Grassroots group grows in influence

Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006

Disappointed with the results of the 2004 presidential election, about a dozen Cheverly residents met to talk about revitalizing grassroots politics and community activism.

That first meeting, held in the home of Town Councilman Norman Oslik and his wife, Madeleine Golde, led to the formation of Progressive Cheverly.

The group’s name is an amalgam of the members’ location and their belief that grassroots activism needs to happen on an ongoing basis, ‘‘not only in Cheverly, but the community and around the country,” Golde said.

From that humble beginning about a year and a half ago, the group has grown through word of mouth, which members said is remarkable because they didn’t have a singular cause to unite them. About 120 people are on the group’s e-mail list, Golde said.

‘‘A lot of people begin groups because they’re upset about issues,” Oslik said. ‘‘We haven’t had a single killer issue that brings people together.”

The group’s latest event was a town hall meeting Jan. 13 with the state senator and delegates from District 47.

It also has held a candlelight vigil to support Cindy Sheehan’s protest against President George W. Bush not pulling troops out of Iraq and has been vocal about the need to develop community standards for a proposed Wal-Mart at the old Capital Plaza mall.

‘‘People have worked really hard at this organization,” Golde said. ‘‘Looking back, I feel very excited at what we accomplished in a short period of time without staff and without grant money.”

Just as they have had several events, members have joined for various reasons. Cofounder David Thorpe, for example, said he wanted to get involved in community issues with others who felt the same way.

Progressive Cheverly is receiving notice from other community groups around the region.

Edmonston Mayor Adam Ortiz credited the group with helping spark the discussion of the need for Wal-Mart to adhere to community standards by helping form the Community Standards Coalition with other neighborhood groups and municipalities.

Before helping to put together the coalition, Progressive Cheverly had to form its own consensus on Wal-Mart, members said. When they first heard about it, many were opposed, but the group’s position changed when members realized the store was coming whether they wanted it or not.

Wal-Mart officials largely have agreed to many of the coalition’s requests, such as not having the Capital Plaza location be open 24 hours and not sell guns or alcohol.

‘‘They’ve been a catalyst and sparked an important debate,” Ortiz said.

Progressive Cheverly has lobbied state lawmakers to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, which would require large employers spend 8 percent of their payroll in health care. Progressive Cheverly convinced its Town Council to send a letter to its senator and delegates in support of the override.

The group plans to hold more forums like the one earlier this month, Golde said. Possible topics include election reform, an elected school board, health care and Equality Maryland.

By becoming certified registrars from the Board of Elections, they also plan to push for more of their neighbors to become registered voters, member Ed Terry said.

Members can be active as they like or their schedule allows. The group has several committees devoted to the General Assembly, voter registration and the environment.

‘‘It’s a challenge. People’s lives are busy. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring them out, so we try to create avenues to make them involved,” Oslik said.

Members say they adhere to neither a conservative nor a liberal ideology.

‘‘It means so many things to so many people — it’s lost its meaning,” Terry said of having a liberal label.

‘‘You could say the same thing about conservatives,” Oslik added.

And though both Oslik and Golde are members, Oslik said he is not more influenced by her or anyone else in the group.

‘‘That’s part of what lobbying is all about, as long as there are no back room deals. I wasn’t promised a high-level position in Progressive Cheverly,” he said.

The members consider their successes in a short time period typical of Cheverly’s nature.

‘‘We really feel very excited about what we’ve accomplished and what we want to do,” Golde said. ‘‘It’s really helped to reinforce this wonderful community.”

E-mail Jennifer Donatelli at