The Democratic Grassroots Action Institute and Network (a.k.a. Democratic GAIN, or simply DG) describes itself as “a national membership association for Democratic and progressive political professionals and organizations.” Claiming to be “the fastest growing network in the nation,” DG seeks to build infrastructure for the progressive community by identifying work opportunities for people who are interested in helping to advance leftist causes and political candidates. Toward that end, DG conducts grassroots training workshops each month in Washington, DC, and occasionally elsewhere in the United States. Moreover, DG has worked closely with the New Organizing Institute and the Daily Kos on a project to create an online training manual for progressive activists.
In an effort to help propel large numbers of young leftists into careers as political activists, DG has created what it calls “the largest job and talent bank for the progressive community.” This is a place where progressives may scan Help Wanted ads posted by leftwing activist groups, or post their own resumes on a jobs board – in hopes of finding employment with an organization that shares their leftwing views vis a vis feminism, environmentalism, civil rights, social justice, etc. DG also offers individual career counseling to its paid members, in the form of one-to-one weekly meetings with staff.
DG was founded in 2003 by progressive Democratic political consultant Amy Pritchard, who currently serves as the organization’s President. Pritchard is also President of AP Campaigns, a political consulting firm for progressive non-profits and partisan organizations. Her resume includes stints as Political Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and as a lobbyist/organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the American Psychological Association.
DG’s Executive Director is Alexandra Acker Lyons, who served as Campus Outreach Manager for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 2003-2004; National Youth Outreach Director for the John Kerry presidential campaign and the DNC in 2004; DG’s Training Director in 2005; campaign manager for the National Campaign for Fair Elections (an initiative of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) in 2006; and Executive Director of the Young Democrats of America just before rejoining DG.
DG’s Deputy Director is Emily Lamia, who has been with the organization since 2006. Lamia worked on the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004, and was Dean’s executive assistant at the DNC during the 2008 election cycle. In addition, she has worked for such progressive organizations as Grassroots Campaigns Inc. and Democracy For America.
As of mid-2010, DG’s Board of Directors consisted of the following key figures:
- Matt Blizek: After spending the 2004 election cycle fundraising for the DNC and organizing get-out-the-vote campaigns for MoveOn.org, Blizek in 2006 joined Senator Russ Feingold’s Patriot Corps program, which deployed him to Montana where he served as a field organizer for Democrat Senator Jon Tester. Blizek currently works for Democracy For America, where, as of July 2010, he had organized at least 56 campaign-training workshops in 31 states, instructing more than 3,000 people in techniques of political activism.
- Sasha Bruce: In 2003-04, Sasha Bruce helped coordinate DG’s first campaign-training for young, aspiring political activists. In 2004 she served as National Deputy Director for Field Communication at America Coming Together, where she helped coordinate voter-registration campaigns and get-out-the-vote initiatives in 15 battleground states. In 2006 she became Assistant Director of Public Campaigns for the SEIU, though she took a six-month leave from this position in 2007-08 to serve as the Western States Political Director for Senator Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.
- Cathy Duvall: Ms. Duvall is currently the National Political & Public Advocacy Director of the Sierra Club, where she oversees the organization’s electoral activities and voter-education campaigns. Washington Life magazine recently named her as “one of the top 100 most influential people in Washington, DC.”
- Ruben Hernandez: In the early to mid-1990s, Hernandez was a Deputy Regional Political Director for the SEIU. After serving as a field and convention staffer for the Texas Democratic Party in 1996, he worked for Texas Democratic congressmen Nick Lampson and Martin Frost, and as a regional field organizer for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In 1999 Hernandez moved to Washington, DC, where he was a campaign communications specialist for the AFL-CIO, and as political director for Grassroots Democrats – a nationwide nonprofit that assisted Democratic candidates running for state offices. Hernandez has been Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party since October of 2005.
- Sandi Stevens Jackson: Ms. Jackson worked as a regional press secretary for the failed presidential campaign of Democrat Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. Then, under the Bill Clinton administration, Jackson was appointed Vice President of Congressional and External Affairs for the Export-Import Bank of the United States. After than, she served as National Outreach Coordinator for the Clinton/Gore ’96 re-election campaign, and later as Deputy Director of Training for the DNC. Jackson is currently the alderman of Chicago’s 7th Ward
- Alan Lindquist: Mr. Lindquist has been working for Democratic and progressive political campaigns since 1997, focusing chiefly on fundraising for challenger and open-seat candidates. Most notably, he served as finance director for the “Janet Reno for Governor” campaign in Florida in 2002.
- Sarah Scanlon: Ms. Scanlon began her political career in 1996 when she went to work for AFSCME‘s CSEA Local 1000 in New York, where she spent seven years as a marketing and communications specialist. In the middle of her tenure there, Scanlon took a leave-of-absence to work for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign.
In 2003 Scanlon moved to Washington, DC to work for the Democratic Governors’ Association. The following year, she became a national lead staffer for General Wesley Clark’s unsuccessful presidential bid.
Since January 2006, Scanlon has been a political representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
- Greg Speed: Before joining DG, Greg Speed held several positions with the DCCC. On Capitol Hill, he worked as press secretary and legislative assistant for Democratic congressman Martin Frost (TX) during the latter’s tenure as Democratic Caucus Chair. Shortly after the 2000 U.S. Census had been completed, Speed became communications director for IMPAC 2000, a national redistricting project. Today, in addition to his duties with DG, he serves as Executive Director of America Votes.
- Simone Ward: A former Executive Director of DG, Ms. Ward has also served as National Executive Director for the Young Democrats of America; special assistant in the Clinton White House’s Office of Presidential Personnel; and Deputy Executive Director for a DNC department known as the American Majority Partnership (AMP), which focuses on the concerns of such Democratic core constituency groups as African Americans, women, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. In 2007, Ward joined the political department at EMILY’s List.
A number of major corporations, labor unions, and activist organizations have given DG tens of thousands of dollars apiece in recent years. These donors include the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, America Votes, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Education Association, the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, and the SEIU.