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May 03, 2006

Dialogue on the Progressive Movement - Then and Now

Noemie has a great piece up at Washblog, an interview/dialogue with Don Hopps, Consulting Director of the Institute for Washington's Future.  The discussion is wide-ranging but my favorite sections are the perspective on the Progressive Movement that arose a century ago in this country in response to factors very like what we are seeing today.  Here are a few paragraphs to whet your appetite:

Part of what the movement did was to ultimately reform the Democratic Party, which was coming out of the legacy of the American civil war and was still quite conservative.

Now what we have with the Progressive movement is many separate issues that are looking for a center. Sustainability could be the vehicle for a Progressive rebirth. Sustainability integrates the major issues of today: environmental concerns, concerns with economic justice, and community preservation and enhancement under the overarching need to democratize our economy.


You know, the late nineteenth century, the Gilded Age that preceded the blossoming of progressive reform, looked very much like today: a Democratic Party of caution and conservatism, Republican presidents in the back pocket of -- what else - big oil, a country distracted by foreign terrorists into dabbling in imperialistic adventures. That's why we need a rebirth of the Progressive movement.

Go, read.

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 3, 2006 at 12:08 PM in Interviews | Permalink


I want to believe... I really do. I've been active as a board member in Washington Conservation Voters & the Cascade Land Conservancy. I'm a good green thumb.

But, while attending a conference on progressive politics and the difficulty of getting us all under the same tent, sustainability and enviro-politics in general were described as "the issue for the middle- and uppper-class white folks who don't have anything else to rally behind. Progressive women have choice and the glass ceiling. Progressive ethnic groups have equality and economic justice issues. Workers have labor issues like health care, Davis-Bacon and minimum wage.. If you don't have an issue, then you're an environmentalist."

As such, enviro issues become causes that only rally those of us who, by the above implication, have it good enough that we don't have to take to the streets over anything else.

So, whenever I hear someone say enviro issues like sustainability or clean energy are going to unite the progressive movement, I have to wonder if they ever talk to folks who on on the front lines of the other important progressive causes.

2 cents.

Posted by: DJ Wilson | May 3, 2006 11:27:35 PM


Really good point. I've watched for years as Democrats rally in silos, not supporting each other's issues. And lose at the ballot box as a result.

That has been an mostly accurate characterization of the enviros. As a result, the issue of global warming, which probably dwarfs all other issues in urgency becomes difficult for others to rally around.

It's time to change that. If anyone can see and work with that, it's Don Hopps, who always includes issues and discussion of social justice and a big picture perspective of how they all come down to corporatism and the hold that the wealthy have over the governing process. It's one of the reasons why what the Institute for Washington's Future is doing is so important.

Posted by: Lynn | May 4, 2006 6:05:10 AM

Well, in my view, the conclusion to be drawn from Don's interview is that this isn't about environmental causes or clean energy only -- but about a more central and basic cause that encompass those and many other causes that are important in today's political landscape.

When I look at what's going on politically, it seems to me that so many organizations and movements are headed separately in different ways toward a generally shared direction. I see this direction as one that looks to that looks to basic survival and sustainability issues. I buy what Don's saying -- that by finding such a center, the progressive finds its feet, its power. When we recognize our allies we can better collaborate, we can build our collective power.

Don sees the center as sustainable community development and I give this assessment real credence as his experience in WA in the peace and justice and labor and environmental movements is broad, deep, and longstanding. This view is reinforced by what I see when I look around me -- in the extensive doorbelling and other outreach work I do, in all the community meetings I go to, in the research I do for blogging, in the conversations I have with activists, etc.

What I see when I look around me that there is a deep longing -- both from the left and the right -- to bring our systems back to more human scale. To bring our systems back to where the individual and family and community has more respect and dignity, to where government and business have more accountability. Our systems have grown beyond human scale and are out of the control even of those powerful people who are sitting in the drivers seats.

So much of the work I see going on in service to the causes of social and economic justice, peace, environment, labor -- and even other movements, such as the commons movement and peak oil and take back your time -- even the midwifery movement -- seem to be headed in the direction of bringing our world back to the human scale. Bringing more power and autonomy back to the community and the family. It is as if we are trying to become much more local -- and to do so within a more global context. The Netroots strikes me this way, too. The distributed nature of the Internet allows for very local connections and action -- that operate as well on a global level.

This is not a vision of anti-centralization or anti-globalization. Some degree of centralization is necessary and we are living in a world where global peacemaking and business and negotiation is increaingly important. But there does seem to be a very widespread and passionate feeling that we need a balancing, as centralization has become excessive. To the degree that we strengthen local distributed capacity in enterprise and public decisions -- for example, production and distribution of the basics like food and energy -- I think we counter that excessive centralization. Washington's fast emerging alternative energy industry -- and sustainable agriculture in general -- provide real opportunities that we should not miss.

See forwashington.org/btr.php -- and sign up for email announcements. We need your input and participation!

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | May 4, 2006 11:10:01 AM

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