The Arkansas Public Policy Panel advances social and economic justice through respect for human dignity, diversity, empowerment and an inclusive, fair and transparent political process.
The Panel provides hands-on experience in civic participation by helping community groups organize, create infrastructure, set goals and develop action plans to reach those goals.
A Brief History of the Panel
In 1963, Sarah Murphy led a group of brave mothers to travel our state together, talking with people in churches and civic groups to help them accept school integration and to promote understanding among various ethnic and religious groups. They were the Panel of American Women. They were black, white, Asian American, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. Their message—that they were all mothers who just wanted the best for their children—seems universal today, but it was truly radical in Arkansas at the time. The Panel made over 150 appearances in their first 18 months and spoke with over 28,000 Arkansans.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Panelists shifted their strategy and began working in the schools, helping facilitate integration more directly. The Panel incorporated as a 501(c)(3) and started programs such as Green Circles, working with elementary school children to teach values of diversity. They coached teachers on how to be more aware of cultural differences and avoid discrimination and helped develop the first diversity curriculum in the Little Rock School District.
In 1973, Panel member Brownie W. Ledbetter became the organization’s first Executive Director. Brownie and other Panel leaders became involved with the Women’s Rights movement and broadened the organization’s focus to include equal rights, environmental justice, and fair economic policies. Brownie’s leadership helped sustain the organization for over twenty-five years.
In the 1980s, the organization started focusing more on public policy issues such as civil rights, farm sustainability, consumer education, environmental protection, and tax policy. The Panel tried to initiate major tax reform at the legislature with the help of then Gov. Bill Clinton, but the political will simply wasn’t there and Clinton eventually withdrew support. This setback caused the Panel to rethink its strategy, seeing that attempts at major reforms without an organized base to support them were not likely to succeed.
In 1983, Brownie worked with Bill Becker from the Arkansas AFL-CIO and other grassroots, labor and non-profit leaders to establish the Arkansas Fairness Council (AFC), a coalition of groups that advocated for civil rights and fair tax issues. This coalition would serve as the foundation for what would later become the Arkansas Citizens First Congress.
In 1987, the organization changed its name to the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, the Panel began developing a uniquely Arkansan organizing strategy focused on local group-autonomy, relationships, flexibility, strategic planning, and networking across issues and geography. The organization would later focus on organizing in low-income rural communities in South Arkansas and other parts of the state.
The Arkansas Citizens First Congress (CFC) was established in 1998 after several years of planning as a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. Built on the foundation of the Arkansas Fairness Council, this broader and more participatory coalition set out to bring together diverse grassroots groups, non-profits, labor coalitions, environmental activists, and other allies to leverage their numbers and collaborate across issues to help pass better legislation at the Capitol.
Today the Panel organizes groups all over the state, helping them become effective agents of change in their communities and supports the Citizens First Congress, whose 56 member organizations represent 32,000 Arkansans at the Capitol.
Thanks to the 2013 Master of Arts in Public History Seminar students at UALR for documenting the Panel's history more completely.You can find their complete report here.