Seizing the levers of power
“Twenty years from now, the next Barack Obama will have come through our program,” says Noah Doyle, a board member of the New Leaders Council, an organization that is building a foundation of progressive leaders throughout the country.
The NLC is strikingly different from the typical DC think tank or policy shop focused on electioneering or fighting in the cable news trenches. For the last six years, its main operation is to run a kind of mini-graduate school in cities across the country for up-and-coming progressive political entrepreneurs, or “Fellows,” as they call them.
In five weekends over five months, a class of around twenty fellows take classes in things like business, media and communications, campaign management, or political strategy. These fellows then serve as a network of communication and support as they move into their careers throughout the country.
And the NLC’s goal is not just to build a stable of potential congressional candidates—it has its eyes on every potential position of influence nationwide: city councils and school boards, boards and chairmanships of corporations, and of course state and national elected offices. The idea is to “infiltrate and take over all the levers of power—public and private, national and local,” says the NLC’s Executive Director Mark Riddle.
Mark Walsh, the NLC’s chairman and an early backer, came on board for precisely this long-term aspect. “The NLC is not about quick fixes, or winning the news cycle,” he says. “It’s a 30-year program.”
In interviews across the NLC structure, from Riddle to graduated fellows, a common theme emerged: in the years after liberalism’s high mark in the 1960s, the left has been losing the muscle and sinew of a political movement, especially with the precipitous decline of private-sector unions.
Where conservatives have nurtured their grassroots groups, pundits, policy shops, and losing politicians—to keep their bench deep, and prepare for the next grab at power—the left failed to keep up.