Madison political group wants to expand in Wis.

In an era when politics is dominated by large national organizations, one Madison-based group is trying to promote political activism one neighborhood at a time, with eyes on expanding statewide.

The group, called the Neighbor to Neighbor Progressive Network, was formed by people who worked for various campaign groups during the 2004 election. Those involved worked with groups such as MoveOn, League of Conservation Voters and the Howard Dean campaign.

"We are just a bunch of folks who worked on the campaign. We came together and said, 'We cannot wait until six weeks before an election to get motivated,'" said Catherine Orr, one of the founders of the group and a MoveOn ward leader during the 2004 general election.

The group is not specifically targeting Milwaukee, but it would like to see a similar movement in the state's largest city.

The group emphasizes the social aspects of politics under the slogan "We Make Politics Fun," Orr said.

The network is structured around individual neighborhoods that are led by block leaders. People in participating neighborhoods take an online poll to determine the political issues important to them. The particular issue that receives the most votes is selected as that month's focus issue, Orr said.

Once an issue is selected, block leaders report it to the network leaders, who then research the issue and provide relevant information back to the block leaders.

Once block leaders have the appropriate information, they sponsor neighborhood events to educate residents and stage open discussions with their neighbors. A new issue is selected each month.

"The events are where the social aspect takes over," Orr said. "Events can include things like barbeques, picnics or house parties."

Orr said the most important thing is for people to meet their neighbors and create a friendly environment.

"Talking to neighbors can make people feel a part of the process," Orr said. "A lot of people can feel isolated and overwhelmed by the political process, this is a way to combat that."

"It is easy to get voter attention for a presidential election," said Russell Wallace, a co-founder of NNPR and a member of Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. "We want to establish an awareness that will last over time."

He said when many political groups dissolved after the 2004 election, it became apparent local level organization was needed.

"It was disappointing a day after the election to see groups like MoveOn and the League of Conservation Voters just disappear," Wallace said. "It became obvious we needed to do things on a local basis."

Wallace said the group is not partisan. Instead, it aims to offer a forum for progressive political views. They are most concerned with educating the public and "focusing on fact," not campaigning.

Groups throughout the country have found success forming similar neighborhood societies. West Mount Airy Neighbors in Philadelphia was established in 1959 to help integrate what was a racially split area of the city, according to the group's Interim Executive Director Laura Siena.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on May 5 2005.

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