ADA’s History

Americans for Democratic Action is the nation’s most experienced organization committed to liberal politics, liberal policies, and a liberal future.

Who we are

ADA was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, Arthur Schlesinger, and Reinhold Niebuhr shortly after FDR died.  Our goal then?  To keep the New Deal dream of a fair and prosperous America for all alive for generations to come.

With Donald Trump creating a chaotic atmosphere at home and abroad, ADA remains a key player in protecting progress and building for the future so that the dream can come true. We are working with allied groups in Washington and in states even as we build and mobilize our grassroots network across the country.

ADA History: President Truman speaking in front of an ADA banner.

Are we effective?

Ask any of our recent presidents such as Barney Frank, John Lewis, Jim McDermott, or Charles Rangel; they certainly think so. The great liberal lion, Senator Edward Kennedy, credited us as the group behind passage of the latest increase in America’s minimum wage.  We’re certainly proud of that success – but it’s just one of the many things we’re doing, because we’re not a single-issue group.  Instead, we’re a group with a single vision, and many issues.

Our History

ADA has played critical roles in every Democratic presidential campaign since Harry Truman’s, and has provided scores of senior advisors to Democratic Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen over the years.  And it’s consistently been on the forefront of cutting-edge issues.  It pioneered in the fight for civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s, for education reform and serious anti-poverty programs in the 1960s, for environmental protection in the 1960s and 70s, and for fair trade and workers’ rights in the 1990s.  It fought just as hard against George Bush’s invasion of Iraq as it did against the war in Vietnam, and it was a vanguard in opposing the unjust economic and social policies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes, not to mention the sorts of Wall Street deregulation that brought us in 2008 the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

With thousands of members, and active local chapters across the nation, ADA works in Washington as well as state capitals and major cities from California to Massachusetts.  Based in our Washington headquarters, senior ADA staff lobby, monitor, and contribute support (financial and volunteer labor) to scores of progressive Congressional candidates each election cycle.  (That network is important: it meant we were among the very first groups to support Barack Obama’s Senate race in 2004.) Using its Congressional Vote Ranking – the first-ever such ranking, and still the gold standard in rating progressive candidates – ADA leverages influence and support in strategic coalitions with other progressive groups and donors.

Our lobbying philosophy is based on democratic action – motivating our grassroots members to lobby their Senators and Representatives as constituent-advocates.  Using this philosophy, ADA continually strives to push for democratic and liberal values and ideals in American policy.

ADA National Chairs & Presidents

1947-1948 Wilson Wyatt
1948-1949 Leon Henderson
1949-1950 Senator Hubert Humphrey
1950-1953 Francis Biddle
1954-1955 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
James E. Doyle (co-chairs)
1955-1957 Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.
1957-1959 Robert R. Nathan
1959-1962 Samuel H. Beer
1962-1965 John P. Roche
1965-1967 Rep. Don Edwards
1967-1969 John Kenneth Galbraith
1970-1971 Joseph Duffy
1971-1973 Rep. Allard K. Lowenstein
1974-1976 Rep. Donald M. Fraser
1976-1978 Senator George McGovern
1978-1981 Rep. Patsy T. Mink
1981-1984 Rep. Robert F. Drinan, S.J.
1984-1986 Rep. Barney Frank
1986-1989 Rep. Ted Weiss
1989-1991 Rep. Charles B. Rangel
1991-1993 Senator Paul D. Wellstone
1993-1995 Rep. John Lewis
1995-1998 Jack Sheinkman
1998-2000 Rep. Jim Jontz
2000-2008 Rep. Jim McDermott
2008-2010 Richard Parker
2010-2016 Rep. Lynn Woolsey
2017- State Senator Daylin Leach
Note: From 1947 to 1973, ADA’s top elected officer was called National Chairman; the title was later changed to National President.