Has the Progressive Movement Forgotten its Roots?
Tamara Joachim, a member of the 2007 Class of DMI Scholars, is blogging from the America's Future Now conference in Washington, D.C.
Progressives do a good job getting together the “Church of Change,” as Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins stated at the America’s Future Now conference, but part of me wonders if that is all the progressive movement will ever be known for. While I can attend fancy conferences at fancy hotels, convene with the same organizations to discuss the same things, it is not only frustrating, but it has me wondering if it is productive.
The Great Debate portion of the conference showcased a disengaged conversation about things everyday Americans are not even talking about. While known for amazing work on the community and national level, Deepak Bhargava from the Center for Community Change and Darcey Burner of the Progressive Congress Action Fund argued that either progressives weren’t doing enough to hold the Obama administration accountable for campaign promises, or that progressives are not taking enough credit for success stories. The arguments made were obvious and redundant: yes, progressives aren’t doing enough to hold the administration accountable on the issues we prioritize, and yes, progressives don’t take enough credit for their victories. I think sometimes we’re so focused on the process that we forget about the real, tangible ways progressives are addressing a variety of issues on the community and state levels.
When are we going to remember the “movement” aspect of our work? The momentum for the work national organizations at this conference are doing comes from the demands and activism at the grassroots level. I work with the Food Bank for New York City, and I have learned that I do not need to be in Congress talking to Schumer about food insecurity, hunger, and poverty: I can be at PS 20 in the East Village talking to parents about making healthy food choices by bringing to them the Food Bank’s suite of nutrition education programs.
We should be able to use these spaces to really share new, fresh, innovative ideas, and especially to bridge gaps in communications between groups that do similar work, but operate in different populations. There is no reason why the National Council of La Raza doesn’t know that the New York State Youth Leadership Council just went on a weeklong hunger strike outside of the office of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in support of the DREAM Act. For me, progressive activism starts locally and is productive. It’s time nationally focused groups recognize their roots.