Formed from the merger of several progressive agitation groups in 2016, People’s Action Institute is one of the most aggressive left-wing advocacy organizations. The group was formed from the union of National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction Education Fund, three left-of-center community organizing groups.
People’s Action Institute (and its 501(c)(4) affiliate People’s Action) are promoted on the website of left-wing fundraising powerhouse Democracy Alliance. Before the merger, National People’s Action presented a “Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy” which pointed to a series of “structural transformations.”
People’s Action Institute’s predecessor organizations, most notably National People’s Action (NPA), were criticized for their tactics. NPA became notorious for demonstrating against private residences and events, especially after a 2010 demonstration with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in a suburban neighborhood that was covered by centrist pundit Nina Easton.
People’s Action Institute was formed from three progressive community organization groups: National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction Education Fund.
National People’s Action
National People’s Action was founded in the 1970s in Chicago by progressive activist Gale Cincotta as the National Training and Information Center. Cincotta’s aggression was extreme. Progressive magazine Mother Jones summarized her position as: “If the enemies don’t want to negotiate, their whole lives become the battleground.” The organization claimed a key role in the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act, a controversial piece of housing legislation some blame for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis.
The National Training and Information Center was implicated in a serious case of government grant maladministration in the early 2000s. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General investigation into over $3 million of NTIC grants identified lobbying law violations, found inadequate oversight of sub-grantees, and inadequate cost controls. NTIC’s executive director at the time, Joseph Mariano, would plead guilty to charges related to the scheme.
In 2011, NTIC changed its official name to National People’s Action, shortly after longtime community organizer George Goehl was appointed executive director. Under Goehl, NPA adopted the radical “Long-Term Agenda,” with its emphasis on “[winning] the battle of big ideas” for the far-left. NPA under Goehl was also involved in the secretive formation of the Democracy Initiative, an effort described as “the first time that a broad spectrum of groups have come together around a big agenda that impacts the state and national level” by a National Education Association official.
Alliance for a Just Society
Alliance for a Just Society was founded as the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations in 1993. Headquartered in Seattle, the organization campaigned and organized for various progressive agenda items, focusing on the states of the Pacific Northwest. The Alliance was chaired by LeeAnn Hall, a career liberal organizer.
USAction Education Fund
USAction Education Fund was the 501(c)(3) arm of USAction, a progressive organizing coalition founded in 1999. The group merged with TrueMajority, a “Netroots” advocacy group created by Ben and Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen, in 2007.
Merger and People’s Action Institute
People’s Action Institute held its first united convention in 2016. In addition to NPA, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction Education Fund, the Institute for America’s Future also merged into the new organization. George Goehl of NPA and LeeAnn Hall of Alliance for a Just Society were named co-executive directors of People’s Action Institute and the associated 501(c)(4) organization People’s Action.
As a community organizing group, People’s Action Institute is notable for organizing political issue campaigns, especially in blue cities and states. The organization supports campaigns on numerous left-wing issues.
The organization has published reports used by Democratic politicians to oppose efforts to repeal or revise the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act commonly known as Obamacare. People’s Action Institute has additionally pushed for increased regulation of financial industries, increases in the minimum wage, and an aggressive environmentalist agenda.
Following the 2016 election, People’s Action Institute’s director George Goehl singled out rural districts that voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections but then flipped to voting for Donald Trump, identifying them as key areas for strategic progressive Democratic campaigning. He identified the alt-right, Ku Klux Klan, and the Republican party as their biggest competitors in these areas, and claimed that these counties could become Democratic majorities if progressive ideas were effectively communicated and advocated for.
In August 2020, People’s Action Institute released a transcript from a meeting with its donors which included its estimate of the necessary campaign spending required for Democrats to win across the board in the 2020 election. It showed that People’s Action Institute planned to deploy canvassers and a mass texting program in over 26 states, supporting Democratic congressional candidates and Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president. The report went over the effectiveness of its canvassing programs, that it had a budget $4.61 million, and that it projected it would cost $475 for each Democratic vote.
Following Joe Biden winning the 2020 election, People’s Action Institute claimed credit for the results of the election, stating, “A multiracial, multigenerational, working-class coalition overcame those who want to divide us. Together, we defeated Trump.”
Justice is Global
Justice is Global is a project of People’s Action Institute. It organizes campaigns that advocate for global-level action against a rise of “right-wing nationalism” and inequality that it claims is a result of capitalism. It advocates for “progressive internationalism” as a solution. It describes progressive internationalism as a system that allows working people the world over to collectively demand policies that eliminate poverty and implement solutions to all social issues, at the cost of business owners.
