Who Are Progressives, and How Do We Come Together?

I’ve been drawn over here by buhdy’s diary at Daily Kos introducing the Manifesto Project, which is a laudable and long-overdue project.  I look forward to participating in that effort.  But who will the Manifesto address?

The conservative movement, which has been dominant in American politics for almost three decades, is dying before our eyes.  This will create a vacuum in our politics which will be filled, but with what?  Recycled, rancid corporatism from the usual suspects?  Nativist racism and fundamentalist hatred?  Progressivism is the only visible, sane alternative to become the next dominant philosophy of American politics, but we’ll have to be ready or else lose the chance.

So I have another question to raise along similar lines beside the Manifesto Project:  How do we build a progressive movement?  We in the Netroots are but one part of the progressive movement.  Who are the others?  How do we come together to build a coherent, strong, mature movement to inherit politics in the post-Bush era?  Come below the fold if you’re interested in exploring further.

Traditional Democratic constituencies are the most obvious groups to include in a progressive movement.  African Americans and Latinos, single women (and to a slightly lesser extent married women), the elderly and blue-collar workers are the heart of the residual New Deal coalition.  Republicans have made inroads in these groups to greater or lesser extents, so we have to win them back with the power of our ideas and values.

Organized labor is a potent ingredient in a progressive movement.  Labor leaders have their own agendas, but building the middle class, universal health care, labor rights and workplace safety, and retirement security form a foundation on which we can build a strong alliance.  We saw James Hoffa make overtures to the Netroots in Chicago in August; we need to reciprocate.

Public interest groups in Washington and state capitals form a ready-made lobbying infrastructure for progressives.  Organizations like the ACLU, Common Cause, Public Citizen, or CREW already exist and have lawyers, experts, connections with politicians and networks of donors already created.  They tend to observe their own institutional imperatives, so stovepiping of efforts and territorial instincts must be overcome to bring them into a larger progressive effort.  But they have many of the skills and connections we need to help our movement mature.

Elected officials cannot be overlooked.  Not all Democrats are spineless cowards or sell-outs.  Many fine progressive heroes are already in Congress, governorships and state houses.  Many share most if not all of our views.  They need to be nurtured, encouraged and supported.  Above all, they need to be multiplied.  But we must help them realize that they will be more successful as part of a larger movement than as individual actors in the Democratic party.  Strength in numbers is an almost foreign concept in the “herding cats” party.  This needs to change, and we have to make that change happen.

Lastly, Republicans should be recruited wherever possible.  Groups like “sportsmen” (hunters and fishermen) share many of our environmental views, and can be attracted by health care and economic appeals.  Christian voters have to be spoken to in the language of Jesus, not that of Dobson.  Small business owners can be invited in with appeals to their interests with universal health care, trade and tax policy.

In order to create a strong, mature progressive movement we will need to identify all its components, identify the strengths of each, chart common ground and resolve differences, and learn how to use our strengths in coordinated ways to become powerful.  The future of our country depends on the success of these efforts.

Your thoughts?


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    • Dallasdoc on September 26, 2007 at 05:37

    Trying to get back into diary writing, so I hope you’ll be nice to me.

  1. My whole existence has been justified by getting DallasDoc to write a diary!

    One of the things i/we have discovered here (largely thanks to Nightprowlkitty)is that we cannot wait for The People to come to the blogs, we have to take the political power of the blogs to The People. Your essay highlights and reinforces that beautifully.

    It is pretty gosh darn daunting as we now begin to realize the scope of what needs to happen to bring all of these disparate forces together to form a real base of influence and power.

    But as I said in the introduction of this effort, we DO have the brain power to do it.

    And really that is the true hope, ALL of the people coming together to take the world back from the oligarchy. ONLY the People United can do that. Finding our part, our role and filling it is a huge task. But the times we live in call for that sort of thing…..and I believe we here have the courage and skills to play our part. We are an extraordinary group whose greatest asset is a willingness to work together and reach out to others to do as well.

    But I do feel MUCH better now that you are here DD!

  2. We are desperate for an adversarial media.  We cannot lose adversarial scientific and artistic communities.  Those, imo, are critical ingredients for “truth,” which once we grasp, we can let the chips fall.  The media and scientific communities get at “the facts,” whereas the artistic community is an essential aspect of cultural novelty, possibility, and exploration.

