The Promise of a Progressive Populist Movement

Executive Summary

The promise of democracy in the United States is at risk. Building a country that works for all people requires building enough power to create a real transformation that allows all people to live with dignity. It requires that we build a multiracial and race-conscious progressive populist movement that can drive the changes we need and bridge the deep divisions that dominate our public life. At People’s Action, we are committed to building a powerful cultural and political organizing strategy that will unite people across race, gender, class, and geography to advance a bold agenda that puts people and planet first.

People’s Action member organizations and our allies are launching an ambitious Rural and Small-Town Organizing Strategy in 72 counties in ten states across the Heartland, Rust Belt, Northeast and South. Despite the stereotypical view of rural America, these places are not homogeneous and they include African American communities, American Indian Reservations and areas with significant immigrant populations. They also include 28 “pivot counties” (that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and went for Trump in 2016). Trump won 64 of the 72 counties and in 52 of the counties he won by more than 10 points. There is a moral and strategic imperative to invest in building people’s organizations in these communities. It is urgent to address the pain and suffering in these communities and critical to shifting the balance of power at both the state and federal level.

Of the more than 136 million votes cast in the 2016 election, 77,744 votes in three states—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—effectively decided the election. Trump had a margin of victory of 176,478 in the counties where People's Action member organizations are building their Rural and Small-Town Organizing Strategy in those same states. Building progressive organizing capacity in these counties creates a clear path to shifting the balance of power in those states and profoundly impact the future of the country.

Between September 2017 and April 2018, we knocked on more than 5,000 doors and documented 2,462 individual conversations through phone banks, door
to door canvassing and conversations at community events like health fairs or after church services that are the basis of this preliminary report. These conversations give us insight into what these community members are facing and what moves them to action, but this is not fully representative of the communities we surveyed and the respondents are, in general, older, whiter and poorer than the population of these counties as a whole.