Justice is Global utilizes education workshops which teach people that global neoliberalism, a capitalist system that increases inequality through deregulation, has emerged and has resulted in a rise of right-wing nationalism and environmental consequences. It also advocates for the Green New Deal and seeks to implement democratic socialist policies at a global level.
People’s Action Institute and its predecessor organization National People’s Action consist of a coalition of local organizing and pressure groups. The local organizations are independently organized.
According to the website of People’s Action, the associated 501(c)(4) of People’s Action Institute, the following organizations are “member organizations” of People’s Action or People’s Action Institute:
- Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA)
- People Organized for West Side Renewal (POWER)
- Colorado People’s Alliance (formerly Rights for All People & Colorado Progressive Coalition)
- Connecticut Citizen Action Group
- Florida Consumer Action Network
- Idaho Community Action Network
- United Vision for Idaho
- Citizen Action/Illinois
- Illinois People’s Action
- Jane Addams Senior Caucus
- ONE Northside (Organizing neighborhoods for Equality: Northside)
- The People’s Lobby
- Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
- Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
- Sunflower Community Action
- Maine People’s Alliance
- Progressive Maryland
- Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts
- Michigan Citizen Action
- Michigan United
- TakeAction Minnesota
- Indian People’s Action
- Montana Organizing Project
- Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN)
- New Hampshire Citizens Alliance
- Rights and Democracy
- New Jersey Citizen Action
- New Jersey Organizing Project
- Southwest Organizing Project
- Citizen Action of New York
- Community Voices Heard
- Good Old Lower East Side
- Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
- People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) – Buffalo
- Voices of Community Advocates and Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
- Communities United for Action (CUFA)
- Progress Ohio
- Unite Oregon (formerly Oregon Action & Center for Intercultural Organizing)
- Keystone Progress
- Tennessee Citizen Action
- Rights and Democracy
- Virginia Organizing
- Washington Community Action Network
- Our Children Our Future
- West Virginia Citizen Action Group
- Citizen Action of Wisconsin
No tax records are currently available for People’s Action Institute as an independent organization, as it took its present organizational status in 2016. Funding streams to the predecessor organizations can be analyzed, and show support from major progressive foundations and labor unions. People’s Action Institute does not appear to disclose its donors on its website or the website of its associated 501(c)(4) entity People’s Action.
Foundations that have announced making grants to People’s Action Institute as a unified organization include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Compton Foundation, and the Hidden Leaf Foundation.
People’s Action Institute’s predecessor organizations received substantial contributions from progressive foundations. The Foundation to Promote Open Society, the Ford Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the New World Foundation all gave National People’s Action a grant exceeding $100,000 in past years. Open Society, Ford, Kellogg, and Surdna also substantially contributed to Alliance for a Just Society; they were joined by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Proteus Fund in contributing over $100,000. USAction Education Fund received support from the Stoneman Family Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Colombe Foundation. USAction Education fund also received major support from donor-advised funds, including the Boston Foundation and the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund.
The predecessor organizations also received support from organized labor unions. The Seattle local union of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU 775NW, paid $450,000 to Alliance for a Just Society for “political activities” in 2015.
People’s Action Institute has two co-executive directors, George Goehl and LeeAnn Hall, who also lead the 501(c)(4) group People’s Action.
George Goehl is a career progressive agitator, who came to PAI from predecessor organization National People’s Action. He was a protégé of NPA co-founder Shel Trapp, and worked a first stint an NPA-affiliated group. He joined NPA proper in 1996, before leaving to join the Center for Community Change in 2004.
Goehl served as executive director of NPA from 2007 until the People’s Action Institute merger. During his period leading NPA, he faced criticism for NPA’s strong-arm tactics and its leadership of the controversial Occupy Movement. On numerous occasions, Goehl and NPA advocated “progressive populism.”
Goehl has been identified as a leader in organizing opposition to the administration of President Donald Trump.
LeeAnn Hall is also co-executive director of People’s Action Institute and People’s Action. She was previously leader of the Alliance for a Just Society (formerly known as the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations). She additionally serves on the board of Race Forward, publisher of the progressive web-magazine Colorlines.
Robert Kraig serves as the treasurer of People’s Action Institute. He is also the executive director of the Milwaukee-based Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and is on the board of In These Times. Kraig, in an article for In These Times, was critical of elected Democrats for being too moderate. Kraig argued that all political actors (Wall Street, the media, voters, etc.) need to become more accepting of progressive ideas so politicians can be comfortable enough to enact progressive policies. He argued that this can be accomplished through aggressive campaigning for progressive ideas, and that these campaigns will only be successful if they receive sufficient funding.