National Priorities Project celebrates 30th anniversary with gala event at Academy of Music

Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — For 30 years, the National Priorities Project has been exposing the realities of federal spending and helping shape national policies by arming citizens with information they can use and understand.

This Friday, the nonprofit Northampton research group will celebrate three decades of work, its many supporters and 30 champions of democracy at a gala event at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Among those being feted and speaking are Barney Frank, former congressman and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations, and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director, CEO and co-founder of MomsRising.

The three are expected to talk about Pentagon spending, health care and education, among other issues. The event, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., is co-hosted by U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern and other local celebrities. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available at academyofmusictheatre.com and range from $35 to $65.

“We want to do this because we feel so grateful to the people of western Massachusetts,” said Jo Comerford, NPP’s executive director. “It’s meant to really call forward the most pressing issues around the federal budget. We’re not going to be wonky, but we’re going to talk about big things.”

The National Priorities Project’s 30th anniversary event — called “Take Back the Federal Budget” — comes amid a government shutdown and federal debt ceiling crisis, developments that have fueled increasing interest in NPP’s work, Comerford said.

“This period in history gives us a swift push forward,” she said. “This is a terrible moment in our nation ... a people-made crisis. The only people who can get us out of this mess so we don’t get here again are voters. We’re going to ask people to think big thoughts.”

The National Priorities Project was co-founded by Greg Speeter and three colleagues whose inaugural report, “In Defense of the First District,” revealed $54 million lost in social spending in western Massachusetts under Reagan-era policies. Their work changed how the late U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, voted on budgets. It kick-started three decades of work analyzing and breaking down federal data and spending so people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.

“We’re perfectly poised to be useful to Americans all over the United States because Greg planted the seed,” Comerford said.

Over the years, NPP has developed partnerships with a broad range of grassroots and high-profile organizations across the country. Many of those organziations are mobilizing women, minorities and youth, groups that have been disproportionately marginalized in the federal budget, according to NPP.

Some of the leaders of these groups will be among those celebrated as NPP’s 30 champions of democracy on Friday.

“We’ve been so blessed over these 30 years,” Comerford said. “We’re a small organization with an enormously large vision.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.