The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Speaking in praise of progressives

 Speaking in praise of progressives
Speaking in praise of progressives

Speaking in praise of progressives

You might call me a liberal. I wouldn’t, though. The term “liberal” has meant a variety of things over time, and even today it is a rather imprecise term. On top of that, the right wing has turned the term liberal into an all-purpose pejorative, which is easy to do with something that vague. Instead of using the term liberal, I call myself a progressive. I certainly did not coin the term; in fact, people with beliefs similar to mine have been called progressives for far longer than they have been called liberals.

Our ideology is very simple: A better world is always possible, and there is absolutely no reason not to strive for it. Human history is filled with unimaginable horror, but it’s also filled with the efforts of those who sought to alleviate, or perhaps end, that horror in any way they could. Growing up, I remember hearing stories of these progressive struggles and triumphs.

Some were told to me in school, others in books I read on my own, and still others in films and various other media. The message history seemed to be teaching me, and teaching society in general, was this: “You can be in ideological company with those who got (some) slaves out of the fields, women out of the kitchen and children out of the coal mines, or you can find common ground with those who tried to keep them there.” It seemed like an obvious choice to me.

As I got older and started paying close attention to what was going on in the world around me, it became evident that not everybody would make the same choice I would about where to stand. Conservatives were actively engaged in preventing positive change from occurring, due to their sense of inertia, a desire to do evil, or both. The Right seemed intent on preventing homosexuals from achieving equal rights and protections under the law, preventing schoolchildren (and the public at large) from reading books or watching films that dealt with “difficult” issues and, most inexplicably, curtailing the efforts of anyone desiring to stave off ecological disaster.

Still, that’s not what surprised me. What surprised me was the sheer venom directed at those who desired to improve the world. The entire industry of political talk radio and television (and the books written by their hosts), with certain exceptions, has grown up around the express purpose of deprecating progressives. People like me are routinely derided by the reactionaries on the airwaves and in print as “bleeding hearts,” “tree huggers,” threats to the American family and who knows what else. It’s enough to make me wonder if the blowhards and their loyal audiences are truly ignorant of history or simply choose to ignore it for their own ends. Either conclusion is frightening, and both are likely partially true.

Every change in American society that reflects a striving towards common decency is the result of the efforts of “bleeding heart” progressives. Abolitionists were ostracized, the police hauled off women’s suffragists, civil rights marchers were savagely beaten, and voter registration activists were murdered, and yet a better society was created in every case. The dangerous radicals of one age become the well regarded heroes of the next, and yet the pattern of scorn and human inertia continues.

I spent my formative years observing people highly opposed to progressive thinking. I watched with dismay at stifling conformity, hypocritical religiosity, shameless materialism and an almost unbearable level of pettiness. All this is the kind of environment conservatives champion when they laud “family values.” Society is nice and simple; the ugliness of the world is swept under the carpet, and nobody questions their status quo, much less the status of people elsewhere in the world. Naturally, the progressive parents I knew were the ones practicing something deserving of the label “good family values.” Their children were more likely to grow up as intelligent, articulate, concerned, three-dimensional individuals, not the swaggering louts and strutting airheads that were all too common, then and now.

A word must be said in response to those who would claim that progressives are neither bad nor dangerous, just misdirected. Laissez-faire libertarian types tend to say that market forces can accomplish more than any grassroots campaign, especially in the area of basic living standards. As it happens, however, the reason we have a roughly eight-hour workday in America has nothing to do with the “invisible hand” and everything to do with the labor activists and workers who were willing to stand up to the Pinkerton detectives paid by the bosses and shareholders to gun the troublemakers down.

You can call me a tree hugger, a bleeding heart or, as this paper’s resident reactionary referred to another columnist last year, a “self-righteous minister of social justice.” I’ll take them all as synonyms for “progressive,” and I won’t be offended. Who wouldn’t want to build a better world?

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