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About Basic Principles Member Spotlight PDA Educates Congress One Letter at a Time
Thursday, 24 October 2013 16:02

PDA Educates Congress One Letter at a Time Featured

Written by 
Pamela Powers Hanley and Jessica Floyd, District Director Pamela Powers Hanley and Jessica Floyd, District Director

The US Congress considers several hundred bills each session. Senators and Representatives depend upon staffers and, unfortunately, high-paid corporate lobbyists to dissect the bills, offer summaries, and provide advice. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) launched the Educate Congress campaign to involve ordinary voters in this often overly complicated and undemocratic legislative process.

PDA began delivering letters to congressional offices in 2010 during the fight over healthcare reform. Originally dubbed "Brown Bag Lunch Vigils" these PDA-organized "street heat" demonstrations evolved into letter drops at Congressional offices. Every month, PDA activists deliver letters asking elected officials to cosponsor and vote for important legislation.

As PDA’s membership has grown, so has the letter drop effort. In 2012, PDA organized an average of 30 letter drops per month at Congressional offices. By July 2013—when PDA pulled out all the stops to fight against billions of dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka food stamps)—the letter drop effort had grown to 230 per month. To reinforce and add emphasis to the messages in the hand-delivered, PDA organizes simultaneous demonstrations at district offices, and then follows up with nationwide phone banking after each letter drop.

PDA helped to turn back the GOP-led effort to slash $20 billion from food stamp funding in the summer of 2013. Anti-hunger crusader, Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern said that PDA “helped Democrats be Democrats” encouraging them to vote against food stamp cuts. “People here [in DC] knew there was a movement out there that was absolutely against gutting the SNAP program,” McGovern said. Referring to future fights over food stamp funding, he added, we’re still “in the game” because of PDA, “You are being heard.”

In late August 2013, when hundreds of Syrian civilians were brutally murdered with chemical weapons and President Barack Obama was calling for military action against the government of Bashar Assad, PDA activists took action. By phone-banking, social media activism, and through street heat, PDA helped to push for aggressive diplomacy, instead of war.

Within days of the President’s decision to seek Congressional approval for military action, PDA mobilized a special Congressional letter drop. PDA activists hand-delivered letters to 151 Representatives and Senators urging them to vote against military action. A second September letter drop two weeks later called for continued diplomatic efforts—not warfare against Syria—and provided information about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (currently in secret negotiations) would hurt Main Street.

PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter explained, “The Educate Congress letter drops represent some of the best organizing PDA has done.” He added, “Delivering monthly letters to an increasing number of Congressional offices has not only helped us influence policy decisions—from stopping war with Syria to saving food stamps—it has helped us grow PDA and the new progressive movement nationwide.”

Parallel to the Educate Congress campaign, and integral to its inside/outside strategy, PDA holds Progressive Round Tables each month. PDA invites Progressive Congress members and staffers to join allies from unions as well as peace, labor, environmental, and justice groups to discuss progressive initiatives and legislation. The first Round Table in late 2012 focused on educating Congress regarding the need to protect earned benefit programs—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and supplemental nutrition programs. Recently, Round Tables have been simulcast online and posted to YouTube, providing the general public with essential details on legislation to rebuild America’s middle class by creating jobs, expanding healthcare, raising revenue without raising taxes on or cutting services for the 99%—and more.

PDA’s inside/outside strategy is building our democracy at the grass roots level—one call, one meeting, and one letter at a time. Between July and September 2013, through progressive efforts on multiple levels PDA helped to significantly increase Congressional support for progressive bills. In less than three months, PDA’s letter drops, targeted street heat demonstrations, phone-banking, social media outreach, and DC Round Tables persuaded six Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 1000: The Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act; five signed onto H.R. 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act; and three agreed to cosponsor H.R. 1579: The Inclusive Prosperity Act (AKA the Robin Hood Tax). “We had drops in all of the districts where we gained co-sponsors for progressive bills.” Director Tim Carpenter noted, “This shows that our hard work is beginning to pay off!”

As Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota noted at a recent Round Table, “These people [House Republicans] believe that plutocracy is the right model for America, and they’re striving to achieve it every day. We believe in democracy.” And so does PDA. More than that PDA is working to promote and protect democracy through progressive people-based action each month nationwide. At another recent roundtable, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts recognized PDA’s help on opposing cuts to Food Stamps / SNAP and other progressive initiatives saying, “It’s helpful to have wind at your back. You [PDA] are like a hurricane at my back.”

The letter drops at Congressional district offices around the country and the inside-the-beltway Progressive Roundtables are key components of PDA’s Educate Congress efforts. The letter drops take place on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. Progressive Roundtables take place a week or so before that—with a live streaming connection available to the public, and videos posted on PDA’s YouTube channel.

Read 3949 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 October 2013 20:11
Pamela Powers Hannley

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth--not just people who agree with me or look like me. I believe that people who promote religiosity but use violence, intimidation, and lies to force their ideas upon other people are not following the teachings of any religious leader.

I have a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio State University and a masters in public health from the University of Arizona. In addition to being a blogger, I am a published author, photographer, clay artist, mother, nana, and wife.

My Tucson Progressive blog and Facebook page feature large doses of liberal ideas, local, state, and national politics, and random bits of humor. I also blog at Blog for Arizona and the Huffington Post. I am a proud member of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).

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