The organization began when Lee Webb, who had been advocating redistributive policies in Vermont, found there were others doing similar things across the nation. He quickly found support from liberal foundations, established an office at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), and began collecting legislation, ideas, and internal documents from activists who were gaining elected positions at state and local levels. In 1975, with Derek Shearer, they collected several dozen examples for a "Public Policy Reader" distributed at what became an organizing conference in Madison, WI; a second conference and much larger Reader followed in Austin, TX in 1976, and the organization grew for several years through the 1970s. The untitled [newsletter] appeared in January 1976 and was appearing semi-monthly by 1977 simply headed "Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies." It continued for a total of eleven issues through March 1978, and then was superseded by the similar "Ways & Means" into the mid-1980s. These first eleven newsletters, generally sixteen pages in length, provide snapshots of the Conference's activities in it first years. The organization moved offices to larger quarters outside of IPS in 1978, gradually shifted from a local and state level organizing mode to one of servicing its constituency of state and local officials, but continued its annual national conferences through 1980 while adding special topics like Food and Agriculture, Taxes, Plant Closings.

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