When it comes to policy, the state leaders fighting for a deeper democracy are understaffed and outgunned. Movement politicians are often inspired to run for office because they have experience in a few issue areas. However, when considering whether to run or not, they are faced with the daunting task of populating a website policy page, filling out policy questionnaires, and answering interviews about every issue. Often, they are stuck googling around Vox and think tank websites alone, looking for quick answers. Policy remains a low campaign budget priority, so they often have to desperately seek quick, inexpensive, and easy policy help.
Once in office, Movement lawmakers suffer from the notorious underfunding and understaffing of state legislator offices:
Many state leaders are forced to share policy staff with other lawmakers, as well as rely on outside advocates for most of their policy information. As a result, well-funded, well-staffed corporate lobbyists step in to fill the informational vacuum.
When bandwidth is constrained like this, lawmakers are forced into a defensive posture, deploying their meager resources to simply stay on top of everything else happening in the statehouse. To go on offense — to really advance bold ideas that deepen democracy within their parties — requires more time and research staff than they often have. As one Movement state legislator put it when asked how they would champion a comprehensive Movement agenda: “I would need an army.”
This is why we started DPN: to respond to these legislator needs and fill this state policy gap with an interstate policy infrastructure for Movement leaders working to deepen democracy in statehouses across the country. The network has three tasks:
- DPN works to organize the Movement’s statehouse leaders around a shared governing vision: a framework for using their power to deepen democracy — to strengthen citizens and communities to participate; to open up economic and government power to more people in more ways; to break down the barriers of injustice that prevent our democratic promise from including every American — in their respective states.
- DPN builds a system that makes it easier for people to gather, package, organize, and champion bold polices for these leaders: big democratic reforms, packed into useful formats, organized on a beautiful platform, and tied to inspiring narratives that lawmakers can use to change the public conversation in their statehouses.
- DPN works to foster a national policy community around this vision and agenda: a network of the Movement’s thinkers, leaders, and ordinary citizens helping each other raise up ideas for deepening democracy.
These three tasks are embedded in our name, Democracy Policy Network:
- Democracy: We organize statehouse leaders around a vision of deepening democracy.
- Policy: We gather, package, organize, and champion state-level policies connected to this vision.
- Network: We foster a community of people devoted to developing and championing this vision and the policies that realize it.
These three tasks are achieved through three networks we are organizing:
- A Movement Statehouse Network: We organize a network of the policy-minded, democratically-spirited Movement lawmakers and staffers working in statehouses across the country to champion ambitious policies for deepening democracy.
- A Movement Idea Network: We organize a network of the policy-minded, democratically-spirited Movement thinkers working in think tanks, magazines, advocacy groups and campuses around the country to develop ambitious policies for deepening democracy.
- The Movement Policy Organizer Network: We organize a network of brainy citizens interested in helping connect Movement ideas to Movement leaders by gathering, packaging, organizing, and championing ambitious policies for deepening democracy.
- In sum: We’re helping to build an agenda for the next generation of Movement state lawmakers. And we’re building it in a new way — participatory, collaborative, transparent, co-created by the Movement. By organizing Movement policy organizers to organize Movement ideas for organized Movement leaders working to deepen democracy, we help to build the movement's policy infrastructure in the states.
The Democracy Policy Network was created to support a new generation rising up in statehouses across the country to challenge the shallow politics of the past decades. This new generation of leaders is reviving an old American vision — a vision for deepening democracy... more power to more people in more ways! And this groundswell is just the beginning: in the coming years, we are going to be hearing a lot more about municipal energy and worker cooperatives, democracy vouchers and community land trusts, the four-day workweek and mass decarceration, and many more big, democratic reforms. There’s a real chance the 2020s could be remembered as the decade when — in the wake of devastating political, economic and health crises — Americans stepped up to build a new way of doing things.