By Mary Lou Fox | View Event Images
Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, delivered a spirited call to action at the well attended WDC luncheon January 18 at the Pooks Hill Marriott.
Ms. Tanden is a savvy Democratic Party advisor, valued campaign strategist, and in-demand guest on the talk show circuit. She served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, as well as on Presidential campaigns. Attendees appreciated her thoughtful insights on a variety of topics including voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the current president's impact on the Republican Party, as well as her strategies for the 2018 election and beyond.
WDC President Fran Rothstein introduced Ms. Tanden by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday had just passed: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." Ms. Tanden and CAP are continuing Dr. King's work, providing the intellectual framework for Democrats to focus on all humanity.
Ms. Tanden said she is fundamentally optimistic about the incredible response she is seeing around the country. People are resisting and fighting back. Although the party in power is trying to overwhelm the opposition, Ms. Tanden has been encouraged not just by Democratic leaders, but also by people who have never before been engaged and are now speaking up. Women are at the forefront of that movement. In fact, 84% of new activists are women. Ordinary citizens are doing things they've never done before - knocking on neighbors' doors, speaking up in Annapolis, and calling their representatives to express their opinions. "This country is for all of us," Ms. Tanden asserted. "We are asking who we are as Americans," and we are all called "to stand up for our country and what we believe in." She cautioned us not to be beaten down or deterred.
The Q&A session following Ms. Tanden's initial remarks was lively and probing. In response to a question about the importance of strong messages from the Democratic Party, Ms. Tanden said that messaging is a critical issue for the Party, and that we must act on our beliefs to communicate our values in the most persuasive way. She encouraged us to reach out to white non-college women and other groups who voted with the Democrats in the past, but not in the last election. These groups are important and growing; 63% of Americans lack college degrees, and many Americans have not seen income gains. We are the party traditionally supportive of working class people, she said. We must regain that vision and support. We need good ideas to expand and protect the middle class.
One exciting development Tanden cited is the huge number of women running for office: 11,000 now, many in previously uncontested races. One attendee called for young, vibrant leadership, representative of the entire country, not just "geriatrics from both coasts." There is no more important race than the 2018 midterms; state legislatures are perfectly positioned to counter the current administration. Another audience member recommended that the Party improve their websites with more policy and strategy messages and fewer requests for donations.
"Movements change Parties. Parties don't change movements," Tanden asserted. She believes that political parties are vitally important. She discussed gerrymandering and how critical it is for Democrats to gain control of governorships and state legislatures prior to the reapportionment and boundary changes that will follow the 2020 census. Otherwise, the Republican Party will counter its loss of the "war of ideas" by increasing its voter suppression efforts.
A member said that young people need to hear more about America's strengths, rather than the constant negativity, tearing down, and ugliness of politics. Ms. Tanden said, "We need citizen servants running, who believe in America. Trump is an aberration, and he doesn't speak for us."
CAP continues to act as an ideas incubator. See the many relevant topics on their website. CAP created the basis for the Affordable Care Act (Ms. Tanden helped lead that effort while a senior advisor at HHS). CAP also researches and promotes progressive tax policies.