Outthinking the Right

Too often, the left operates in silos. There are the people who work on health care, and those who focus on economic development, and the environment, and voting rights, and too often, we operate in isolation from each other. We need to challenge those tired orthodoxies.
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No, I don’t give drum lessons. I run a think tank. I suppose when you’re called the Drum Major Institute, it can be a bit confusing.

Al Franken was certainly confused. Last night, in front of a rapt audience at our fourth annual benefit, he expressed gratitude that an organization like ours existed to train the youth of America how to be drum majors of their high school bands.

If only the goal were that simple. Instead, the Drum Major Institute is dedicated to outthinking the right. Some may think we’re aiming too low. But we think it’s a start.

Last night, the Drum Major Institute honored Harry Belafonte and Arianna Huffington for speaking truth to power.

The audience reflected our philosophy that you change the conversation by changing who participates in it.

Teddy Shaw, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was there, along with members of the first class of a new public high school called the School for Law and Justice. Labor union heads along with those organizing the immigrant restaurant workers of New York. Elected officials and people aspiring to the positions they held.

Too often, the left operates in silos. There are the people who work on health care, and those who focus on economic development, and the environment, and voting rights, and too often, we operate in isolation from each other.

We need to challenge those tired orthodoxies. That’s DMI’s mission as an organization.

That’s why we gave every member of Congress a grade based on their votes on legislation important to strengthening and expanding the middle class – and when Republicans didn’t vote well they didn’t score well, and when Democrats didn’t vote well, they didn’t score well. (I won’t tell you which party was more upset with us).

It’s why we don’t just talk theory – but we organize a Marketplace of Ideas series that brings policymakers successfully putting progressive values into practice a microphone.

It’s why instead of finding Fellows from the ranks of the elite, DMI’s Fellows are grassroots activists who understand the impact of good and bad policy because they see the manifestations of it every day.

But here’s the other important point about our benefit last night: we were standing in New York City. The notion that ideas need to come from the Beltway, is in our view, very 2004. Someone remarked to me that Reagan’s missile defense shield had actually been built, and it’s currently over Washington, DC. And that nothing can penetrate it to get inside. Well, that also means that nothing can get out. We are a scrappy institute using New York City as a laboratory for a national conversation that is grounded in the reality of people’s lives.

And what last night demonstrated is that the left can learn from the right -- but doesn’t have to look exactly like them while doing it.

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