SIX Conference Shows Strength of Progressive Movement nationwide

I added the emphasis in bold to the Senator’s post, because several things she says stand out and need greater attention. Last year after it had already started, I found out this conference was going on and raced down to DC to attend as press. I saw delegations of more than 20 people coming from states that require plane travel to attend. But somehow Weinberg was the only attendee from NJ, straight up I-95. Next year, I hope the Democratic Party makes its presence known there, or at least shows up to find out what progressive legislators are discussing. And I would love to see more of our Democratic legislators show up and join this. – Rosi

On October 8 some 600 Progressive State legislators and staff from all over the country gathered in Washington DC to take part in the fourth annual State Innovation Exchange (SIX) conference. SIX is a national organization which provides support to state legislators to pursue a progressive national agenda – one State at a time.

The first SIX conference four years ago had about 100 attendees. New Jersey enjoys great majorities in both houses of the legislature, but most of the attendees at that first conference were from states like Tennessee and Wisconsin which have super majorities of Republicans in both the legislature and executive branches. The mood at that first conference was somewhat desperate.

But in spite of that, SIX helped state legislatures expand such programs as earned sick leave, pre-K school funding, and paid family and medical leave, as well as holding the line on education funding, and the environment. Conservative Utah passed a meaningful equal pay bill. Tennessee expanded its public college scholarship program even with a Republican super majority. Red Arkansas passed legislation putting more money into its juvenile court program. In many states and on many issues – gun control, criminal justice reform, voting rights, wage theft – SIX has had a meaningful impact.

This years conference was so much bigger, but still I was the only NJ legislator to attend.  Even with the sorry state of our federal government as a backdrop, there was still optimism from most of the attendees.  Legislators swapped stories, exchanged strategies and SIX was there to direct people to resources that could help them in their state. While we all face an onslaught from the Trump administration, and some state legislators have to work with Republican majorities and Republican governors, there was also Camaraderie in our common cause to make our state and our nation a better place in which to live.

In all the seminars, workshops, speeches and informal get-togethers, one entity was conspicuous in its absence – a representative of the Democratic Party. As far as I know nobody from the DNC was there, and they didn’t have far to travel since we were meeting in DC.  There were representatives from various advocacy and nonprofit groups present, so I assume the DNC would also have been welcome.

I am glad that 600 of my colleagues from across the nation made the decision to come together to advance a progressive agenda. It was heartening to see the energy of the progressive movement on display even in parts of the country where Democrats have very little control. SIX has done a great job by marshaling resources and organizing legislators. But where is our party? Where is the institutional support? Where is Tom Perez?  In four years, SIX has accomplished something about which our party should have taken note.  SIX has been able to organize progressive state legislators around a national agenda.  It has lifted up the leaders from whom new state legislators can now learn, and from which group our national leaders will come.

We need a Democratic Party that fights for progressive values. We need a Democratic Party that nourishes and mentors new leaders. We need a Democratic Party structure that welcomes a diversity of opinion. We need a Democratic Party that shows up.

I will attend the 5th annual SIX conference next year – let’s hope the DNC does as well.

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