Monday, April 03, 2006

Grassroots Organizations

After his defeat in 2004 as a Democratic Congressional candidate, AL Weed did not give up. Instead, he formed a progressive study group, Public Policy Virginia (PPV). PPV is dedicated to articulating the values that guide progressives, and then framing policy issues in terms of those values. The goal of PPV is to show the people of Virginia how the progressive vision is one that will provide strong and inspiring leadership.

While PPV focuses on issues that are of interest to Virginians, these issues often have national importance as well. Recently PPV sponsored a forum on biofuels. Why biofuels? Well, it turns out that much of the southern portion of the congressional district has a large unemployment problem primarily due to the exporting of manufacturing jobs in textile and furniture production; jobs that in our global economy are not going to return.
The district also has large areas of farm land that is currently lying fallow due to low prices and declining demand for one of its primary products: tobacco. This farm land however can be use to grow a renewable biofuel: switch grass.

Switch grass as a fuel is not some utopian dream. It is currently being used in Iowa in the largest coal firing plant in the state to reduce the amount of coal and the pollution by products that coal produces and to generate an additional product: fly ash which is used to produce concrete. This is only one example of how PPV is generating ideas to improve the quality of life in Virginia. Here is an innovative idea which will provide manufacturing and farming jobs in an area of Virginia that has twenty percent unemployment.

The symposium also had a presentation on alternative fuels in transportation: biodiesel and alcohol. Today every car is capable of burning 10 percent ethanol and most can burn up to 25 percent. Virginia has the capability of producing large amounts of ethanol and between 40 and 100 million dollars will remain in Southside Virginia when Virginians begin buying fuel containing locally produced ethanol. Nationally, American consumers could save 20 billion dollars per year on fuel costs while providing American farmers over $5billion in profits.

PPV talks to Virginians about this issue in terms of values because biofuels is a values issue. Some examples of key values related to energy independence and jobs creation are
security, opportunity, safety, innovation, individualism, tradition, productivity, and patriotism. Thus PPV looks for pragmatic solutions to real problems facing Virginians and relates these solutions to values we all share. By undertaking this innovative approach PPV is laying the groundwork for a resurgence of progressives in a state which has in recent years has been firmly in the red column.

PPV could well provide an example for other states where the progressive voice has been muted. I urge readers of this blog to look at the PPV web site and to contact the PPV staff and Al Weed at www.ppvir.org.

David Goldberg

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