  3. I wrote a comment in Buhdy’s piece posted here and suggested looking into the DFA, which has a great list of coalition Grassroots organizations, people already active outside of blogland.

    There is also the Progressive Democrats of America

    Here is their advisory board (bios of them all are listed on the site) but many are quite familiar. I figure this is a nice list of a number of activists and office holding progressives.

    Mimi Kennedy*, Board Chair,
    Stephen Shaff, Board Vice Chair,
    Cindy Asner
    Medea Benjamin
    John C. Bonifaz,
    Steve Cobble
    Rep. John Conyers, Jr.,
    Jodie Evans
    Lila Garrett
    Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva
    Tom Hayden
    Rep. Barbara Lee
    Joe Libertelli
    Joel Segal
    Cindy Sheehan
    AZ State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema
    David Swanson
    Rep. Maxine Waters
    Rep. Diane E. Watson
    Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.
    Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.,
    Rep. James (Jim) McGovern

    *Ms. Kennedy is an actress as well as activist and played Dharma’s mother on the show Dharma and Greg. I figure that is a kinda karmically dharmically fun factoid!

    • robodd on September 26, 2007 at 07:31

    Making housecalls!

  4. Progressive is an empty term.  Hillary rightly denies being a liberal and claims to be a progressive. 

    There are Progressives but they are not at all like Hillary and other wingers.  Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party went by another name but I think it is not wrong for true Progressives to call TR an early Progressive. 

    One of my sons became a poll watcher for the Progressive Party in Chicago when a girl roommate was roughed up by Daley’s thugs.  Funny how a heavyweight martial arts expert not knowing a word of Spanish was able to speak the lingo better in a hispanic district in Chicago than a South American but that’s the way it worked out.

    I presume the Daleys figure they are progressives too but for sure not taken by the Progressive Party.

    Republicans call any Democrat a liberal, even Hillary and increasingly Bush.  Many actual liberals deny they are such and choose to call themselves progressives though nobody else does.

    Long past time for liberals to stop fearing the name as some kind of pejorative.

    America was founded by liberals who had to overcome conservatives.  Nothing has changed since.

    Best,  Terry

    • toys on September 26, 2007 at 08:51

    Sometimes I think that looking at an extreme example, or a larger picture of an issue, can help.  Today I went to see a documentary, with a live q&a, on a group that was the first to unionize in the US.

    Why did they need to unionize?  Who were they fighting against?  What happened when they unionized?  How did they do it?  How did it work out for them?

    If anyone is interested, I can write up a summary, but it probably isn’t needed.  This is a story that is repeated everywhere. 

    Power.  Oppression.  Money.  Sex.

    Their government would not help them.  The public scorned them.  Their parents hated them.  Afterward, they were banned from working anywhere else, and fearful for their lives.  And that is still the same after 4 years.

    This is in and around one of the most progressive cities in the country.

  5. there is a phrase I stumble over though. Chalk it up to my acquired paranoia gut-reacting to a casual mention of the demise of the conservative movement.

    “The conservative movement, which has been dominant in American politics for almost three decades, is dying before our eyes.”

    I don’t think it’s dying. I think the elements that are there are struggling. Reactionaries they are, and they will either:

    a. become increasingly more fundamentalist, rigid, and entrenched – and thus, increasingly more wickedly problematic as progressives work towards a further marginalization of their policies and practices;


    b. superficially react as if they are moving back towards a centrist position – within local communities, at the state level, and further down the road, at the federal level. At some point in time when they find a gap in the political landscape, these new “centrists” will throw off their cape and reveal their core hardline conservative, or neo-conservative values and again start the attempt of shifting American society towards a factionalist, right-wing oligarchy.

    We haven’t killed them, they haven’t yet killed themselves, and there will be a sizable disenfranchised group that will never change. Because they can’t be wrong.

    I guess i don’t trust that such a mindset will ever die, as long as there are like-minded people who want power and control over others for the sake of money and a fake morality.

  6. A little discipline is not a bad thing.  When it is applied to growing, developing, nurturing and maturing the progressive netroots as a movement and a political influential, it is even a good and desirable thing.

