For decades the conservative movement in America has smartly invested in programs to train its future leaders. Young voters may lean Democratic, but the Republican Party and its allies have done a better job of cultivating young activists for their cause. The New Leaders Council looks to reverse that imbalance by training the next generation of progressive leaders around the country. This year in Des Moines the local chapter hosts a class of 17 fellows for the five-month-long institute.
“I think NLC is a really important step for the progressive movement,” says Karla Bromwell, one of NLC Des Moines’ institute co-chairs. “Organizing a generation of leaders who understand the political system, effective communication and have the drive to change the status quo is incredibly important in today’s political climate.”
NLC is a nationwide organization that aims to train and connect young progressive men and women who are leaders or emerging leaders in their fields. It’s not a candidate recruitment operation, nor does it focus solely on those wishing to run for office (though a fair number of people who join are interested in that). NLC is mostly a professional development resource that gives young progressives the tools to be more involved in their community and profession. They have chapters in 31 cities that have graduated over 2,400 fellows through their program in the past several years.
Many fellows find the best part of the institute is the friendships and connections they make. “I liked being exposed to new people that I wouldn’t otherwise have met before and the kinds of issues they care about,” says Natalie Koerber, a program manager at SPPG in Des Moines.
“I’ve enjoyed the bonding with my fellow fellows,” Ruth LaPointe says, a 2014 campaign staffer and clerk at the Legislature. “They’re all unique in their own ways. They all have leadership capabilities – you learn a lot just from talking to people in the class.”
“I liked being exposed to a completely different world, because I’m much more of an entertainer, so I don’t know much about the political process,” comments Eric Bridges, who runs his own comedy/video production company and works for Medicaid. He notes he found learning how to fundraise particularly useful. “It’s given me a better appreciation of the political process and more of a willingness to go fight for what I believe in, because I see empowered people around me. It gives me a feeling of pride in knowing that I can make a difference instead of just being a fish in a giant pond.”
The institutes run five months, with fellows attending one weekend-long training per month. Each weekend centers around a different overarching topic or skill, including communications, fundraising and political campaigning. This year’s class heard from a wide range of guest speakers, including elected officials, small business owners, event planners, lobbyists, labor organizers, and communications professionals.
For LaPointe, one training came at just the right time. “The most useful training was on political messaging,” she says, noting how it helped her as she was lobbying for a privacy bill at the Capitol. “It talked about how you have to reverse your logic – you normally think I have to use data when someone asks me about a certain issue, and I talk about the numbers and the facts that back up my position. But really, what the training taught me, was that you start with an emotional, heartfelt story, and you end with a connection with the facts. Politics really is about connecting people.”
“It was helpful to me while I was being interviewed,” LaPointe says. “We had just got the training the weekend before. A member from AFSCME said that if you have a message point, repeat that message point so that it gets used in the final story. And I saw that happen in my TV interview.”
For others the classes helped prepare them for a run for office. “I’ve long-considered and flirted with the idea of running for office, and didn’t really know how to even get started,” says Koerber, who has since joined Planned Parenthood’s Voters of Iowa steering committee. “The NLC program has definitely empowered me to start putting those plans in place in order to go forward. It’s helped me fully consider what that commitment would mean.”
To put many of these skills to the test, the group works together to hold a fundraiser at the end of the institute to help raise money for next year’s class. The fellows divide up their tasks in committees and meet as teams to plan out the event.
This year the NLC fundraiser will be held on Thursday, May 21st, from 5:30 – 7:30 at Iowa Medical Society’s office in the East Village. It’s a networking and social hour with cocktails and food. Tickets are $25. You can check out more information on the event at the Facebook event page here.
If you’re interested in being a part of NLC, contact Recruitment chair Stacie Bendixen at Stacie.firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclosure: I myself am a fellow with NLC this year. I would highly recommend it to any young progressive in central Iowa – it’s a really fun and worthwhile experience.
by Pat Rynard