You've likely heard Aesop's fable about the ant and the grasshopper. While the latter spends his summer days singing and chirping, the former toils in the fields collecting and storing supplies for the impending change of seasons.
When winter comes, the ant is left with a moral dilemma: does he provide some of his hard-earned food to the now hungry grasshopper or prove a point and turn him away?
Since 2004, Colorado's progressive community has played the ant, developing candidates, building voter files, accumulating rich donors, and advocating for policies. No longer content to ramp up and break down in the so-called even years, the machine that's turned a once reliably red state a deep shade of blue continues to hum no matter what the calendar reads.
Meanwhile, the state's Republicans have been turned away hungry as they've found themselves to be grasshoppers without elective offices to win and devoid of any harmonious tunes to sing.
The famous American writer Ralph Ellison once said that "education is all a matter of building bridges." Well, he could have substituted politics in that sentence and it would have remained accurate.
The bridges built by Colorado's progressive community run from mega-donor to nonprofit, from nonprofit to nonprofit, and from nonprofit to voters. Its goal, an organizer once said, is "to build a long-term progressive infrastructure in Colorado, while we're conceding nothing in the short term, in terms of progressive goals at the ballot box."
Here's how it works: The organization spearheading the cooperation and building the political bridges is called The Colorado Democracy Alliance (CoDA). It seeks to expand progressive capacities in civic engagement, voter mobilization, intellectual content, messaging, leadership development, and communications/media.
Some of its members have described it as a political venture capital firm. CoDA recruits large-dollar donors and introduces them to nonprofits advocating for progressive causes every day of every year, not just during an election year.
Groups in the Hispanic community and African-American community are funded, as are environmental groups, pro-choice groups, a local think tank, a leadership academy to train future candidates, an on-line fund-raising, grassroots, outrage-exclaiming megaphone, and many more non-profits espousing progressive ideals.
The groups share donors. The groups share mailing lists. The groups touch millions of voters in Colorado. The groups have influence with candidates. Thus, the groups determine the outcome of elections.
That's the blueprint progressive advocates nationwide are trying to replicate.
The former head of CoDA told delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that there was "an irrigation system in place (in Colorado) that is going to provide a harvest later this fall but that's also building a community and building an infrastructure for the long-term."
The model has even drawn the admiration from its political foes. As Jon Caldara of the conservative/libertarian Independence Institute puts it, "To win, you need to win the battle of ideas and put foot soldiers on the ground. And you can't do that without a long-term infrastructure."
Building infrastructure, like the ant collecting food, is a nonstop activity. But in order to continue having plentiful political feasts placed before you, you must have an adversary, a grasshopper, who continues to have trouble understanding how to harvest in the first place.
Coming up tomorrow, we'll talk about the on-going struggles in Colorado's Republican Party and the role its chasm played in one of the most amazing political transformations in American history. It's a story set in Colorado, but playing out all over the country as well.