As People For the American Way (PFAW) arranges the flowers and blows up the balloons for its anniversary celebration tonight at the Kennedy Center, it’s clear that balloons are not the only thing that’s expanding. That’s very good news for the 20-year-old organization, and for its many progressive coalition partners in Washington and across the country.
At a time when many pitched battles are being waged over key constitutional and civil rights issues—and many more lie ahead—there is additional evidence that the American public is stepping up in ever greater numbers to support progressive issues with both their actions and their pocketbooks. The latest evidence lies in two key numbers announced today by Ralph G. Neas.
Neas reported a sharp surge on both fronts for the organization. He announced that PFAW’s roster of members and activists now tops the half-million mark—an increase of 200,000 in just the past year. This growth in people-power is paralleled by a similar surge in income, with the combined income for PFAW and for the affiliated tax-exempt research, education and legal advocacy organization, People For the American Way Foundation, skyrocketing from approximately $10.3 million in 1999 to $14.5 million in 2000, an increase of 40 percent. Neas added that in just the first five months of this year, support for the organizations has risen by 57 percent over the same period in 2000.
"It’s clear that there’s a new mood out there," Neas said. "People see the far right doing things that worry them and they’re stepping up to the challenge by committing their time and money to do something about it. This has been true for People For, as it has for many other progressive organizations."
The organization’s involvement in a number of high-stakes, high-profile issues has struck a responsive chord with the public, said Neas, who has been PFAW’s president since January 2000.
"We’ve taken tough stands on a whole host of issues—the Ashcroft nomination, judicial nominations, voting rights violations, government funding of religion, the Bush tax cut, and private-school vouchers. We have made it clear that when the right wing attempts to turn back the clock on fundamental rights and liberties, People For the American Way will stand and fight," said Neas. "It’s encouraging and gratifying to see so many people stepping forward to take a stand with us."
"So much is at stake today," Neas concluded, "and with growing signs that so many Americans
are ready and willing to get involved, we have a crucial opportunity to help build and re-energize
a progressive movement that will be an effective force to reassert and reclaim a national commitment to fundamental American values of fairness, equality, and opportunity."