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Fed up with gridlock on Capitol Hill, an unlikely coalition of leading environmental, labor and civil rights groups is mobilizing to push for an overhaul of Senate filibuster, campaign finance and voting rules.
Organizers say this emerging “democracy” movement is prompting mainstream progressive groups to branch beyond their core issues to take on procedural and institutional battles typically left to government watchdogs. The Senate filibuster, unrestricted political money and curbs on ballot access are all blocking action on broader policy issues, from clean energy to jobs, they argue.
Key organizers include the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Communications Workers of America and the NAACP, whose leaders are convening a Dec. 10 meeting in Washington of some 75 progressive organizations.
“Lots of people have had lots of different agendas, and it’s time to unite and bring together organizations that haven’t been good government groups, and start to engage in these process issues,” said George Kohl, a senior director at the CWA.
The coalition has no formal name or policy agenda yet, but it has rallied behind certain basic goals. The leaders are part of a broader effort dubbed Fix the Senate Now that this week relaunched a 2010 lobbying campaign to push for curbs on the Senate filibuster. That coalition also includes the Alliance for Justice, Common Cause and the United Auto Workers.
Other rallying points for organizers include campaign finance bills focused on disclosure and public financing as well as state election laws that facilitate voter registration and early voting. The purpose is not to start from square one, said Sierra Club National Political Director Cathy Duvall, but to work with existing campaign finance and voting rights groups to leverage support for fixes.
“The Sierra Club is an environmental organization; we are not going to propose to be the premier organization on campaign finance reform,” Duvall said. She added that issue groups such as the Sierra Club “are bringing scope, scale and capacity to the conversation.”
The Dec. 10 meeting is just one of several that progressive organizers, in various configurations, are having following Election Day, said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
“We do think that there is a real democracy moment right now,” Weiser said. “People are really noticing that the systems in our democracy are in need of revitalization, that there are serious problems, and they are really widespread ... there’s the voting system, there’s the explosion of money in politics, there’s the dysfunctionality in Congress.”