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March 01, 2005

Keeping a Jump Ahead - The Northwest Progressive Institute

It is very heartening to meet people who are thinking ahead politically from the progressive point of view. Andrew Villeneuve and the other folks over at Northwest Progressive Institute and Permanent Defense have made a habit of thinking about our democracy and nudging folks toward more civic responsibility. They have created a number of new institutions that are emerging as part of the growing progressive movement in this state. 

I discovered them through their new blog aggregator, NW Portal, which Jon mentioned when this blog was included at the start-up. It is a great tool to read about what progressive political bloggers are saying in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and helps to link our part of the Northwest together.

As I followed my curiosity to their sponsoring blog and website, the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI), I was truly impressed at how these folks have been thinking about the issues facing our state and moving out in front to educate and motivate citizens to work with them. For just a sense of what the focus is, here’s what they say about who they are:

Northwest Progressive Institute was founded in August of 2003 as a forum of thought on politics, government, and policy. NPI is left-wing on the political spectrum and believes that America will only be a better place if our freedoms are kept safe, our country works for peace, not aggression, and we as a people come together to realize our place in the world.

Permanent Defense, now a part of NPI, was set up in 2002 specifically to counter the damaging initiatives that Tim Eyman has been sponsoring since 1999. Permanent Defense, working with other groups, was able to educate voters on the long-range effect of these initiatives. The last four Eyman-sponsored initiatives, all of which would have further degraded funding for public services, have either failed to qualify for the ballot or have been defeated at the polls.

Interview with Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI)

I just became aware of the Northwest Progressive Institute when our blog started being syndicated by our news aggregator a few weeks ago. As I poked around to see who was behind this, I ran across NPI and what they are working toward just seemed so right. Here they are:

  • NPI will be a liberal voice championing human rights, freedom, safety that does not endanger our liberty, cooperation with the rest of the world, understanding the value of public services, and working for an appreciation of all cultures and ethnicities.
  • Oppose the conservative right in their efforts to expand our dependence on fossil fuels, passing whopping tax cuts that benefit the rich, invading other countries pre-emptively, taking away health benefits from our elderly citizens, and bringing attention to problems which the right postpones or dilutes.
  • Criticize President George W. Bush and his terrible policies, urging for the removal of fanatics like Paul Wolfowitz, and challenging the administration's grip on the American public.
  • Provide a Pacific Northwest perpsective and voice for the left at a time when the right, encouraged by President Bush's immunity in the aftermath of September 11th, is set seeking a ruinous course for our nation.


We don’t see these goals stated in clear effective ways that make it seem normal, obvious and right very often. I found myself puddling up as I read them. I want to see dialogue about these goals in Time Magazine. I want my country back..  So I decided to learn more about who these folks are. Here then is the interview with Andrew Villeneuve, founder and one of the key minds behind NPI.


Q: How would you summarize what NPI is?


AV:  We’re exploring policies that will be good for America. NPI is a place to figure out where progressives stand on the issues, to understand and think about the rationale behind that thinking. I want people to look at our stances and say, “That would be good public policy” or “That should become a law.” Then they can make it happen.


Q: Let’s start with Permanent Defense, the first of these organizations you started. What prompted you to do that?


AV: Permanent Defense was founded three years ago to oppose Tim Eyman’s initiatives. Eyman had been putting initiatives on the ballot since 1999 that were not good for this state.  The initiatives have generally been aimed at slashing motor vehicle and property taxes and have caused irreparable harm to public services such as libraries, parks, and road construction.


Since we started, Eyman has had only one successful initiative and that was during our first year up.


(See the Permanent Defense site for detailed information on all of Eyman’s Initiatives and the effect they had or would have had.)


Q: How were you able to stop him?


AV: We were involved in trying to frame the issue for the public. We helped people see that the issue was about public services rather than “What’s in it for me?”


We tried to build a network with other people who were interested in the same goal of stopping Eyman, and have met a lot of new friends and allies along the way. We’ve encouraged the formation of broad coalitions to tackle Eyman’s initiatives and we’ve also taken a grassroots approach – opposing Eyman with yard-signs, letters to the editor, ads and so forth.


Since we joined the battle against Eyman, only one of his initiatives has been successful – I-776, which tried to take out transportation funding in four of the state’s thirty nine counties and was an assault on local control. Since then, we have stopped each of the last four and will work against the two he is proposing this year.


Q: Were all your wins at the ballot box?


AV:  No – in fact most of them haven’t been. Much of all of this has been trying to persuade people not to sign the petitions to allow the initiatives on the ballot at all. You know, people tend to sign those petitions because they think that people should have the right to vote on them at election time, or because they don’t realize signing a petition is like voting in a primary election. But just going through the exercise is costly and disruptive. These destructive initiatives shouldn’t even get on the ballot and people seem to be learning that.


Q: So then, what prompted you to expand beyond Permanent Defense?


AV: After a while we wanted to think about more issues. We asked ourselves, “What if Permanent Defense was just part of the puzzle? Could we create something that will allow us to take positions on national as well as local issues?”


NPI has been developing slowly over time. I wrote a Mission Statement and Vision and Goals. We created a website and then a year ago got a blog going. There are two of us, David Perlmutter and I, who take the lead, and we are training another eight people to write on the blog as well. Other people are writing other sections of the website.


Q: How do you decide what is part of NPI’s goals and what is not? For example, when I looked at the different sections, I wrote in to suggest that you add “Respect for Women” as an integral part of your section on International Affairs, along with “The Middle East” and “The Iraq War”. How will you decide whether or not to do that?


AV: Our Board – kind of an ad hoc group of people - gets together periodically via email or phone and reviews ideas and suggestions. We decide whether or not to include a new plank like that and then write something up.  (Interviewer - If you decide to include it, I’ll write it up.)


Q: And what about this new NW Portal? How did that come about?


AV: That was my brainchild. I thought we needed some kind of balance for the right-wing sites like Orbusmax. I wanted to create an information gateway for the entire region and give people a place where they could get all their news. Individuals are able to get wire and print news from all three states as well as a quick look at what the progressive blogs around the region are writing about. And it provides quick access to Air America as well.


For bloggers, it provides encouragement and additional readers.


Q: Why include Idaho?


AV: Idaho is not tied into the rest of the Northwest but we’ve observed a lot of traffic coming from Idaho and want to encourage the progressives there.


Q: What’s next?


AV: We’re working on a calendar now that uses RSS technology. It contains many of the progressive events around the state, including Democratic Party, progressive organizations and the Progressive Democratic caucus meetings. We’re testing it now. We’ll put it on the front page of our website and allow others to do the same.


We could use volunteers for the calendar. Contact Andrew to help on this if you are able.


Q: What about long-term. How do you see the Northwest Progressive Institute in the scheme of things?


AV: In addition to clarifying progressive positions for people, we want NPI to make it easier for people to contribute to the public debate and be part of the forum of thought. We want people to start thinking about how to defend and make use of the freedom of speech.

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 1, 2005 at 07:55 AM in Interviews, Media | Permalink


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