“We wanted to bring everyone in the progressive community together to talk about issues that they are concerned about and working on every day and to have some fun doing it.”
As I wrote about last week, our friends at Progress Michigan are having fundraiser in Ann Arbor on June 3rd that features comedian Al Madrigal from The Daily Show along with others. I sat down with Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott to discuss the show, why it is necessary, and what people can expect.
Information on purchasing tickets can be found at the end of the interview.
Tell us a little bit about Progress Michigan. We see you and your staff quoted from time to time in the media but not everyone knows about the many things you are involved in. How long have you been around and what types of work are doing on a day-to-day basis?
Progress Michigan has been around since 2007. We are a 501(c)(4) non-profit, non-partisan organization that was created to serve as a communications hub for the progressive community. We do work holding elected officials accountable, supporting our partners in the progressive community here in Michigan, and building grassroots support for grassroots ideas and issues.
You are an affiliate of a larger umbrella group, correct?
We are. Progress Michigan is part of the Progress Now national network and we are in 22 states.
Are they all called things like Progress Wisconsin, Progress Alabama, stuff like that?
They’re not. The majority are either Progress and the state name or Progress Now Colorado, things like. But there are some that have unique names like A Better Minnesota or Fuse Washington. So there’s a lot of variety.
Got it. How many people are working for Progress Michigan right now?
Progress Michigan has a staff of ten. We have grown substantially over the past two years. When I started, there were four of us at the time and we’ve grown to a staff of ten just recently.
What sorts of things do you need money for? Obviously you have to pay staff but I assume there are other things that you need money for that created the need for this annual fundraiser.
We raise all of our funds to do work for the progressive community so their we’re able to help them get their message out, as well. So, we’re able to offer a lot of our partner groups low cost or free services to help them promote and get their message out on all of the issues that are important to progressives whether it’s the environment, issues around things like Right to Work and for working families, education, those kinds of things. We do work with all of the groups in that area.
Some of work is actually really, really expensive. Some of the work we’ve been doing recently involves Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and, as you know, the FOIA laws in Michigan are really screwed up! A lot of that is very expensive. So, for example, with the work we’ve done around Aramark [the for-profit prison food services vendor to the State of Michigan] we FOIAed the Department of Corrections. From that we’ve received something like 26,000 pages of documents and emails around the Aramark contract and that has cost us nearly $10,000 to get those copies and to get access to that information. And that’s one of about fifteen FOIAs that we’ve been working on. So, it’s a very expensive process.
What types of groups are working with? I know you work with Clean Water Action, for example. What are some of the others?
Sierra Club, a number of folks within the labor community, Planned Parenthood, Michigan United, the People’s Water Board in Detroit, the ACLU, these are examples of some of the groups we work with and there are others, as well, of course.
I’ve been in somewhat of an informal partnership with Progress Michigan now for quite a few years now, helping you to get out information but this is the first time I’ve seen you hold a fundraiser quite like this. What’s the genesis of this? It does seem like a new thing.
Well, it’s a way for us to bring the progressive community together and it’s the first large scale fundraiser like this that Progress Michigan has done, at least in the past several years. We really wanted the event that we’re doing to sort of match our style which is that we like to have a little bit of fun, we like to get the information out sometimes in a fun way, so we thought that having a stand-up comedian – someone like Al Madrigal – would be a way to do that and would bring folks together for a night of fun while also bringing everyone in the community together to talk about issues that they are concerned about and working on every day. And to have some fun doing it.
With Al Madrigal being part of The Daily Show, I’m assuming he has a fairly progressive approach to his comedy.
You know, that’s a really good question. Some of his stand-up is not actually political which we thought would be great. Because we’re all so engulfed in politics every day that this will be a night where we can kind of unwind together and just enjoy some stand-up comedy. We haven’t asked him for anything special, let’s put it that way. So, I actually don’t know for sure if he even will talk about anything political.
Certainly Kathie Dunbar who is opening for him will bring the political aspects into her segment and the Fake Rick Snyder will definitely be someone who highlights some of the work we’ve done before. We’ve worked with him in the past and he’s great.
Kathie Dunbar, she’s a local comedian, right?
She used to be a touring stand-up comedian and now she is a Lansing City Councilwoman. She’ll be opening the show and we have the Fake Rick Snyder who is emceeing the event.
Anything else on he docket that night that you want to let people know about?
That’s really about it. There are a lot of political dinner that people go to where you go and listen to some political folks talk. While we certainly enjoy that, our style is a little different and that’s why we decided to do an even that’s a little different.
Is there a dinner and stuff with this?
At the sponsorship levels, there is a reception that will have some hors d’oeuvres and those kinds of things. But no fancy dinner. There will, however, be a photo booth with a great photographer, though! [Ed. note: that photographer is Eclectablogger Anne Savage.]
How can folks get tickets?
There are several ways to purchase tickets. For those folks who are interested in donating to Progress Michigan, if you make a $60 donation, you get select seat. If you make a $100 donation, you get a premium seat. But we also wanted to make sure that the event was affordable and that anyone could come. So, tickets through the box office are either $25 for students – any student, EMU, U of M, MSU, anyone who is a student – those tickets are $25. That discount also applies if you have donated to us in the past year. Regular public tickets are $35.
One other fun thing that we’re doing is that anyone who buys a ticket, even folks at the $25 or $35 level, we’re going to do a drawing the day before the show and those folks that are picked at random will get to sit at what we’re calling “the best seats in the house” which are going to be a couch on the stage.
As Lonnie mentioned, tickets vary in price. Students can get in for $25. General public tickets are $35. If you made a donation in 2015 prior to April 1st, you qualify for the $25 ticket price, as well. These tickets are available HERE.
And, just for fun and to be sure everyone has a shot at “The Best Seat in the House”, Progress Michigan will randomly choose a ticket purchaser who will be able to bring a guest and sit on the stage on a comfortable couch during the performance. FUN!
Finally, if you or your organization would like to sponsor the event, you can do so at a variety of levels. That information is here: