Erik Altieri, on RT's Big Picture with Thom Hartmann
(Image by courtesy of Erik Altieri) Permission Details DMCA
My guest today is Erik Altieri, president of The Agenda Project Action Fund, chief political strategist, and media rep.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Erik. The Agenda Project Action Fund released a press release today. Before you tell us about the press release, please give our readers a sense of the Agenda Project. I'm afraid many of us are not familiar with your work.
AE: The Agenda Project Action Fund is a progressive advocacy organization that is built to take on the radical extremism of the Right. We view American politics as a battle for the political soul of the nation between two diametrically opposed world-views -- progressivism vs. conservatism.
We firmly believe that radicalism cannot be met with subtlety and hesitation. That is why we have pursued a unique model that marries the activities of a traditional marketing firm with a citizen-funded revenue stream. This unique model allows us to aggressively advance a core set of values in the public debate using a rapid response strategy.
By creating compelling illustrations of the differences between conservatives and decent Americans, we challenge our fellow citizens to examine their personal values and pick a side. We have built numerous nationwide campaigns that aggressively fight for our shared progressive values. You may remember one of our most famous ads, Granny Off the Cliff, which we released in 2011 targeting Representative Paul Ryan over his efforts to defund Medicare. The ad has lasting resonance, it was mentioned at this year's GOP FOX Business Debate and even name dropped by Donald Trump as one of the reasons Mitt Romney's presidential campaign failed.
JB: Yes; I remember that one. Memorable!
AE: From our first campaign F*ck Tea against the Tea Party to Granny Off the Cliff which focused on preserving Medicare to Republican Cuts Kill which called out the GOP for their reckless budget cuts, the Agenda Project Action Fund has never shied away from a fight. We've taken on those dirtbags on Wall Street, extremists in Congress, the absolute sociopaths in the Tea Party, and Muslim bashing hate-mongers. We believe that PROGRESS is the real American party and we are unabashed in our desire to champion progressive ideals that make public policy work for all Americans, not just a wealthy few.
JB: Hard to disagree with anything you've said, Erik. So, why the press release today? What's new?
AE: To be a bit coy, everything and nothing. Nothing has changed about the mission and objectives of the Agenda Project Action Fund. We were founded to be outspoken progressive advocates and as the 2016 election got into full swing, our plan was always to play a large role in shaping the narrative in regards to our issue portfolio in key states, both at the presidential and congressional level.
On the other hand, everything has changed in regards to the political dynamics of the American electorate. We are seeing a rejuvenated and resurgent progressive left in this country, the likes we haven't seen in many decades. More and more Americans are identifying as liberals and the organizational structure across the board has matured immensely. Then, Bernie Sanders took center stage. He gave a voice to the previously voiceless, to the millions of Americans who support issues such as real campaign finance reform, enhancing our social safety net, raising wages for workers, radical reform to our education system, and fixing our utterly broken criminal justice system. He created a grassroots campaign that engaged millions of previously unengaged citizens in the political process, raised a staggering amount of money directly from the people $27 at a time, and impressively began to put up big wins in the primary states. We saw within the Sanders campaign an ideological soulmate and knew we had to be a part of the political revolution.
JB: How did the Agenda Project decide to support Bernie? Did you survey your members to measure their support?
AE: We had early internal discussions about engaging in the Democratic primary, but we realized simply sending down an edict from our leadership, in the way that many groups this election have done, would seem "undemocratic."
We think of ourselves as part of a broader progressive community and that our voice is an amplification of that community. Taking that into account, we decided the best route was to pursue direct democracy and allow our supporters to weigh in. As hundreds upon hundreds of votes began pouring in, the results were staggering. Bernie Sanders ended up garnering 97% of the public vote, a rather astounding mandate from our followers. With that mandate in hand, the path forward was clear: join the revolution.
Talking to labor organizers in Senate Cafeteria
(Image by Agenda Project Action Fund) Permission Details DMCA
JB: That is impressive! You surpassed the very lopsided support Bernie got from the rank and file membership of MoveOn, which endorsed him a while back. Which brings me to my next question. For many, including the Democratic leadership, Bernie's chief rival, and the media pundits, this race is all but over. Why weigh in now? Or, put another way, why did the Agenda Project wait so long to give its very welcome endorsement when it might have done more good a bit earlier?
AE: Well, of course, the media pundits want to declare this race over. For one, they are chomping at the bit to try to boost their ratings with a Clinton and Trump general election showdown. Also, quite frankly, what Bernie Sanders is saying about the media establishment and having wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes scares the crap out of the establishment press and the elite individuals who own those media outlets.
Let's be clear though: this race is far from over. About 25 states and territories have yet to have their say in the process and the map ahead is very favorable to the Sanders campaign. We saw that strength last night where we won Utah and Idaho by nearly 60 point margins. The name of the game is delegates and with states such as California, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey yet to vote -- there are more than enough left for him to pull off many more victories and overcome his deficit with pledged delegates. As for timing, we think that our endorsement also carries that important, implicit message: this race is far, far from over -- in fact it is only truly just beginning. The Sanders campaign will take this all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July, where we believe we may see one of the greatest political upsets in modern history.
Even beyond the simply electoral dynamics, what Bernie Sanders is proposing as far as policy is the direction America must move in to ensure our continued growth and prosperity in the 21st century. He has united a movement, that no matter the results at the end of the day, can and MUST continue beyond any individual election. The millions of Bernie Sanders supporters need to remain engaged after 2016 because, even with a President Sanders in the White House, it will take a groundswell of public pressure to ensure our agenda can be implemented. That is very much something we wanted to be a part of.
JB: That works for me. Has the Agenda Project endorsed presidential candidates in the past? If so, have you ever had such a clear mandate?
AE: This is the first presidential endorsement the Agenda Project Action Fund has ever issued. We hope that in and of itself sends a clear message about just how important the organization and an overwhelming number of our supporters view this primary election. Progressive policy is shaping the race in a way that many never would've thought possible. We would not have been able to sit on the sidelines during this debate without feeling as if we betrayed our founding principle, which is to champion these very policies that are being discussed.
JB: Interesting. How long as the Agenda Project Action Fund been around?
AE: The organization was initially formed in 2010, by my predecessor Erica Payne. After years of successful campaigns and organization building under her leadership, I took over as the group's president at the very end of last year. I joined the organization after a seven-year stint with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), where I served as their Communications Director, PAC Manager, and Congressional Lobbyist.
JB: Really? I can feel another interview coming on, Erik. So much to talk about! Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
AE: Absolutely! It has been a great discussion and would love to come back again any time.
I suppose my closing thought would be this:
We live in the richest country in the history of the world, no idea that improves the lives and wellbeing of our citizens should be considered too lofty or too out of reach. We can achieve great things. We can implement universal, single-payer healthcare, we can make public colleges and universities tuition free, we can raise the minimum wage to a living wage and lift millions out of dire poverty, we can fight institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system"there's just one caveat: YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR DEMOCRACY.
We can truly achieve the goals laid out by organizations like the Agenda Project Action Fund and by Senator Sanders, but not if the American people are complacent and accept the status quo as an unwavering reality. Citizens must perform their all important duty of standing up, speaking out, and making their voices heard at the ballot box -- not just during presidential years, but every year. That is what a political revolution is about and I think what we are seeing this election is just the start of a rising wave that will fundamentally transform our country for the better in the years to come.
JB: Amen. Thanks so much for talking with me, Erik. I'm delighted that the Agenda Project Action Fund feels the Bern, and has jumped into the fray, in a big way!