    We can continue to spin wheels here and fill carts with all sorts of Santa’s goodies, but until we hunker down and do some real planning and real consensus-building, those carts will remain unpowered by work horses, unsteerable without reins, and undriven without people sharing a mission, vision and values.

    I hate to pour cold water on all of this dreaming, but dreaming it is without sharing a foundation of organizational development.

    • banger on September 26, 2007 at 15:55

    There is no chance for significant left/liberal/progressive agendas to come into play at this time unless the left organizes itself not in the blogosphere which has maxed out most of its potential but in “real” life. By that I mean creating voluntary associations, coooperatives, unions, neo-unions in which not just collective effort is extolled but collective destiny as well.

    All this means means, as a practical matter, providing employment, health-care, legal-aid, education and cultural events for those that sign up. That also means boycotting all institutions who are anti-progressive, e.g., mainstream media, most of TV, most oil companies and so on. Essentially, in order to compete with the corporate order we have to use the same laws they use to maximize their advantage in the system.

    Corporations are just better at surviving right now and pretending we still live in a liberal democracy (we just plain don’t) is folly. We need to form our own corporations, limit our liability and use all the advantages to at least enable us to survive in the emerging neo-fuedalist society that is forming.

  7. I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time now.  Probably since I saw the intense sense of self and compassion that this nation had right after September the 11th be twisted into anger, agression and despair.

    I keep coming back to one thing which is that I think we need to rediscover and coax out that part of American character that is actually confident enough to be kind and open enough to be able to draw on our greatest strength which is our diversity.

    There is so much riding on how we as a nation choose to act and whether or not we find it in ourselves to work together towards the common good again.

  8. Having spent most of my time for years at dkos, I feel that we do have numbers but seem to need to form working coalitions among  both ourselves (those who blog) and real life boots on the ground types. I think that if any manifesto gets too narrow and elitist and requires loyalty pledges and the like it just becomes another splinter group which aims it’s message to only those who fall within narrowly drawn lines.

    When I became politically active besides turning to the net, I also joined and worked for my local county Democratic Party. I found many like souls who came not from the entrenched machine (those too abounded) but disenchanted liberals and progressives who were willing to rejoin to ‘take back our country’. My husband was a PC for our district and was paired with a exNaderite for registering. She put it well, She said that in her veiw we had undergone a coup by the right and we needed to unite to take it back and then we would have the luxury of hashing out our differences.

    These grassroots workers and those we sought to bring into the voting pool, need more then the party seems willing to give. I do not believe we can do this unless we offer a wary, and rightly so, potential pool of untapped voters and activists something more then politics as usual which at this point  refuses to acknowledge the needs of anything but the status quo, and requires you to leave your principles at the door. 

    • robodd on September 26, 2007 at 18:53

    Who?:  98% of americans when not acting out of fear or selfishness (same thing?).

    How?:  Apprising them of that fact in a persuasive manner.

    • plf515 on September 27, 2007 at 00:12

    we stand for, rather than what socioeconomic, ethnic or gender groups we fall into. 

    I am a wealthy, white, straight, married male. 

    On social issues, I am to the left of just about everyone.  On economic issues, not quite so far left (I am not a Marxist) but still pretty far left.

    What do progressives stand for?

    Equal rights .  People should be judged by ‘the content of their character’ and by nothing else.  Not age, sex, race, gender, weight, height, social class, or what have you.

    Economic justice .  No one should be hungry.  No one should be homeless.  That isn’t socialism (I am not a socialist) that’s decency.  There will always be classes, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  But there’s a level of human decency that is required.

    Education .  From preschool to graduate school, there are huge problems in education.  NCLB has made it all much worse.

    Energy and the environment Progressives know that we all have to live in the environment, and so will our grandchildren.  We also know that environmentalism isn’t going to be a drain on the economy, but a boon.  We know that a sustainable future can be a better future for all of us.  Less polluted, less noisy, less materialistic. 

    Freedom   Progressives believe that freedom is good.  Freedom to have sex with consenting adult partners – however many, of whatever gender and sex. Freedom to worship, or not worship, any God you choose, and not to have any God imposed on you in any guise.  Freedom.

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