Six days ago, we kicked off the drive for the FDL Membership Program. We had no idea what the response would be, but we said we’d be delighted if we had 500 members in the first month.

We had 500 members in the first six days.

FDL is a truly remarkable community. A little over two months ago, when I picked David House up at Union Station for the first time, he said “I’m really worried about Bradley Manning’s health.” He hadn’t told anyone yet about Manning’s conditions at Quantico prison. I remember thinking at the time, they’ve already tried and convicted the guy in the press. I wonder if we can get people to care about this.

I should have known better. The FDL community quickly pitched in and we started a citizen journalism project to publicly expose the lack of credibility of the sole source that the media was relying upon to tie Manning to the Wikileaks documents and Julian Assange. People began transcribing interviews given by Adrian Lamo where he conveniently “remembered” things from his purported chat logs with Manning, which catapulted him onto the front page of the New York Times as recently as December 16. Marcy Wheeler’s timeline punched more holes in Lamo’s story.

Michael Whitney’s petitions and email blasts made sure the story traveled far and wide. And thanks in large part to the work done by FDL staff and readers, which provided the fodder for Glenn Greenwald’s challenge to Wired Magazine to release the full chat logs, Wired finally admitted that there was nothing in the unreleased chat logs that tied Assange to Manning. Adrian Lamo’s lack of credibility became clear to everyone when his many claims about the incriminating contents of the unreleased chat logs fizzled, and he quickly disappeared as the sole source for headlines at major media outlets. And shortly thereafter, the Justice Department admitted they had not been able to tie Manning to Assange and Wikileaks.

The FDL community also came together and contributed almost $50,000 to the Bradley Manning Advocacy Fund, an organization that devotes every dime it receives to the advocacy and defense of Bradley Manning.  Neither myself nor FDL receives any money from the fund, which is used to beat back the government-sponsored propaganda that was flooding the media uncontested. Trevor Fitzgibbon now visits Bradley at Quantico and makes sure his story gets told. He and his team have worked tirelessly to recruit credible media spokespeople to speak on Bradley’s behalf and provides journalists with a constant stream of accurate information in the form of press releases, media briefings, conference calls and regular updates.   For the first time, Bradley had a full-time advocate in the court of public opinion.

The complete turnaround of the media narrative around Manning, which culminated yesterday in editorials in the Guardian, the New York Times and the LA Times, is in large part attributable to the efforts of Trevor’s team — made possible by the generosity of the FDL community.

People are often unclear about my role at FDL.  My number one job is to make sure that people receive a weekly paycheck, free from intimidation from powerful economic interests, so that the work gets performed to insure we’re here every morning when you wake up.  The theory is that if you give intelligent and independent-minded people the freedom to write what they want, they will find their way to the truth. The difference between FDL and any other news organization is that nobody can call me or Gregg Levine or anyone else and spike a story.  Or threaten us with denial of access, or withdrawal of foundation money or advertising revenue, which would put our ability to financially sustain the organization into jeopardy.

And THAT’S why FDL gets attention, why the President jokes about reading our comments section — because we foster a community whose message and impact can’t be perverted by powerful economic interests.  I’m all too often the face for the political influence that this type of community can wield if it is free to develop on its own, but that is a distortion of where our strength really lies.  It’s not me. It’s the FDL community.

And that’s why our membership program is so important.  Someone joked with me the other day that we may be the only truly liberal organization left in 2012, now that the White House is on a mission to cut off the funding for any group that criticizes Obama from the left.  The membership program makes us largely impervious to that.

The bedrock sine qua non of any progressive organization is a broad-based, sustainable independent funding model. Without that, it’s too easy for powerful interests to threaten an organization’s existence by targeting a few major sources. It will be relatively easy for the oligarchs to muscle the foundations that provide the funding for most “liberal” interest groups into cutting off those that criticize the White House, and major media outlets are already captive to their big corporate advertisers. The failure to bake financial independence into an organization’s foundation is a failure to comprehend what you’re up against.

Thanks to the support and generosity of everyone who signs up to be a Founding Member of the Firedoglake Membership Program, we can continue to provide an independent space for the people who make FDL what it is on a daily basis — our community.  From all of the staff here at FDL, we thank you sincerely for your generosity, and look forward to working with you in shaping our path toward the future.