Donnelly/Colt Progressive Resources is a small, family-owned and operated business that has provided progressive materials for consciousness raising and fundraising since 1975. It was just one of those ventures a newly formed couple ventured upon, after stints in college and various jobs. We, Kate Donnelly and Clay Colt, wanted to change the world to make it a more tolerant and peaceful place. We also wanted to stop waiting tables and cleaning 16mm films for a living. So we bought a proof press in San Francisco where we were living, drove 3,000 miles east, set it up and began hand setting wooden and metal type and printing bumper stickers – one at a time. This was a unique service and incredibly labor-intensive. Three decades later, I'm not sure we have a more just and peaceful planet, but it's not for lack of trying. Our business has grown and waned and grown and waned as the progressive movements have.
We started printing catalogs by hand-mimeographing pages, then offset printed newsprint, graduated to almost full color and since 1999 we've been on the world wide web. In 2002 we stopped printing the no-longer-affordable paper catalogue, saving scores of trees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in printing, mailing lists and postage. Some might say it's well overdue, but a small few still don't like the use of this fast-paced technology. We are in many ways a couple of Luddites; Clay still types custom printing orders and invoices on funky old manual typewriters he bought at garage sales. (In 2005, he finally got his first real computer and can now efficiently do custom printing orders for you by email.) But we also understand the enormous waste of resources printing hundreds of thousands of catalogs can be. So here we are on the web, we hope you enjoy our site, if you want to know more about us read on, or explore.
Clay and I have been involved in many movements for social change over the past years. I still fundamentally believe in the basic tenant that grass roots, local action is what brings about social change.
It is very easy to feel disempowered by the lack of a progressive mass movement. But selling these materials, all these years, we see that action is indeed taking place, locally in communities throughout the country. Daily we receive orders, not only from older activists and organizations, but also from youth, on and off campuses around the country. They tell us about actions against war, racism, sexual harassment, against sweat shops, for fair trade, against corporate globalization, for women’s, people of color and LGBT and immigrants rights, promoting justice around the world, against the war on students and the poor, and in favor of talks not troops, around the world. We receive letters, calls and email from young people, thanking us for not only providing the products we carry, but for the acknowledgment that they are not alone in their beliefs.
After all these years, the day-to-day operations of this business can be somewhat boring. How many creative ways can we figure out to say the same message, pay the bills, fill the orders, meet deadlines, and do the paperwork? What keeps us going is you, our customers, not people who just buy from us, but people who are actively working to create justice in the world. It can feel lonely out there, we're here to tell you, there is a mass movement for social change. Each seemingly small action is multiplied many-fold by others organizing around the world.
The challenges are how to fit our work into our daily lives, and how to support each other's work. Over the years, my social change work has evolved from organizing protests and preparing people to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience actions, to doing conflict resolution and diversity work in my children's schools to becoming First Selectman (sic) of my small town and now working as an energy efficiency organizer. As a parent, I feel the most important part of my life, was raising our three children to be happy, self-confident, compassionate people. Having this business allowed Clay and I to be here for them when they needed us. It's also allowed me to integrate my social activism with my parenting. I believe it's been the most effective peace and justice work I've done to date. Let's face it, without intelligent compassionate youth there's not much hope for our planet, never mind our "movement."
I spent a lot of time in schools, training kids to become peer mediators, talking about diversity and anti-bias, teaching conflict resolution skills, talking about being an activist. Having students reveal that they had never before believed that there was a way to resolve problems without violence or that they've never before considered anyone else's point of view in a conflict, or that teasing a gay student is not OK, makes the work worthwhile.
My stint as the First Selectman of my small town was a less gratifying experience. I was able to put my environmental beliefs into action by installing insulation, upgrading furnaces and lighting, etc. in town buildings. We were able to install solar photovoltaic systems on three (out of four) town buildings as well as a solar thermal installation on our elementary school. But I had my towns own tea party harassing me at meetings and town events. I was actually called "Machievellian" in an article in the local propaganda newsletter. I never truly understood bullying until this experience of people irrationally yelling and spouting lies to my face. It actually gave me sympathy for politicians.
Clay goes to various events and conferences, to bring our resources to more activists. The feedback he gets at events is a vital reminder of the importance of our work. He sells at conferences for early childhood educators, social studies teachers, gay and lesbian activists, college events, music festivals and a lot more. Clay describes his experience doing tables this way; "it's with heartfelt gratitude that I do this work. Meeting people and hearing of their actions, I know the truth to the slogan 'one person can make a difference.' Like everything else, activism has its cycles. I admire your struggle to resist, protest, grow, and continue to renew and restore your hope and commitment to a better world."
Our kids are doing well, they were all peer mediators in high school teaching conflict resolution skills to other students and were involved in the diversity club. Andrew (b.1982) graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 where he majored in geology. Since then, he has hiked the Appalachian Trail and in 2010 he finished graduate school at Colorado State University. Cal (b.1984) graduated from Oberlin in 2006, studying art and Spanish. He keeps this website up-to-date. Andrew and Cal both live in West Haven, CT where they take care of their 95-year-old grandma at her home. Cal is doing his prerequisite courses for nursing school. Zoe (b.1990) graduated from Bennington College in 2012 as a dance major. She will mold a career as a modern dancer and choreographer however she can. They are all continual joy and inspiration, as are their friends and their whole generation.
Please let us know what kind of items and messages you would like to see. Your suggestions over the years have helped us improve the selection and quality of what we have to offer. We'll be here providing you with resources to counter the official propaganda, and fight the good fight. We honor each of you and your struggles everywhere.