21st Century Democrats
21st Century Democrats is a 527 political action committee founded in 1986 as Democrats 2000 by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, radio commentator and Progressive Democrats of America Advisory Board Member Jim Hightower, and former Illinois Congressman Lane Evans to "build a 'farm team' of young progressive Democrats through a commitment to grassroots campaigning and populist values."
The organization claims 100,000 online members.
21st Century Democrats focuses on recruiting, training, and hiring field organizers to organize grassroots campaigns on behalf of candidates for local offices, statewide office, and even targeted presidential swing states.
On its website 21st Century Democrats states:
- The mission of 21st Century Democrats is to develop leadership at every level – from training new generations of field organizers and campaign staff – to helping progressive candidates win campaigns – to building a broad network of progressive Democratic leaders who will shape the direction of the Democratic Party and enact progressive public policy which transforms this country to be a just, fair and equal society for all people.
- We are committed to leading the way toward a bold and progressive agenda that will improve the quality of life for all Americans. Our goal is to elect genuinely progressive Democrats who believe the government has a positive role to play in our country and will fight to enact public policy which reflects the core values of equality, opportunity, compassion, justice and fairness that 21st Century Democrats believes in, stands up for, and works towards on a daily basis.
In a May 2006 article at The Progressive, Ruth Conniff wrote:
- I've been spending a lot of time lately talking with some of the groups that are trying to build a progressive "farm team" of downballot candidates. These are the people who will eventually form the moral center the national party is seeking.
- One such group, 21st Century Democrats, has actually abandoned its mission of trying to build Democratic majorities at the state and federal level to focus exclusively on what it calls "extraordinary, visionary leaders." Rather than supporting hundreds of candidates who are generally progressive on the issues and might help retake Congress and the states, the group is trying for a more radical change. It is looking for what executive directory Kelly Young calls "a paradigm shift" in the political culture by supporting a small number of progressive leaders who are committed to bold goals like 100 percent renewable energy within twenty years.
Kelly Young served nine years (1998-2007) as Executive Director at 21st Century Democrats. Under Young's leadership "the organization grew exponentially, from spending $8,000 on campaigns in 1998 to $7.8 million in the 2004 election cycle. The organization successfully elected over 180 candidates to office, trained 4,200 activists, and recruited, trained and hired over 900 full-time field organizers."
Young estimated that 21st Century Democrats spent $2 million on the 2004 election alone "in Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon and Nevada to build a database of more than 200,000 young voters." Young defended the amount as "a lot of money per vote"; she said "when all the dust settles in this billion-dollar election, the youth vote will prove to have been the cheapest to get."
In 2004 21st Century Democrats "aggressively" courted the youth vote under "the America Votes banner." The organization ran "a peer-to-peer outreach arm called Vote Mob, and Music for America, ... mobilizing young voters where they rock: at concerts by artists such as Usher, Beastie Boys and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra."
Ruth Cox is the only identified staff member for 21st Century Democrats. Cox, who is the organization's Executive Director, most recently "served with the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team’s Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, supporting outreach to Mayors across the country. Ruth joined the Obama presidential campaign in January of 2008, serving in 5 primary/caucus states and four months in Florida on the general election. As the Women’s Outreach Director in Florida and Indiana, she worked with women and organizations across the state to boost visibility on women’s issues, engage women volunteers, and encourage women to vote early, which they did in overwhelming numbers. Ruth began the 08 presidential cycle in Iowa with Chris Dodd’s campaign."
Training Field Organizers
Mark Lotwis, former 21st Century Democrats Executive Director, wrote in May 2008: "we are working hard to play our role in the progressive infrastructure. We train activists in the art of field organizing and then put them on campaigns all across the country so they can go out and talk to voters about our candidates and our vision for the future."
21st Century Democrats "has worked to develop leadership at every level—from training new generations of field organizers and campaign staff to helping progressive candidates win campaigns. Alumni include President Barack Obama, Cabinet Secretaries Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack, Representatives Jim Himes, Allyson Schwartz, Tim Bishop and Emanuel Cleaver, Senators Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer and Sherrod Brown, and the late-Senator Paul Wellstone."
Commenting on the June 4-8, 2008 National Field Organizer Training: Major League Action at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, Lotwis wrote:
- Over four days of intensive training, we will transform up to 200 activists into prepared field organizers that can be dropped anywhere in the country and start making a difference right away.
- Our organization seeks to build a more progressive America not only by electing more progressive Democrats, but also by building human capital within the progressive community. Training a young person to be a field organizer helps us not only in the current cycle, but gives that person a skill that will be valuable in every election. Thankfully, there are a lot of great groups like The Center for Progressive Leadership, Democracy for America, The New Organizing Institute, Wellstone Action and many others that train progressive activists, organizers and candidates.
- 2006: included winners Debra Bowen, Sherrod Brown, Jennifer Brunner, Darcy Burner, Keith Ellison, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Ritchie and Jon Tester.
- 2008: included winners Jeanne Shaheen and Carol Shea-Porter.
In February 2009, 21st Century Democrats joined with Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, Daily Kos, ColorOfChange.org, and Howard Dean's Democracy for America in a new effort called Accountability Now PAC. This new political action committee promises to use party primaries to challenge Democratic incumbents that PAC members do not support.
21st Century Democrats
1731 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC, 20009
Phone: 202 626-5620
Email: info AT 21stdems.org
Related SourceWatch articles
- 2020 Democrats
- Campaign for a National Majority
- community organizing
- Democracy Alliance
- Secretary of State Project
- Swing State Project
- Tim Dickinson, "The Youth Vote. Neither George Bush nor John Kerry should take their support for granted," Rolling Stone, October 20, 2004.
- Lisa Chamberlain, " The future of America is blue. Almost 5 million more young people voted this time, and most went Democratic," Salon, November 9, 2004.
- Ruth Conniff, "The Democratic Search for a Soul, The Progressive, May 9, 2006.
- Jill Lawrence, "Top vote counter becomes prize job," USA TODAY, August 17, 2006.
- Mark Lotwis, "Training Progressive Field Organizers For The Future," DailyKos.com, May 27, 2008.
- Press release: "Voting for Republicans May Put You in the Red More Than You Think," PresidentialData.org, August 26, 2008.
- Robert Schlesinger, "Progressive 'Accountability Now PAC' Will Target Wayward Democrats in Primaries," U.S. News & World Report, February 27, 2009.
- News release: "21st Century Democrats’ Hosts Progressive. Leaders for Youth Leadership Speaker Series," 21st Century Democrats, October 21, 2009.