In January of 1963, about 20 leaders of the civil rights movement met in Dorchester, Georgia, to discuss the next steps in their work. The movement had been steadily unifying and coalescing over the previous years — moving from many smaller, disparate organizations and localized efforts into a more cohesive, coordinated strategy with a core group of leaders. Martin King was there, as were Fred Shuttlesworth and Andrew Young, among others.
Though there were some important advances made in the previous years around desegregation, they had experienced some setbacks of late. Those setbacks weren’t just external losses to white power structures. They were also internal problems like infighting, finger-pointing, lack of funds, and divergent views on strategy and tactics. They discussed a recent failed effort to desegregate Albany, Georgia, and lessons learned there. From that meeting, they plotted one of their first truly coordinated efforts, aimed at Birmingham, Alabama. The ensuing months and years proved this to be a critical and momentous decision. Twenty people, in a room together, doing the best they could with the realities in front of them.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying movements — both for good and ill — and looking for patterns and lessons that I can apply in my deep desire to help lead and empower the movement currently afoot in America to bring a new way to our politics. To be clear, I don’t ever want to equate our political work at the Forward Party with the civil rights movement or the abolition movement. Their work was so deeply foundational to the securing of rights and basic human dignity in ways that cannot be matched.
But I have no hesitation in saying that our work to chart a new way in American politics is existential to our nation and our collective flourishing. If we do not course-correct our democracy in the next 10–20 years, I fear it will not endure, and we will see less freedom, suffering communities, and a broken government.
It is against this backdrop and over 17 years in politics that I can say definitively: we are closer than we’ve been in our lifetimes to seeing a new movement emerge. We are building a new party one state at a time. One group of amazing leaders at a time. One meeting of 20 people and one relationship at a time. And it’s working.
Over the past seven weeks I’ve been on the road meeting with Forward Party executive committees in Florida, Texas, Illinois, California, and North Carolina. The cadence will continue throughout this year. These states have convened strategy sessions to lay out their plans for the coming year and wrestled with tough questions that you face when you’re doing something for the first time. The work they’re doing is the thankless but necessary tangible, practical labor of starting a new party. By-laws, legal filings, working groups, committees, petition and registration drive planning, fundraising. This is the work.
I can say without exception that these are some of the most dedicated, impressive humans I’ve ever encountered in my 17 years in politics. They’re giving hundreds of collective volunteer hours to build this party, meeting on weekends, missing family, traveling, and making significant sacrifices to help build in their communities.
These teams are made up of people from across the ideological and political spectrum and with an enormous diversity of backgrounds. Young progressive Latinx activists sit beside Black CEOs who sit beside white former mayors who sit beside Filipino community organizers.
No one is under any illusion that pulling together this diverse coalition is going to be easy. No one has all the answers. But there is some kind of magical, providential, historic thing happening in these rooms, and I’m here to testify to it. I keep finding it in room after room. And I am convinced it is the one ingredient we cannot manufacture and to which we will point, if we are successful, and say, “that was it.” It’s the stuff of true movements for lasting change.
Americans from every background realize our nation’s civic fabric is frayed and coming apart. They are ready and willing to step up and try a bold new way. The Forward Party is building a truly new, viable, durable, credible political party that puts power back in the hands of people and communities, and we are bringing a serious, experienced, professional team alongside these amazing leaders to help make it happen.
Let me be honest though: our headquarters team is overwhelmed. We launched in August as a merger of three groups — former Republicans, Democrats and Independents — to see if we could pull this off. With a staff of just over 30 to cover all 50 states, we cannot meet the daily demands of the hundreds of state leaders out there passionately building. We are getting better and better every day and scaling as fast as we can. But our biggest problem, as our new CEO Lindsey Williams Drath has accurately pointed out, is that our leaders are so passionate and driven that we can’t keep up with them.
There will be failures, missed deadlines, in-fighting, fundraising shortfalls, and a dozen other challenges. And you know what? That’s to be expected. If you spend any time studying movements for lasting change you will quickly see that none of them followed neat, linear, smooth paths. If you’re trying to do something really hard, it’s going to be — wait for it — really hard.
But we won’t let this stop us. I know we won’t. I’ve sat in these rooms for weeks now, and the resolve is deep. I can’t sit here today and say with any certainty that we will succeed in the ways the political class would measure success. But I can say without question that the leaders of this movement will not melt under the heat of the struggle nor will they shrink quietly back into the darkness of our broken American political discourse. Every time we get knocked down, we will get up and keep going.
We will continue to pay a steep price — lost time with family, fractured relationships with partisan friends, the pain of naysayers and attackers who refuse to believe it can be done, and the stress and pressure of deadlines and fundraising needs. Some of us may pay even more dearly.
But if we persevere — and I believe we will — we will look back on these years as the time when Americans of radically diverse backgrounds and ideologies came together and built a new way forward, leaving a legacy to the next generation of freer people, thriving communities, and a vibrant democracy.
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