You've probably heard the phrase "the older you get, the faster time seems to go." This is especially true in the world of politics. For Fuse Washington, a decade has passed and we can barely believe it! It was only ten years ago that Apple introduced the first iPhone, the final Harry Potter book was published, and Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House. This was the same year the housing bubble burst, Obama first ran for President and, most importantly, Fuse Washington was founded.
Fuse Washington emerged as a solution to the lack of effective collaboration between activists, advocacy groups, and politics. It was common for environmental organizations, labor unions, women's health advocates, and other progressives to focus on their own agendas and legislation. Unfortunately, these groups struggled to build enough grassroots support on their own to overcome legislative gridlock. allied groups realized that they needed to work together and leverage their combined influence to create change instead of trying to go it alone or competing with each other for resources.
Many progressive leaders looked to a new organizing model in Colorado to improve collaboration. In contrast to the older, single-issue organization, the Colorado nonprofit ProgressNow was pioneering a shift toward building multi-issue advocacy groups that fulfilled various functions, including grassroots organizing, creating policy, lobbying, and leading communications. ProgressNow Colorado played a major role in winning several important legislative races that opened the door to and major public policy victories at the state level.
In 2007, the founder of ProgressNow, Michael Huttner, was invited to Washington state to meet with leaders in the Washington progressive community. These meetings included three current Fuse Board Members: Dean Nielsen, Principal at Cerillion N4 Partners, Kurt Guenther, Principal at Guenther Creative, and Adam Glickman, Secretary Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union 775. As Dean Nielsen explains, "At first it was a bunch of people sitting around, kicking the idea around, and then it became clear there was a need for this type of innovative organization like ProgressNow. We set up an initial board almost immediately." It was decided that Fuse would be born: a multi-issue organization that focuses on nimble grassroots organizing and innovative communications. Once the idea was set in motion, the second order of business was to recruit the right leader.
Aaron Ostrom was then the Executive Director of Futurewise, a transit and smart growth advocacy group. When asked to be on the Fuse interview committee, Aaron was slightly befuddled because he had planned to apply for the job. Ten years later, as the largest progressive organization in Washington state, Fuse is grateful that Aaron skirted the interview committee and took a leap into forming a nonprofit with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Kurt Guenther, who has shared an office with Fuse since the beginning, reflects, "I'll be honest with you, when we first got together as a group to discuss the strategic plan of Fuse, I was thinking to myself, I really like this Aaron guy because he really believes in social change, but his five year vision might be a little too ambitious. So, if he makes any difference that's good, but I was feeling more reserved about the impact of Fuse. Then the entire organization of Fuse blew away that vision. Fuse really accomplished what we said they were going to do and in some cases did more. That is the magic and charisma of Fuse. It's David and Goliath. Fuse goes after crazy fights with very little resources."
Fuse founding Executive Director Aaron Ostrom with his kids
Many people ask us "What does Fuse stand for?" The truth it, it's not an acronym. Our name came from this founding principle of bringing--or Fusing--people and organizations together.
Fuse's organizational framework is continuously innovating. Like any startup, Fuse rolls out and tests new features and program delivery models. What makes Fuse so unique is how everyone from the board to the Executive Director to the staff continues to innovate and experiment. Kurt has commented that the office looks like a campaign office year round. Dean explains, "I think that one of the coolest things is that Fuse doesn't want to sit on its laurels. Everyone is always asking 'What are things that we can do? What's the next big thing going to be? How can we make the Progressive Voter's Guide better? How can we serve more people, how can we get more people watching?' Because there's a lot of organizations that are like, 'Okay, this year we're going to do the same thing, the issue set may change a little differently. But at Fuse it's always, 'how can we do everything we're doing now, and add on 10 other things?'"
Another hallmark of Fuse is the organization's drive to hold politicians accountable. This accountability mentality is also applied to Fuse's commitment to results. Kurt explains, "Fuse isn't just a bunch of rebels, it's people that take a very scientific, conservative approach toward accountability. Fuse is a very accountable group. If I write a check to Fuse I know it is going to make a difference and it's going to be exactly what they said they were going to achieve." Fuse and its supporters have managed to create enough resilience as a team so that the work continues to feel like a fresh start up. Kurt shares, "The three things that are very attractive about Fuse is incredible confidence, but you can't call it arrogance because of the [second thing], incredible results. The third thing is the creativity, that desire to find a new way to win." At the end of the day Fuse's successful results relies on the support and willingness of Washington residents coming together to create a progressive force of change.
Today the political landscape is very different than it was in 2007, but even in the Trump era we feel optimistic. Dean shares, "Working in politics, you have to be an optimist. You have to be optimistic that things will change, and you have to be optimistic that you can make a difference. And I am. I believe in America, I believe in the people of Washington State, and I think that eventually we'll figure it out. Winston Churchill once said, 'America always does the right thing, after it has exhausted every other option'. Fuse is dynamic, exciting, and cool. I don't know what 10 years forward is going to look like for this organization, because there's going to be like 50 cool new things that'll happen between now and then."
Fuse Washington looks forward to fighting back with you in the upcoming years and we have faith that by 2027, with the help of the Washington people, the arc towards justice won't seem so long.