link pro­gres­sives across Wash­ing­ton and the Pacif­ic North­west, while also stand­ing up ear­ly and often to Tim Eyman.

Before long it became clear that the state final­ly had some­one will­ing to fight Eyman and push back against his anti-gov­ern­ment agenda.

I watched as NPI became a leader in the fight against Eyman and for pro­gres­sive val­ues. NPI kept tabs on Eyman’s fundrais­ing and his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry, get­ting impor­tant infor­ma­tion out at an ear­ly stage to insti­tu­tions and activists so they could be pre­pared to fight back against Eyman’s lat­est scheme.

In the eleven and a half years since NPI and NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense have been active oppos­ing Eyman, Eyman has not had any con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries. Before 2002, he was win­ning at the bal­lot every year. But, since 2002, vot­ers have reject­ed half of the ini­tia­tives he has got­ten on the bal­lot (I‑892, I‑985, I‑1033, I‑1125).

NPI played a role in help­ing defeat all of those mea­sures, as well as stop­ping John Carl­son and Kir­by Wilbur’s I‑912 in 2005.

The effort to safe­guard Wash­ing­ton from Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry con­tin­ues, and NPI remains at the fore­front. Yet from an ear­ly stage it was clear to me that Andrew intend­ed NPI to do more. Fight­ing Eyman was a nec­es­sary defen­sive move.

But to rebuild pro­gres­sive insti­tu­tions, poli­cies, and val­ues we need­ed an insti­tu­tion will­ing to help build a move­ment, to train and con­nect activists, and to pro­vide mes­sage lead­er­ship to those who were will­ing to listen.

NPI has tak­en on that role as well, in the North­west as well as across the coun­try. NPI has con­vened state and local polit­i­cal blog­gers at Net­roots Nation con­ven­tions in recent years, pro­vid­ing a forum for writ­ers to share knowl­edge, skills, and ideas.

These gath­er­ings have also helped pro­vide impor­tant cohe­sion for net­roots activists, espe­cial­ly as the Tea Par­ty began to seize pow­er in state after state begin­ning in 2009. Back at home, NPI has improved Pacif­ic NW Por­tal, which serves as a cen­tral hub for pro­gres­sive blog­gers and writ­ers, giv­ing cru­cial expo­sure to impor­tant peo­ple and issues that might oth­er­wise have been lost.

NPI’s annu­al events, includ­ing our pop­u­lar Spring Fundrais­ing Gala, are great oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­gres­sives to con­nect and be inspired.

In 2007, I left for Cal­i­for­nia just as NPI was tak­ing off. When I returned to Wash­ing­ton in 2011, I began to focus on state and local polit­i­cal issues, and found that NPI had become an estab­lished, respect­ed orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ed by lead­ers and activists across the region. I was hon­ored to be asked by Andrew to serve on NPI’s board, and help build the orga­ni­za­tion for the future.

As we look to the next ten years, it is clear that NPI and its mis­sion are more impor­tant than ever before. Right-wing extrem­ists have their eye on Wash­ing­ton and are work­ing hard to bring to this state the same rad­i­cal agen­da they have brought to states like Wis­con­sin, Texas, and North Carolina.

Tra­di­tion­al media out­lets are becom­ing more right-wing in their cov­er­age, and despite Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma’s two his­toric elec­tion vic­to­ries, pro­gres­sive caus­es and can­di­dates in the North­west still face challenges.

Most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans want pub­lic pol­i­cy to reflect our cher­ished and long-held pro­gres­sive val­ues . But that won’t hap­pen if there are not orga­ni­za­tions in place to orga­nize and mobi­lize peo­ple around those val­ues, and teach activists how to reframe and use their time, tal­ent, and trea­sure effectively.

Since 2003, we at NPI have shown that it’s pos­si­ble to build an agile pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tion that is inno­v­a­tive and focused on the long term while also fight­ing impor­tant short term bat­tles against the likes of Tim Eyman.

In its next ten years, NPI will show how we can go, in the words of Van Jones, “from oppo­si­tion to propo­si­tion”… set­ting an agen­da that can help renew pro­gres­sive val­ues and pol­i­cy direc­tions in the Pacif­ic Northwest.

It is an excit­ing time to be a part of NPI. But the best is yet to come.

Robert Cruick­shank has served as a mem­ber of NPI’s Board of Direc­tors since March 2011. He works for Seat­tle May­or Mike McGinn as a Senior Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Advisor. 

Adjacent posts