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.