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Progressive web portal seeks funds

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday May 04, 2002

A Berkeley web site that has funneled more than 330,000 letters to Israeli, Palestinian and American policymakers urging peace in the Middle East is facing a financial crisis. 

“I’ve gotten closer to the edge than I wanted,” said Steve Freedkin, a member of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission who operates the web site, 

Progressive Portal, founded in May 2001, facilitates grassroots letter-writing campaigns on a variety of progressive issues.  

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The Middle East campaign has generated local press coverage and tripled the site’s mailing list from 3,600 to nearly 10,500. 

Freedkin has relied on over 100 volunteer researchers, writers and designers, and has dipped into his own savings to the tune of $10,000, to operate the site. Thus far, the site has not generated an income for Freedkin. 

“The period of time where progressive Portal can function without paying me a salary is running out,” he said. “At some point, I’d have to get a job.”  

Freedkin has sent an appeal to people on his list in recent weeks asking for pledges of $31.25 per month for a year to keep the site afloat. 

“The initial response was a little on the slow side, but it has picked up over the last few days,” he said. 

Freedkin has received donations of varying sizes. He said he will need the equivalent of 120 year-long pledges, at $31.25 per month, to keep the site at its current size. He has received the equivalent of 21 pledges thus far. 

Freedkin’s ultimate goal is 365 pledges. With that money in hand, he said, he could hire an assistant and expand from his current nine letter-writing campaigns to 100. 

He said he will need a large number of campaigns to generate enough traffic and attract the advertising he will need to maintain the site long-term. 

While the Middle East campaign focused on a high-profile issue, most Progressive Portal campaigns have focused on issues that fall below the radar screen and do not tend to generate public pressure. Freedkin says he plans to continue with this strategy in the future. 

Local users of the site said they hope it stays afloat. 

“I like what they’re doing,” said Berkeley resident Alan Davidson, who noted that he will consider a donation. “There’s so little news about the issues they’re covering.” 

Norma Harrison, another Berkeley resident who has used the site, was also supportive but said tight finances would prevent her from donating to Progressive Portal.