San Francisco: Having been on the board of the Tides Foundation (www.tides.org) along with its founder, Drummond Pike, since its inception more than 25 years ago, I can assure that it has largely labored in the vineyards outside of the bright lights, avoiding with professional pride both self-aggrandizement and notoriety. All of which made Tides ill prepared to find itself the subject of what has become the standard scurrilous attack by the conservatives through their house organs, like the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
I should make this point more sharply. Tides was less the subject of the attack than a blunt instrument that some right handed sorts were wielding about somewhat wildly to try and bop John Kerry, the putative Democratic nominee for President. Seems Mrs. Heinz Kerry, who as a matter of pure fact is rich as Croesus, had through several of the Heinz Foundations made some grants to projects of Tides and in concert with us. A light toss of the shovel revealed to some opposition researcher in front of a computer screen somewhere that in the thousands of grants made by Tides that we had laid deep seed throughout the fertile plain of the progressive moment in our times. This was rough work that could not be sanded down well. It was a matter of tossing disparate and unrelated things into a big sack with a huge shake and then trying to make quite a bit of the way everything fell together in a pickup sticks of random association. The painting and smearing of Mrs. Heinz Kerry and therefore the candidate was to be done with a broad brush, which would look best from a considerable distance. I grimaced a little to hear that one of the larger sticks being swung was a grant by Tides’ Frontera Fund to the Ruckus Society (www.ruckus.org), which I had personally advised — a righteous grant in fact and a mere pittance of $5 grand out of the tens of millions granted by Tides that particular year.
My reaction to problems of this kind — certainly this was usual, customary, and old hat for ACORN — was the famous Huey Long dictum: there is no effective response to a public attack. Said another way, let it ride, and it will go away like water on a duck’s back. Others though felt strongly, and one had to concede that they were also experienced, battle scarred veterans of constant and vicious attack. This was not ACORN or a union, but Tides with a different base, so these voices needed to be heeded.
The remarks of one new Tides board member, Antonio Romero, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (www.aclu.org) warranted attention since certainly the ACLU is one of the favorite and ever popular whipping boys of the right since its founding. The ACLU he mentioned is a $70 M operation, if consolidated, with a sophisticated presence that moves 2 M letters per year from their website, which generates 20 M hits per year and signs up 30000 members for them and creates a deeply loyal base of support which has now meant that almost a quarter of their annual budget is funded by the testamentary gifts of their members and adherents when they move over to more passive resistance. With passion he counseled standing and fighting and taking the offensive.
Another newer board member, Robin Wolander, a savvy media professional with years of high flying publishing success in her background, listened carefully and then wrapped her arms around the flaws of the conservative attacks having not been rooted in any facts, but instead in total inaccuracies. She argued effectively that these were rare times within journalism because not vetting and moving with the facts finally came with penalties as we had all seen in the fall of reporters for the New York Times and USA Today. She had all of us in rapt attention as she rattled off web sites for the insiders among media and reporters and where one needed to mount the counterattack on the home ground and back channels of the media mavens themselves.
Listening to Tony and Robin’s different, but bold and effective advice, I thought in these difficult and contentious times how fortunate we had been to stumble into a fight we had not expected and then to find that we had equipped ourselves, perhaps more through luck than insight with new weapons in our struggle. In so many non-profits, including foundations and even sometimes Tides, boards sometimes seem necessary evils, but there could have been no staff person honest to their name listening to that conversation who would not find themselves on their knees later that night thanking someone for looking after them and repenting every harsh word and damnation they had ever whispered under their breath at some stupid question or callous comment board members — like myself — might have made in the past.
In this new war all is forgiven of the warriors fighting side by side. It’s all hands on deck, watch each other’s back, and fire when you see the whites of their eyes!