A Bold Democratic Plan to Grow the Middle Class

2020 BIBA® AwardWinner of the 2020 BIBA® Award in Non-Fiction: Politics

On paper, New York business and civic leader Winston Fisher and former Kansas City mayor Sly James seem to have nothing in common. They come from different generations, backgrounds, geographies, and professions. Despite their apparent differences, they share one central belief: the Democratic Party is overdue for major disruption.

In The Opportunity Agenda, Fisher and James propose a new path forward that focuses on what really matters: appealing to the people. The 2016 presidential election revealed the extent of the deep economic anxieties felt by working- and middle-class Americans across the country—an insecurity that reshaped American history with the election of Donald Trump. Democrats failed to make a compelling case to promote our vision for the future. Equipped with a refreshing arsenal of bold ideas to expand the middle class, Fisher and James offer a plan to grow the party’s base, win over moderates and independents, and explain in no uncertain terms what Democrats will do for you, the American voter.

In this era of increasing political turmoil, old habits, stale messaging, and a “get even” mentality, any momentum the Democratic Party once had has stalled. It will take innovative solutions to shake up the Democratic establishment and energize voters across the political spectrum. That’s where The Opportunity Agenda comes in. Insightful, accessible, and compelling, it outlines tangible strategies the Democratic Party needs for long-term success. This is a must-read for anyone invested in the future of our country and the forgotten middle class.

Sly James: ‘Reacting to Donald Trump is simply catching a rebound’ – MSNBC

Praise for The Opportunity Agenda

“The central premise of The Opportunity Agenda is that to be successful as a party and a country, we need to offer a bold and innovative new policy agenda that appeals to a broad swath of Americans. NewDEAL works with forward-looking, pro-growth progressive state and local elected officials across the country. For them, and for every policymaker out there who believes that ideas matter, this book, and its actionable policy framework, will be both a breath of fresh air and an important resource.”

Debbie Cox Bultan CEO, NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders)

“As a professional who has spent over forty years working on local and state community and economic development, I’ve watched infrastructure, entrepreneurship, and small business development remain low priorities in America. We used to prioritize water, sewer, power, and transportation access. Now broadband is key. If people don’t have access to high-speed internet, they cannot compete. Sadly, most states have done little to fix this problem. The same can be said of access to capital for small businesses and quality early education, as very few programs speak to these primary needs. This reality flies in the face of the fact that startups and small businesses represent the number one job creator in America and that improved education is a vital component of the future workforce.

Fisher and James understand these issues and have outlined many positive suggestions that Democrats can rely on. The Opportunity Agenda is a serious effort to grow quality jobs and a must-read.”

—J. Mac Holladay founder and CEO, Market Street Services

“Rather than developing a long-term plan to help middle-class Americans, today’s Democratic politicians too often lean on ‘the public’s revulsion to Trump’ as the center of their electoral strategy. In place of the party’s vague, anti-Trump approach, the authors propose an ‘Opportunity Agenda’ revolving around economic uplift for the middle class.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“I would hope that there are people in the Biden campaign studying The Opportunity Agenda and crafting legislation right now.”

—Book Pleasures

“Sly James and Winston Fisher have a compelling message for Democrats in this critical election year: the key choice isn’t between left and center, it’s between old and new. To a party whose big government agenda has grown stale, The Opportunity Agenda offers a timely infusion of fresh ideas and a new approach to governing from the ground up.”

Will Marshall president and founder, Progressive Policy Institute

“For far too long, the Democratic Party has relied on stale ideas, big government solutions, and uninspired messaging. Fisher and James show us that we can do better, proposing realistic policy changes with widespread voter appeal. This is the call to action the party needs.”

Heidi Heitkamp former senator (D-ND)

The Opportunity Agenda draws from experience and is concerned with growing the middle class. It includes a convincing plan to reorganize the Democratic Party’s goals so that they support the financial health of US citizens… The Opportunity Agenda is a practical, persuasive blueprint for refocusing the Democratic Party to serve the concrete needs of the people.”

—Foreword Reviews

“Sly is known for speaking plainly and helpfully about how public policy can improve people’s lives. I’m not at all surprised to see he and Winston teamed up to push Democrats to look beyond today’s news cycle and toward tomorrow’s challenges. Agreement with every part of Sly and Winston’s agenda is not required, as this book is the definition of thought-provoking. I suggest reading it with a pen in hand.”

Jason Kander former Missouri secretary of state

“The narrative adopts the tone of an earnest Newsweek Special Report, touching on issues like childcare, education and small business access to capital. With each topic, the authors serve up supporting anecdotes and statistics cited from other reports. Readers will also find a litany of what the Party needs (to find allies, refresh its agenda, become champions of the middle class, etc.).”

—BlueInk Review

“The economic system in America used to reward hard work and generally provide for families. Now, that promise has completely evaporated. As Washington grapples with how to react, Winston Fisher and Sly James issue an urgent and needed warning: the Democratic Party is due for disruption. Now is the time to go big, go bold, and advance an agenda that spreads opportunity to everyone, everywhere.”

Jonathan Cowan president, Third Way

“I’m often asked what Democrats need to do to broaden our appeal and win more elections. The Opportunity Agenda helps provide that answer. It shows the power of being proactive and how we need to continue to capture the economic agenda. Anyone looking for the path forward should read this book.”

Jim Messina CEO, Messina Group; campaign manager, Obama for America 2012