by Brent Whelan
Swing Left Greater Boston, now known as Swing Blue Alliance, is joining forces with the venerable advocacy organization Common Cause in our shared struggle to protect voting rights and pass S.1, the For the People Act. This is an important move for Common Cause as it taps the enthusiasm of SLGB/SBA’s battle-tested volunteer network. But it is especially exciting for all of us at SBA because, more than ever, we will be part of a national movement with the greatly expanded capacity of a well-known and well-funded national advocate for citizen power.
What Is Common Cause?
Common Cause just celebrated its 50th birthday last year. Founded as a nonpartisan organization for citizen empowerment, it was the brainchild of John Gardner, a liberal Republican who formerly served in President Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet. Gardner’s first objective was to help mobilize opposition to the Vietnam War, but Common Cause quickly broadened its reach to include citizens’ campaigns across a wide range of areas.
Common Cause’s priority issues include public funding of elections to counteract the effects of special interest dark money. It has promoted tighter ethics regulations for elected officials, along with greater transparency in government. Additionally, Common Cause has worked to block efforts by right-wing advocates to convene constitutional conventions that could repeal certain civil liberties, and it has entered the fight to restrict gerrymandering by transferring redistricting responsibilities to nonpartisan commissions. In all these battles, the common thread for CC is to make our voices heard by placing power in the hands of ordinary voters.
S.1 – Common Cause’s Current Focus
In the present moment, Common Cause’s primary focus is to prevent the suppression of voting rights. In the wake of President Trump’s failure to win reelection and his Big Lie claim of electoral fraud, state legislatures all over the country, particularly those controlled by Republicans, are proposing restrictions on voting both in person and by mail. More seriously, some states are moving to transfer the authority to count and report ballots from nonpolitical election boards and supervisors and give it instead to highly partisan legislatures. As the former president attempted to do after the 2020 election, this could mean that the actual will of the voters is simply put aside in the interest of casting electoral votes on party lines. Such a maneuver would mean the end of democratic governance as we know it.
Given the magnitude of this threat, Common Cause has folded its various voter empowerment campaigns into this singular effort to push S.1, the For the People Act, through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk for signing. This massive 800-page bill addresses many of the voting issues CC has long worked for: it calls for greater transparency in campaign funding and for national standards of nonpartisan redistricting, as well as establishing rules for convenient early voting and mail-in balloting.
As Izzy Bronstein, Common Cause’s National Campaign Director, recently remarked, “We are throwing everything we’ve got into the For the People fight.”
Common Cause’s Powerful Resources
With branches in 30 states and numerous affiliations with local grassroots movements, CC is able to support campaigns to expose and defeat voter suppression initiatives across the country. CC employs nine full-time organizers who are active in key battleground states, while CC’s national headquarters in Washington fields a leadership team who can engage in the national debate at the highest levels.
With 1.5 million members nationwide and a budget of more than $18 million, Common Cause is a major player in the contest for our national identity. It brings the capacity to generate national media interviews, commission op-ed articles and letters to the editor, and can assert public positions backed by 50 years of respected advocacy on behalf of American voters. From the Watergate investigations of the 1970s to Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s shady financial dealings just this year, Common Cause weighs in with considerable heft.
The SBA/Common Cause Partnership
What Swing Blue Alliance brings to this partnership is what we are already: a legion of committed, experienced volunteers. We will continue to operate the phone banks, host the letter-writing and postcard parties, and raise the funds that have made us a force in the last two electoral cycles.
At the moment, the focus of our partnership S.1 campaign is on bringing nominally supportive Democratic senators more visibly into the fight for the For the People Act. As legislative and negotiating maneuvers continue to unfold in this turbulent Congressional session, tactics may change and new targets arise. For the moment SBA will continue protecting our voting rights as aggressively as we can. These are perilous times for democracy in America, and it should come as a relief to know that an organization with the legacy and resources of Common Cause is with us in the fight.
Get involved in the Swing Blue Alliance S.1 campaign with Common Cause:
Brent Whelan is a retired teacher, a climate activist, and writer of postcards to swing state voters. He lives in Allston, MA.