An appreciation of Zach Polett
Zach Polett, who was president of Progressive Future Network, passed away on Sept. 26, 2023, at the age of 73.
Zach’s long-time friend, Dan Cantor, said the best word to describe Zach was “tenacity.” The term fit Zach to a T.
Zach’s commitment was sparked as America grappled with the war in Vietnam and racial segregation and discrimination here at home. After graduating Harvard, Zach attended medical school at Stanford. Yet before following the usual post-med school path of internship, residency and fellowship, Zach spent a summer in Little Rock, working with ACORN (Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now). You could say that he never left.
After becoming a full-time community organizer with ACORN in 1975, Zach’s responsibilities grew as the organization grew. He founded Louisiana ACORN in 1976. He became the director of Arkansas ACORN in 1980. He became national ACORN political director in 1992 and directed Project Vote, a nationwide voter registration project.
The fruits of Zach’s labors included, among many other accomplishments, the South’s first homecare workers’ collective bargaining agreement; successful ballot initiatives on the minimum wage and campaign finance reform; and 1.1 million low-income and minority citizens registered to vote in the 2004 election cycle alone.
More recently, Zach became the first president of Progressive Future Network, where he worked closely with Peter Murray of Accelerate Change, Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida, Bill Newman and Susan McGrath at Florida Consumer Action Network, and Sandy Newman of Voices for Progress. He established the Progressive Future Network’s Calling for Progress program, working with groups from NARAL Pro-choice America to People for the American Way, on issues from D.C. statehood to gun violence.
He also led electoral programming for Fair Share, Fair Share Action and Environment America Action Fund, including helping re-elect Ed Markey to the U.S. Senate by building and running the independent expenditure effort United for Massachusetts.
In addition to being an organizer’s organizer, Zach was a devoted husband to his wife, Mary, (whom he met while organizing in Louisiana); a proud and loving father to his sons, Mark and David; and a doting grandfather to Kian, Luka, Luna and Vera. Zach and Mary were also long-time, dear friends with Linda Croseford.
Though he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in early 2023, Zach’s decline in late September was sudden and unexpected. Just a few weeks before his passing, he traveled to D.C. for a day with the staff of Accelerate Change, a Progressive Future Network group. His contributions were plentiful and smart, as always. We are so grateful to have known Zach — professionally, politically and as a good friend. He was, and will remain, truly an inspiration.
Zach with David and Mark. 1988
Zach and his wife, Mary (on the porch, standing) at a gathering of former ACORN staff. 2012
Zach and colleague Wendy Wendlandt. September 2023
Zach. July 2016
Zach with colleagues Doug Casler, Andre Delattre, Adam Rivera, Ryan Moeckly, Rich Hannigan, Alec Sprague, Emily Rusch, Allison Cairo and Lisa Frank on a hike in Colorado. September 2023
Doug Casler, Susan Rakov, Matt Curtis, Faye Park, Andre Delattre, Wendy and Zach. 2017
Wendy and Zach with veteran organizers Tom Novick, Jon Motl and C.B. Pearson at the memorial service for Donald Ross. September 2022
Zach and long-time friend and colleague, Sandy Newman. June 2023
Zach and another old friend and colleague, Dan Cantor. April 2016
Zach and Mary. 2015