Our president, Mike Lux, founded American Family Voices in 2000 with a mission to take on projects that needed doing, but that more traditional DC groups weren’t able or willing to take on. He wanted AFV to be a center of innovation in political strategy, with the ability to move with lightning speed and without bureaucracy to make a big impact on the political world.
We were the first group to realize that unmarried women were becoming a key part of the progressive base, and to experiment with targeting and turning them out to vote, something that the entire Democratic party and progressive movement now routinely focuses on. We launched the Daily Enron, one of the very first political/policy blogs in history, way back in 2002 before anyone had ever heard of the term blog, and helped start OpenLeft in 2006; we made the first online political video that hit over a million views (it had 8,000,000+); and in 2014, we sponsored the journalism that broke several hours of audio from the Koch brothers’ secret meetings featuring Mitch McConnell and other Republican politicians. That audio became a major embarrassment to both the Kochs and their political friends: it helped generate literally hundreds of negative media stories, and became a major part of Jane Mayer’s highly publicized new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
Our theory of change has been 3-fold:
Utilizing an inside/outside strategy. We are one of the few groups with close ties both to Democratic elected officials and to the activists and Netroots groups in the progressive movement. Speakers at our events over the years have included Hillary Clinton, Dick Gephardt, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, Harry Reid, and Elizabeth Warren, because these leaders recognize the important work we have done on progressive policy initiatives with labor, socially conscious businesses, MoveOn, DailyKos, Americans for Financial Reform, Public Citizen, and many other groups. We always seek ways to bridge these two worlds, to keep people in communication and working together on key issues and campaigns.
Creating content that drives conversations. Despite being relatively small, OpenLeft was one of the five most linked-to political blogs and AFV Chair Mike Lux won an award as the most influential blogger in the country, before the site was merged with DailyKos. In addition to writing, we produce online video on issues and policy, and sponsor the grassroots news program The Undercurrent. AFV and Undercurrent videos have appeared in major online publications like Huffington Post, The Nation, and Salon, and on broadcast and cable news. Our videos consistently are watched by Democratic Party and progressive movement opinion leaders. For a progressive group of our size, no one has been able to generate the kind of media hits and video views that we have.
Launching strategic initiatives that build the progressive movement. Last year, we hosted the first major summit that brought together socially conscious business executives with leaders of the progressive movement to find ways to achieve shared policy priorities. We are working with the National Conference of Democratic Mayors to bring their members into these exciting new policy discussions in the coming year.
Under perpetual attack from corporate and conservative interests with more money and power, the progressive movement needs groups willing and able to think outside the box. American Family Voices is intentionally lean and mean because we want to avoid the bureaucracy and institutional defensiveness that keep organizations from innovating and risk-taking. Because of this, we have been at the forefront of developing new message ideas and strategic initiatives for the progressive cause.
American Family Voices serves as an umbrella group that helps foster a broad network of organizations – including civil rights, environmental, women’s rights, consumer advocacy and health care organizations, and multi-issue think tanks – and build their infrastructure, both in the field and in communications.
We also fill gaps in the progressive movement by conducting research and providing strategic messaging and public relations work that nobody is doing, which helps to drive new media stories.
In all of these cases, we have fed our findings and research to reporters and bloggers, delivered daily internet feeds to activists, progressive groups and the general public, and in some cases we have run quick-hitting ads to get more attention to the story. We have also run a robust phone calling program in an effort to educate voters on important issues and to help fuel grassroots organizing and lobbying at all levels of government.