Anna Galland, the new executive director of MoveOn.org, is waging battle from 500 miles away.
“The outside-Washington perspective is embedded in our DNA,” said Galland, speaking on the phone recently from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It’s really important for us, organizationally, to maintain some critical distance from inside-the-Beltway chatter.
“Obviously, we need to be engaged with decision-makers, and we work closely with allies that have a presence on the Hill,” Galland said. “But it’s also really helpful to be embedded in local communities in order to keep our finger on the pulse of what grassroots progressives care about.”
MoveOn was started in 1998 by Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the husband-and-wife duo who founded Berkeley Systems, a Silicon Valley-based software company. The organization’s original purpose was to urge members of Congress to censure President Bill Clinton and “move on,” not obsess over his illicit escapades in the Oval Office.
Since then, MoveOn has evolved into a hothouse for progressive thought, a hub of grassroots activity, and a bogeyman for conservative pundits. The organization used to depend on the largess of philanthropists like George Soros and Linda Pritzker, an heiress to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, but now says it relies exclusively on small donations from its 7 million members.
Galland, 33, is the granddaughter of the late Marion Galland, one of the first women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The elder Galland introduced some of the commonwealth’s earliest gun-control laws and also defied local school boards by taking action to desegregate Virginia schools after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. According to family lore, “When they were in the middle of dinner, someone came by and fired two shots through their window.”
A native of Evanston, Ill., Galland attended Brown University, where she became active in student-led campaigns for an increase in the minimum wage and “sweat-free university apparel.” The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred just before she graduated.
“I was really galvanized,” said Galland. “That was really a defining moment for many people who were coming of age in the early 2000s.”
As an organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, which opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Galland befriended other antiwar activists in New England. “Rhode Island is so small that I felt like I knew everyone,” she said. “And then, one day I got an e-mail about a vigil at the [state Capitol] from a name I didn’t recognize.… I arrived, and there were kids running around and something like 1,500 people on the lawn with candles.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is something new that I don’t yet understand; this is an approach to organizing that is tapping a huge community of people that traditional organizations [have missed].’ That was my first MoveOn movement.”
Galland joined MoveOn as a staff member in 2007 and is the architect of SignOn.org, a do-it-yourself digital organizing platform. MoveOn.org has a populist flavor and a host of issues in its portfolio. Asked about the sequester, Galland channeled the indignation of her membership.
“We are outraged at the circus this has become,” she said. “Everyone agrees this is terribly damaging and unnecessary. Our message is simple: ‘Cancel the sequester.’ ”
This article appears in the March 8, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily.