Celebrating Success in St. Louis

St. Louis American Promise Association leader Jenny Potashnick shares how her organization collaborated with other local groups on an event that made a big splash in St. Louis, driving attention and conversation to the issues of big money in politics and the 28th Amendment.

Jenny Potashnick is an American Promise Citizen Leader with the St. Louis American Promise Association. Jenny’s local group recently turned a local event into a huge opportunity by collaborating with others in the community, taking advantage of the resources available through the national American Promise organization, and successfully driving high-profile publicity to the issue of big money in politics and the 28th Amendment.

Read on to hear how the group did it, and Jenny’s inspiring takeaways for other American Promise chapters.
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From Jenny Potashnick:

Greetings from the St. Louis American Promise Chapter. We’re flying high in the Midwest after a terrific American Promise event surrounding the St. Louis screening of the Dark Money documentary, a film about a local journalist’s relentless work to expose the impact of the Citizens United ruling in Montana.

It started when one of our group members saw the screening was happening in our city. On my regular check-in call with American Promise Citizen Empowerment Coordinator Wambui Gatheru, I asked if she knew anything about the film. Unbeknownst to me, the national group had already worked with the film’s publicity group on several screenings across the nation.

Within an hour Wambui connected me with an American Promise leader from San Francisco who had recently coordinated a panel discussion after the documentary, as well as the film’s publicist. My conversation with the San Francisco chapter gave me the background and assurance I needed to make something happen in St. Louis (thanks, Terry!). And the introduction to the film’s publicist gave me the credibility to book an interview with Dark Money director Kimberly Reed on our local NPR affiliate. But that was just the beginning.

The Event Grows

Since our inception, our chapter has been working to support the Clean Missouri initiative to ban lobbyist gifts over $5 and lower campaign contribution limits to state politicians, among other measures. Clean Missouri recently collected nearly 350,000 signatures to get the amendment on the ballot, which is currently being challenged in court. We invited Clean to partner with us to promote the Dark Money screening and create events to amplify the importance of campaign finance reform. Together we organized a panel discussion after the Sunday matinee screening of the documentary. The panel included:

  •       Former Assistant Missouri Attorney General
  •       Former Chair of the US Election Assistance Commission (Republican)
  •       Treasurer of the City of St. Louis (Democrat)
  •       A political reporter who covered the dark money cloud surrounding the resignation of Missouri’s former Governor

I was given the honor of moderating this esteemed panel. The room was standing-room-only as the panelists discussed everything from the real world dangers of dark money to work being done right now to expose Missouri’s biggest dark money operators and how concerned citizens can most effectively combat it. Everyone was so engaged and interested you could have heard a pin drop.

It was truly inspiring. The film’s publicist emailed me the next day that she had received emails from people who tracked her down online to say what a great event it was. What’s more, the event brought a lot of attention to this important issue. Following the event, Tony Messenger, the reporter who participated on the panel, wrote an article about it for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where it ran on page 2.

Takeaways for Other Citizen Leaders

This event was a team effort and a textbook case of grassroots advocacy and collaboration at its finest. Here were our organization’s takeaways from the experience.

  1. American Promise is on the pulse of events and the national conversation around campaign finance reform. Remember that you are always a phone call or email away from that resource. Our connection to this organization provides access to resources and can provide instant credibility. Use it.
  2. Collaboration is key. If you were at the National Citizen Leadership Conference last June in Washington D.C., you witnessed firsthand how extensively American Promise collaborates with a wide variety of groups working to improve our country’s campaign finance system. Use this as a model for your local chapter and reach out to other local groups that share a similar vision. Our chapter could not have achieved this success without Clean Missouri.

  3. Don’t be afraid to approach the media. When I asked a high-profile local reporter to be on our panel, I thought there was a slim chance he’d agree. He hadn’t shown much interest in the emails and postcards we had sent in the past. So I was blown away when he emailed back, “Absolutely!” He was a wonderful panelist and incredibly knowledgeable about the inner workings of campaign finance reform in Missouri. His quick and resounding yes was a good reminder to me to always remember that 80% of Americans support our effort to get big money out of politics. Those who care about campaign finance reform want us to succeed. Give them a chance to step up and they will.

  4. Cross-partisanship is critical. Time and again, I see that the American Promise commitment to cross-partisanship is exactly the right way to approach our goal of passing the 28th Amendment. Our panel included members from both ends of the political spectrum yet their views on campaign finance reform dovetail beautifully. There is something inherently powerful about working on an issue that brings so many from such different walks of life to the table. People are hungry for the opportunity to come together in these divisive times.

  5. Celebrate your victories. Don’t think everything’s always rosy in St. Louis. We have our share of setbacks and disappointments, which is exactly why I’m making such a big deal out of this event. Let’s share and celebrate our successes together. I can’t wait to hear about your chapter’s next victory!

It’s not too late to see Dark Money. It will be airing nationwide on PBS on Monday, October 1, 2018, times TBD. Click here for more information. Viewing party, anyone?