Pulling Together the Change Agents
If the statewide election results accomplished anything, this year, it was to up the ante for pessimism in Rhode Island. Whereas we used to ask each other how bad things would have to get, here, before voters would begin to wake up, it is beginning to seem more realistic to ask whether the state can save itself at all.
The partisan Democrats are busily constructing distractions to deflect the blame that obviously falls at their feet. The ideologically driven liberals have not relented in their push for progress toward oblivion and, indeed, have inhaled some pure oxygen with Obama’s success. Economic recession, even depression, will shore up the poverty advocates’ ammunition and expand the base of struggling families who are susceptible to their message. And public union members have, if anything, been sending a message that they want to compromise even less than their leaders.
Meanwhile, the exodus of productive taxpayers continues apace. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to predict that the stream will become a flood unless Rhode Island manages to beat the rest of the nation out of recession — an unlikely scenario bordering on impossibility. For many residents who might be inclined to reorder the state, saying “uncle” won’t entail resignation to changing our government, but to changing zip codes. Indeed, I can testify from my own experience that construction industry realities and disconcerting noises from my employer leave me little choice but to begin preparing an escape route.
In other words, time is short to rally those who would change Rhode Island for the better and to concentrate their talents for maximum effect. We have to push aside egos, spread around resources, and work together in designing structure:
- The Rhode Island GOP: The official state opposition party has to lower its profile for a while. Its role should retrench to support of grassroots operations and maintenance of a channel to the national party structure. Step away from the stove for a bit and let the boil stir the broth; perhaps it’s to the best if some detritus burns to the bottom of the pot.
- Local “CC” Groups: Town-level taxpayer organizations, such as those in Tiverton, Portsmouth, East Providence, Lincoln, and Little Compton, need to arise in every town and concentrate on changing the habits and processes of government at the municipal level. Their focus should be on identifying citizens who might require only a little push to become active and to give residents a sense that they can make a difference if they would just engage. In this way, they may be able to give hope and a reason to stay to those Rhode Islanders whom we can’t afford to lose, while building up a base of informed citizens with whom to populate town and state government.
- Rhode Island Statewide Coalition: While the local groups form and get up to speed, RISC should focus on building an infrastructure to link them together and identify areas of common cause. As the “CC” groups develop their understanding of municipal government, they’ll begin to identify the areas in which state law hinders their advancement. They’ll also run right into entrenched organizations, such as the teachers unions, that act statewide. RISC can facilitate the initiation of CCs, whether financially or by connecting interested organizers with the leaders of successful groups in other towns, aggregate the intelligence about state-level obstacles, and prepare channels by which town groups can expand to statewide office and action.
- Ocean State Policy Research Institute: As an organic network grows from town to town, there is clearly a role for a think-tank-style organization to research the statewide playing field and to develop policy suggestions that answer the CC groups’ findings as well as broader problems that the state faces. While it will be important for OSPRI to remain organizationally independent from direct political interests, it will be critical for it and RISC to work together as complementary state-level organizations — in particular to avoid duplicated efforts.
- TransformRI: To be honest, I haven’t developed a sufficient sense of TransformRI’s goals to place it within this proposed structure, but there are certainly gaps remaining that it may readily fill. Again, the key will be for the organization to work with the others, not duplicating their efforts.
Any successful network requires the involvement of “people groups,” with the goal of furthering principles that they support:
- Rhode Island Republican Assembly: RIRA’s Web site quotes Ronald Reagan as characterizing the California Republican Assembly as “the conscience of the Republican Party,” and RIRA’s role should be to populate the reform structure in Rhode Island with an eye toward maintaining principles that ought not be diluted.
- Moderate Party of Rhode Island: That said, there remain plenty of Rhode Islanders who recognize the pending calamity in their state and have a sound understanding of the steps necessary to avoid the worst of it. For that reason, it will remain important for dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and Republicans to work alongside self-identifying moderates. Compromises will have to go both ways, of course, such that nobody walks away from the table based on tangential or wholly irrelevant differences of opinion or aesthetic preferences. Toward that end distinct party labels are probably advisable, but cross-endorsements, so to speak, ought to be encouraged.
- College Republican Federation of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Young Republicans: Similarly to RIRA, groups for young Republicans in the state should be brought into the fold, not only to cull active participants, but to involve a different voice and perspective.
Where Anchor Rising Fits into the Scheme.
Having observed the results of such a project, the contributors of Anchor Rising have no intention of becoming a propaganda organ for partisan activism, but when the lines are so clear and the needs so broad as in RI, there is no conflict between independence and cooperation. Our unique platform and established voice put us in an advantageous position to fill in gaps between and connect the various groups described above, primarily for the ends of communications and messaging:
- The contributors are universally interested in researching and analyzing Rhode Island’s problems, making it a natural inclination to take the findings of others — whether OSPRI’s research or the CC groups’ experience — and fit them into the narrative of the state. In that way, we would connect the various dots and help to make the case for suggested changes.
- Blogs are also an excellent route by which to bring exposure to stories and events that might fall through the cracks of mainstream media attention. Not only could we keep distant members of the statewide network informed, but we could provide a stepping stone from which to hand stories to larger media organizations, feeding the news upward, so to speak.
- As a setting for public discussion — not only in the comments, but also through our Engaged Citizen feature — we provide an online forum for continual principle and message development. To keep reformers focused and united will require a mechanism for sharing experience and working out differences (or agreeing to disagree), and an independent Web site allows that discussion to occur.
What I’m proposing, from our end, begins with a request: If you help us to generate enough revenue initially to fund a single full-time position for the site administrator (ahem), we can become a substantial force enabling the construction of a statewide opposition movement. We could expand our coverage of relevant events and develop our understanding of the players and playing field. I’d also take it as a goal to seek out and encourage Rhode Islanders who display an interest in getting involved, particularly with respect to public debate. I’ve got a list of specific initiatives on which I’d embark from day-one as a professional blogger (for lack of a better term), but I won’t burden you with them, here; even presented vaguely, the value proposition is crystal clear.
For the time being, it is our intention to remain non-non-profit, so as to ensure both independence and privacy, but we’d be open to working with anybody who’s interested in helping, whether via donations, advertising, or some other mutually beneficial arrangement.
Considering what we’ve accomplished as a group of part-time hobbyists, I’m confident that, if we can fund a single year of increased involvement, we could get Anchor Rising standing on its own feet, perhaps even chasing down Rhode Island’s problems at a run within a year.
Please contact me with any leads or suggestions:
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871