Drum Major Institute

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The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI) is a non-profit American progressive public policy institute founded during the Civil Rights Movement. According to its website, DMI provides "ideas that fuel the progressive movement." It is headquartered in New York City.[1]


The Drum Major Foundation (later Institute) was founded in 1961 during Civil Rights Movement by Harry Wachtel, a New York City lawyer who was an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr.. The organization became more or less defunct for several years after King's death but was relaunched in 1999 by Martin Luther King III, Harry Wachtel's son William B. Wachtel and Andrew Young.[2] Its primary focus is on the economic issues of the middle class and the idea that government can be a force for good.

Dr. King often used the phrase "drum major instinct" meaning the instinct to be a leader. In his sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 4, 1968 he said: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter... I just want to leave a committed life behind."[3] A paraphrased version of this phrase is inscribed on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.[4]

The director of the institute from 2002 through 2004 was Fernando Ferrer, the former Borough president of the Bronx, who resigned from the Institute at the end of 2004 to run for mayor of New York City. From 2004 through 2010, Andrea Batista Schlesinger was the Institute's executive director. PJ Kim has been Executive Director since 2010.

Policy focus areas[edit]

According to its website, The Drum Major Institute focuses on a few main areas: immigration policy, combating tort reform, and, more generally, policies that they feel benefit the middle class. Publications include:

  • Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the Middle Class
  • Saving Our Middle Class: A Survey of New York's Leaders
  • Scorecards for the United States Congress and the New York Legislature which grade elected officials on their votes relating to issues that DMI perceives as being important to achieving a middle class standard of living.
    • As an example of rating, in 2009, their company, themiddleclass.org, gave Representative Barney Frank a rating of 96%.[5]

DMI's Civil Justice Fellowship, originally called the Milberg Weiss Fellowship[6] because it was funded by the indicted plaintiffs' law firm Milberg Weiss, was created to oppose tort reform. Though no longer funded by Weiss, the fellowship still exists, and the Civil Justice Fellow is primarily responsible for maintaining the Drum Major Institute's TortDeform website and contributing to the push for the end of tort reform.

Since 2002, the Drum Major Institute has hosted a series of discussions called the Marketplace of Ideas, promoting legislatures who have succeeded in enacting various policies that the Institute supports including:

The DMIBlog public policy blog is written by DMI staff, Fellows and invited guests.

DMI Fellows Program[edit]

The DMI Fellows program,[7] involves activists and advocates who are interested in contributing to the policy conversation. DMI's Fellows collaborate with DMI staff to produce policy analysis based on their experiences and research.


As part of a joint project with the magazine The Nation, DMI interviewed mayors across the country on urban issues.[8]


External links[edit]