I sat on the panel on “Blog Power: 2008 and Beyond” at the Take Back America conference yesterday, alongside Pam Spaulding, Digby, Tracy Russo, and Chris Bowers. Towards the end, someone in the audience asked a question that made me think about being a progressive means to me, and why I’m a progressive. The question, and I’m paraphrasing here, was “What will the progressive blogosphere do after the election,” when a Democratic president is sworn in and Democratic majorities secured in Congress?
My answer, the only one I could think of is that I’ll be doing the exact same thing I’ve been doing: speaking, writing, talking, etc. about issues that I’m passionate about, because there will still be work to do on all of them. Because merely winning elections is not sufficient. Merely getting Democrats elected is not sufficient. At least not to me, as a progressive.
Winning the election is only the opening shot. Winning the debate about where we are going as a country is the rest of the battle. As a progressive, that work does not end with the swearing in of a Democratic president and Congress. It, finally, starts.
When I tried to imagine at what point that work will be done, it came down to two words; two words that stuck in my throat years ago when, as a gay high school student absorbing the Supreme Court’s Bowers v. Hardwick decision, I refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance, because I couldn’t bring myself to say those words. They felt like a lie.
I spent the rest of the afternoon being reminded that being a progressive is — at its core — about making those words true, as I walked around with a microphone and camera man, interviewing conference attendees about what issue are important to them as progressives in this election cycle. Many answers were personal, as parents and grandparents talked about the kind of world they want their children and grandchildren to inherit. But there was another aspect to their answers.
Whether the subject was health care as it was in the Health Care for All panel, the economy as it was in the panel on An Economy That Works for Working People, or ending the war in Iraq — and undercurrent in most discussions — the hopes of the people I talked to extended far beyond their own families or even their own communities. One by one, they reminded me of what being progressive has historically been about. If, as the late William Buckley put it, conservatism “stands athwart history yelling ‘stop’,” then progressives have always pushed passed them, taking the history and the rest of the country in a particular direction.
As I spoke with person after person who came to be a part of the movement to take back America, I remembered that every progressive movement — the abolitionist movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement — have stood for and fought to ensure that the promises of America are accessible to, and that this country lives up to the promises of its founding documents — to be all it promises to be on paper — “for all.” That work, after November and even on January 21, 2009, will still be incomplete.
It will remain incomplete until we, progressives, take those two words and turn them into tangible truth in people’s lives. We use them on our website, in issues areas titled “Health Care for All” and “An Economy for All.” Those two words, “for all,” that stuck in my throat in 1986 — in desert of the Reagan years — are sticking less now. And that’s because there’s hope now that was in short supply then. There’s hope that those words will finally be true.
There’s hope that, as Take Back American 2008 winds down, progressives will take b back America in order to — as Van Johnson said when he accepted the Paul Wellstone Award — take it forward; and take it forward for all of us.