On a rainy afternoon in San Luis Obispo, I met with Nick Andre of SLO Progressives, a group that emerged from Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Prior to the meeting, I’d imagined him as a starry-eyed idealist.
Instead, Nick turned out to be a pragmatic political strategist with a work ethic like a draft horse.
We sat alone on the chilly back porch of Nautical Bean Café, away from the cozy-yet-crowded tables inside, so that we could talk politics without annoying anyone. I asked him what SLO Progressives’ goals were for the future. His response surprised me.
“We’ve already achieved many of them,” he said. When I pressed for information, he explained how the group had already secured an impressive number of voting seats in the Democratic Party, both at the local and state level. Then, he explained the maze of rules and procedures that he and other members of SLO Progressives had navigated to earn those seats.
“We wanted to move Democrats toward a stronger ‘working people’ message,” he said, “to achieve this, we decided to become an official ‘Democratic Club’ so that we could exercise the local and state voting rights that arise from a Club charter.”
Nick explained that chartering a new Democratic Club is a long, detail-oriented process that required significant research, paperwork, and commitment by the members. He admitted to spending at least 50 hours a week volunteering with the effort. The project was in addition to his full-time web development business, Kumani Inc, and consulting for the Cal Poly Small Business Development Center.
The SLO Democratic Party initially delayed voting on their new charter until after the election. Then, two members of the SLO Board of Supervisors endorsed SLO Progressives. “Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill recognized that our energy and organizing skills were needed,” Nick said, “and we allayed the local party’s concerns, convincing them that our club would be beneficial.” SLO Progressives became a chartered Democratic Club two weeks after the national election.
The nascent club quickly leveraged their network and messaging in early 2017. After a social media campaign to explain the importance of a Democratic Party Delegate Representative election, supporters stood in the rain for two hours to vote for progressive delegates.
When the votes had been counted, SLO Progressives had replaced the entire 14-seat roster of delegates in Assembly District 35 with candidates from their ranks. The landslide also secured a coveted seat at the statewide Executive Board.
“Our focus is on electoral politics,” Nick said, “we’re revitalizing the Democratic Party from within.” I asked him if this type of technical and somewhat dry groundwork has been done by other Assembly Districts in California, fully expecting SLO Progressives to be an exception to the rule. Again, he surprised me. “Progressives have stepped up,” he said, “winning about 60 percent of all Democratic Assembly District Delegate seats statewide, including on the California State Executive Board.”
SLO Progressives’ website, which Nick designed, states that the group intends to stimulate active interest in progressive issues, including single-payer Medicare-for-all, campaign finance reform, open primaries, tuition-free public college, bold climate change action, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, support of labor unions, and addressing racial, gender, and economic justice issues. When I asked Nick about these values, he consolidated them in one sentence.
“SLO Progressives wants to inspire working people; to do that, our party must refuse to capitulate to corporate and big money interests.” I asked him to elaborate. He said that most Americans are struggling to make ends meet and are frustrated with the growing income inequality in our country. “People deserve candidates who they can trust to build a sustainable economy for everyone. Trust comes from delivering results in tangible, real-world ways.” SLO Progressives’ platform is intended to address those needs.
While Nick was passionate about the issues, he lit up when talking about the process. “We’re vetting candidates for as many local seats as we can get,” he said, “from the Water Board to the School Board. We’ll nurture candidates and they will not have to go it alone. We have tons of support – both in numbers and financially.”
SLO Progressives meets monthly at the SLO Guild Hall on South Broad Street; the next one is Thursday, February 23, at 6:30 pm. Organizers intend to form working committees and will need volunteers who are passionate about each issue. Anyone who is interested in learning more about SLO Progressives is encouraged to attend. I know I’ll be there.