Favorite

Coalition building 

In 1993 a group of Arkansas grassroots, religious and labor leaders got together to strategize how they could more effectively move positive reforms through our often resistant legislature. The leaders were frustrated that big business interests worked together to win favors and block reforms, while community and worker interests were isolated and often defeated.

The leaders, convened by Brownie Ledbetter, developed the blueprint for the modern Arkansas Public Policy Panel: Organize people to improve their communities and build a powerful statewide coalition. They knew we had to get more people involved, especially from low-income and marginalized communities. And they knew we needed to work together like never before to overcome the barriers that stopped progress in Arkansas for so long.

I was hired by Brownie in 1996, 20 years ago, to help organize community groups and bring the coalition together. The Arkansas Citizens First Congress (CFC) met formally for the first time in 1998, on the roof of the Park Hotel in Hot Springs with over 100 delegates from member organizations. They came from all corners of the state and across a wide diversity of issues and backgrounds.

A lot of people thought we were crazy and no one was sure it would work, but as we meet this weekend for our 12th convention we have a powerful track record of transforming laws to benefit Arkansans: Multiple election reforms including mandatory poll worker training, more election monitors, extended early voting hours and Saturday voting; laws protecting clean water and addressing climate change; extra resources to boost education for children in poverty and expanded access to pre-K; an Arkansas Department of Agriculture to help family farmers; funding for domestic violence programs; and making quality health care more accessible and affordable. We also helped stop attacks on consumers, the environment, public education and civil rights more times than we can count.

The remarkable thing about this (partial) list of accomplishments is that each one started with someone saying, "There ought to be a law." They developed their ideas in their community groups. Delegates of those groups introduced their ideas to one another at the CFC coalition, where they debated and elected a set of priorities. Then they used their collective strengths to convince lawmakers to pass those priorities. Democracy as it should be.

Our biggest accomplishment is that thousands of Arkansans have engaged in shaping Arkansas's future. We train groups on how the process works and help them develop strategies on the issues they care about. We help people come to the Capitol to talk to their lawmakers and attend committee hearings where most of the hard decisions are made. Their work makes our communities and state stronger.     

It's not always easy. Our members sometimes have powerful but principled disagreements. We are up against the ever-increasing influence of big-money special interests. We've seen common sense laws fail, like hate crimes legislation meant to deter terrorism that intimidates a whole community of people like the Orlando shooting. The political culture in Arkansas is corroding.

But we have proven that grassroots Arkansans can win meaningful reforms when they work together.

We are a powerful coalition because we know the most important thing about our coming together is that we stick together. A lot of incredible leaders have given their talents, time and money to help the CFC become an enduring voice for grassroots progress in Arkansas. We haven't passed a single thing by ourselves. Each success has a broad range of people and organizations working together to get it done. Our greatest strength is a network of people across the state who care about one another and are willing to take action on each other's behalf.

This Saturday, in the middle of our convention at the Arkansas 4-H Center, we will take a break to present our Dragon Slayer Awards to some of the incredible leaders making Arkansas a better place. We'll honor longtime election and environmental leader Barry Haas; Paul Kelly, a pillar for those in need at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families; Our House, the groundbreaking program for the homeless; FORGE, the microeconomic developers in the Ozarks; Concerned Citizens of Prescott, a group working toward improving public schools; Robert McAfee, who is leading the fight against carbon pollution; Concerned Citizens of Huttig, a group overcoming barriers to fair elections; and Concerned Citizens of the Monticello Area, a group that is bringing the community together. I hope you can join us.

Bill Kopsky is executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Arkansas Public Policy Panel

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Bill Kopsky

  • Selling kids short

    young professional family told me this week they are thinking of leaving Arkansas because the state isn't committed to education and opportunities for their kids. Another parent of a child with special needs told me she's frustrated her school can't afford the help her child needs to get her reading up to grade level. Another parent's child isn't allowed to bring textbooks home because the school doesn't have enough of them, and can't afford more.
    • Nov 10, 2016
  • The politics of opportunity

    Are you sick of the election yet? One thing that seems certain is that our politics remain as hyperpartisan and dysfunctional as ever. I may be naive, but I think Arkansas has an opportunity to help lead the country back toward pragmatic progress on the issues that will make our families and communities stronger.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Rigged system

    Welcome to the Arkansas Department of Education, where inequity, ideology and incompetence are our specialties — but trust us with your kids.
    • Apr 27, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Why a change of leadership at the LRSD now?

    Johnny Key's abrupt, unilateral decision to not renew Baker Kurrus' contract as superintendent strikes us as shortsighted, misguided and detrimental to the education of our children and the health of our community.
    • Apr 21, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Tax truths

    The idea that a tax cut for the wealthy will help everyone, though false, is a stubbornly marketable notion.
    • Nov 9, 2017
  • Can't afford to gut ACA

    The Affordable Care Act was passed into law with the promise that it would make insurance affordable. Because of bipartisan leadership in Arkansas, we continue to strive to achieve that goal. While rhetoric abounds, it is important to understand the Arkansas experience.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • Tipping point

    I was extremely cautious before engaging in the educational debate about the State Board of Education's decision to take over the Little Rock School District.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

November

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30  

Most Viewed

  • A new Snyder?

    Last week, loyalists of former U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder celebrated a belated 70th birthday and fundraised to aid UA Little Rock's Center for Arkansas History and Culture's work to process his congressional papers from seven terms in Congress.
  • The Clintons

    I wasn't particularly excited about the 25th anniversary celebration of Bill Clinton's election. Life goes on.
  • Selling tax cuts

    Making tax law is always pretty simple, despite the arcane references to S corporations, pass-throughs, carried-interest deductions and the like, which define the ways that lots of rich people get their income.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The smell of the swamp

    • I did as you suggested and read several articles about "consultant" Solution Tree and their…

    • on November 19, 2017
  • Re: The line

    • Thanks Autumn for your article and viewpoint that I totally agree with because I have…

    • on November 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation