The Official Website Of Urvashi Vaid

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Ten Lessons From LGBT Activism

Unitarian Universalist Assn UN Summit 2009

Unitarian Universalist Assn Intergenerational Seminar 2009

“The key dilemmas of our times involve moral choices.  What do we value?  What do we not value? What threats do we prioritize…When do we turn to tradition and when do we turn away?  The morality we need at this crucial time is not the “faith of our fathers” nor the “traditional values” of our mothers.  It will not be found in the exclusionary forms of fundamentalist religions dividing the world today, even if it is disguised in the rhetoric of community and love.”

This presentation was made on April 17, 2009 at the Unitarian Universalist Intergenerational Seminar titled “All in the Name of Faith:  Rights, Religion and Responsibility” held at Hunter College in New York.   Copyright 2009 U. Vaid.

Good Morning.  I want to thank Marilyn Mehr and Bruce Knotts and the Unitarian Universalist Association for the opportunity to be here today to offer some reflections on activism from my experience as an activist over several decades.  I want to weave my reflections on tem steps or keys to effective activism with examples from my organizing life in the LGBT and other social movements.  My work has been in social justice movements at the grassroots level, particularly movements for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, gender and racial justice.  I’ve worked on campaigns for prisoners rights, choice, economic justice, anti-violence, same-sex marriage, women’s liberation, affirmative action, AIDS action and more.  In the course of this work, I have been lucky enough to see enormous advances and equally devastating setbacks.

From all of these experiences, I have learned that social change is never linear nor inevitable but it is always faith based.

The idea that activism – or as my generation used to call it, our politics — is an act of faith is both dangerous and fitting to contemplate. It is dangerous because political practice and religious – or faith based- practice, are not the same.  To conflate them leads to theocracy.  Dr. King argued that the church was the conscience of the state, not the monarch itself.  This message bears repeating today as the idea of secularism and secular states are challenged around the world by those seeking to impose their particular version of a state sponsored religion on all others.

Yet despite this caveat, my experience with politics is very much to see it as an act of faith.  The very act of being an advocate for justice is an act fueled by a belief in political and social change, a belief in the idea that we can make a better world.  YOU GOTTA BELIEVE! The philosopher William James wrote that.  “Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible: and as the test of belief is the willingness to act, one may say that faith is the readiness to act in a cause the prosperous issue of which is not certified in advance.”  That belief in the possibility of change, and that our willingness to act – is the first lesson in activism of any kind.

You have to be able to imagine the impossible to be able to believe in change.

I wonder about the kind of imagination it took my predecessors, lesbian and gay men like Harry Hay, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon – gay activists in the 1950’s who founded the modern LGBT movement in the US.   They lived in a time not too long ago when being gay was totally stigmatized.  It was a time when lesbians and gay men were clinically diagnosed as mentally ill, denigrated as morally depraved, legally banned as criminals and socially shunned as perverts.  What other than sheer faith in the human capacity to grow and change could have emboldened these pioneers to found gay  organizations in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when  the only publicly supported spaces for gay people were prisons and mental institutions?   In this hostile context, groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis  published journals, organized self-help, support groups, presented public education seminars, even held public protests, like a picket in front of the White House in 1964.

These leaders of the early LGBT movement also embodied the second lesson in activism – the lesson that knowledge is power.  People who are outside of the power structure or disempowered or marginalized in some way must organize first to build their own self awareness and change the awareness of others. The early LGBT movement activists put their time and energy into this kind of knowledge building.  They worked tirelessly to create support groups and hotlines to combat the negative messages we had grown up hearing. They organized to challenge and correct misinformation and distortions about LGBT people with more balanced and factual data.  Through information tables at professional conferences; they networked with scholars working to prepare and produce factual and unbiased research; they brought law suits arguing that fairness, the bill of rights and equal protection under the law applied to all citizens, not just heterosexuals.  As a result, the early gay rights movement won its first huge victory – a vote by the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.

This was a win with great legislative consequence, because the laws of the time codified this defamatory characterization of gay people in all sorts of statutes.  And it was a huge cultural victory as well – because it enabled gay people to begin the long hard task of confronting the internalized shame and self-hatred so many gay people at the time grew up with.

But the early gay liberationists also knew that knowledge would not be transformative if it was limited to self-awareness.  They believed in public education knowledge also must be widely shared, and the gay liberation movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s prioritized a simple form of knowledge building about LGBT people borrowed from the women’s movement.  The women’s movement slogan of the personal is political was transformed into Come Out Come Out wherever you are.   The coming out strategy – a process of self-determination, of going public with something you were told should be kept shameful and private, was a huge and brilliant tactic.  As people came out to their sexual orientation and more recently their gender identities to their loved ones, families, workplaces and churches – these family members realized we were not aliens, not at all the OTHER, but simply their sibling, their child, their friend.  We began to be seen as simply part of the diversity that constitutes HUMAN being. People are still coming out every day – and still facing some of the stigma and shame faced by activists in earlier decades.  Yet, millions of us who are out can also lay claim to the changes in attitudes and public opinion that have been steadily documented.

LGBT politics bears witness to many moments in which acts of faith were committed.  Another early act of faith in the history of the LGBT movement was the formation of national LGBT organizations like Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, both of which were formed in 1973. Could any of Lambda Legal’s founders have envisioned then that 36 years later Lambda would win the freedom to marry for gay men and lesbians in Iowa!  Did the founders of the Task Force imagine that in 1989, it would win the only federal bill to include sexual orientation in its words to be passed by Congress and signed into law by a President – the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act.   I think not.   They learned the third critical lesson from activismyou have to get organized if you want to win change.

We got organized as lawyers, as grassroots organizers, in our workplaces, and unions, in our churches, in the media, in universities and schools and in political campaigns.  We formed all sorts of local, state and national organizations. We began to reach out to allies and ask for help.  LGBT activism became broad – and deep.  Gay people organized wherever they found resistance and as a result there are gay sports leagues, and gay choruses; gay synagogues and gay and lesbian seminarians, gay media and gay rodeos.  It’s hard to remember that just three  short  decades ago, the community behind these many many entities had practically no political presence in state capitols across the country, and very few political friends.

As a result of the massive amount of organizing that the LGBT movement has done in the past 40 years since the Stonewall Rebellion, we live in a moment where this is not true. The GLB Vote was large in the national 2008 elections – 4% of the national electorate.   Out of 122,698,661 million voters in the national election, exit polls estimated that 4,907,946 were GLB.

Progressive people and young people especially learned the power of getting organized this past November.  Winning the election actually made a HUGE difference, didn’t it!  Not just the national level, but also the state. State houses in Iowa, MI, NY, OR, CO, MA, MD turned more progressive because of effective local and state organizing by progressives – all of this change is critical to advancement of gay rights, reproductive choice, criminal justice reform, education, environmental policy and so much more.

Of course the past several years have also taught the gay community and other social justice movements that there is nothing unidirectional about social change.  It goes forward and backward, and while we sometimes have the power to win something, we also have shown we lack the power to preserve it.  So we won equal marriage rights in California by legislation, only to see the Governor veto it.  We won it through the courts, only to see the voters overturn it last November.  And while we won marriage equality in 4 states so far, and may yet win it in NJ and NY, among 7 or 8 others, we have already seen 29 states enact anti-marriage amendments to their constitutions, which will take years to overturn through the ballot box.

And that bring me to the fourth lesson that activists working for social justice and LGBT rights need to remember: working for social justice is a marathon not a sprint. The long view is not something I held on to when I was 20 years old.  My motto was embodied in a great punk anthem I often played, by the band Richard Hell and the Voidoids – “What I want, I want now, and that’s a whole lot more than anyhow”.  Yet I have realized there is no contradiction between pursuing that urgent desire, that wanting it all NOW, and committing to disciplined organizing.  How do you win ballot initiatives?  Through door knocking to identify voters positions, through tireless efforts to talk to people at every community gathering place, through grassroots get out the vote drives, through field and district leaders who encourage their friends and neighbors to vote, and through effective and focused messages that are repeated by every level of a campaign.   There is no short-cut to that kind of process.  Indeed the process of organizing is as important as the outcome of a win because it builds leadership and a lasting organizational infrastructure that can be mobilized and called on again.

One of the reasons we lost the marriage vote in California was that there was not enough of this kind of grassroots organizing done in parts of the state that did not have large LGBT communities and populations.  We did not effectively reach out to our allies inside progressive faith communities, or even within our own extended families.  But we will change that, because this is a marathon and not a short race.

A fifth important lesson in being an activist is to know your ENEMIES.   This is a deceptive axiom – the truth is that you have to be prepared as an activist to have all your assumptions about the enemy blown away by experience.   I’ll give you a story.

I spoke at a University near Richmond Virginia almost ten years ago and the next day, I had an early morning flight. It was still dark outside at 4:30 AM and a taxi picked me up at the hotel to drive me the 30 minutes to the airport.  My driver was my stereotype of a southern homophobe, and he eyed me warily from the rear view mirror.  He asked me whether this was my first trip to Richmond, and I said no indeed it was not.  What had I been doing here?  I said, I gave a talk. You spoke at the University?  Yes I did. About what?  Deep breath – Well, I spoke about the lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender rights movement, I said, because I am a gay activist.  He squinted at me and said – you a lesbian?  I said oh boy, here it comes, and said yes I am.  And without missing a beat, he started to tell me about a lesbian mother custody case in Virginia – he said, “we got a case here, where this lesbian is being sued by her own mother for custody of her children because her own mother says she is not a suitable parent.  Hell, she raised a lesbian what makes her think she’s such a good parent!”  And he cracked up and so did I.  And he proceeded to tell me how appalling he found that case because if his own kids were to tell him they were gay, and he had four of them, mind you, he would never disown any of them.  Lesson learned about my own wrong-headed assumptions.  That taxi driver was not my enemy.  The ordinary people who we encounter all over the world are extraordinarily sensible and fair, especially if they can put themselves in our shoes.

But while ordinary people who may disagree or even organize against us are not the enemy of social justice advocates, there are values which are antithetical to social and economic justice, specifically the values of the anti-democratic, authoritarian, theocratic right  wing.  The authoritarian Right wing is not Dead and it is still dangerous.  Karl Rove is still actively organizing in politics; Tom Delay is not in jail; Boehner in Congress, Cheney is richer than ever, and none of these extremists has waved a white flag of surrender.  Yet, LGBT people are among a minority for whom the cultural and political defeat of the Right wing globally remains a top priority.

Progressive people often act like an occasional win against the right is the same as genuine progress.   After each electoral moment they declare the death of the right – I heard it in the 1970’s  when Anita Bryant was defeated, and we got Reagan in 1980. I remember it being said in 1988 when Pat Robertson lost and he came back stronger than ever through the Christian Coalition; it was said in 1992, (and we had Gingrich in 1994),  and it was said again in 2008 by BISC (Ballot Initiative Strategy Center) because  “only six of the 26 right- wing or conservative backed initiatives were approved by voters – a passage rate of 23%.”  But of course three of those were anti-gay initiatives  (California, Arkansas, and Arizona).

Sometimes liberals and conservatives do not “see” the right as their enemy because they agree with it on some things – especially in matters of gender and sexuality.

But progressive LGBT people understand our enemies:  they are authoritarian, anti-democratic, violent, hypocritical and opportunistic. They have no qualms about lying about us and do so every day.  They sell fear and thrive on social divisions.  And they are a movement – a complex, multi-faceted, strategically and tactically brilliant coalition of dangerous forces as Jean Hardisty has analyzed.  Today, the anti-gay right is opening new fronts and campaigns against us – the anti-gay Catholic right is resurgent all over the country, not just in the Mormon-Catholic alliance but in many ways;  we’ve seen the internationalization of the anti-gay religious right since the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 and more recently evident in  the splits in the Episcopal church globally and the rise of anti-gay ministries in Nigeria);  and we have seen the right carefully invest in strengthening fundamentalist strands of many religious traditions (through think tanks like Institute for Religion and Democracy).

There is a new wave of anti-gay amendments aimed our way –  focused on transgender issues —its local equal rights ordinance. Kalamazoo MI, and Gainesville FLA are currently facing the hysterical use of anti-transgender messages — phone banking and flyers about “ men in your daughters bathroom” are being tried and are working.

Issues that are hard, like transgender inclusion, which challenges some of the most fundamental assumptions we have about gender as an either/or, or same-sex marriage, which asks us to extend family protections to families based on commitment and shared challenge us by posing the moral basis of human rights.  This leads us to the 6th lesson in effective activism – rights have a moral basis. And battles for justice are often fought on the moral plain and not just the legal and political realm.  Rights to basic human needs like food, shelter, security, family should not be denied to some human beings and granted to others because all people are morally equal.

The key dilemmas of our times involve moral choices.  What do we value?  What do we not value? What threats do we prioritize and what ones ignore?   When do we turn to tradition and when should we turn away?  The morality we need at this crucial time is not the “faith of our fathers” nor the “traditional values” of our mothers.  It will not be found in the exclusionary forms of fundamentalist religions dividing the world today, even if it is disguised in the rhetoric of community and love. The moral values we need today can be found emerging from people who are creating movements for social justice around the world – accountability, pluralism, democratic participation, human rights, rule of law, caring, and environmental sustainability.   These movements put their faith in imagination, not tradition.  Their leaders are the visionaries who are creating solutions to all sorts of threats and risks.

Social justice movements remind us that our care and stewardship of the environment must shift toward sustainability away from mere profit.  And they challenge us to affirm the moral worth and basic goodness of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

This is a lesson that the LGBT movement has struggled to learn.  The evidence of our history is clear that our struggle for full human rights is moral and not just legal.  LGBT people will continue to lose at the polls if we fail to contest the denigration of our lives by religious leaders and by those who believe they are interpreting the great moral codes.  California, Arizona and Arkansas revealed that the movement for civil and political equality  for LGBT people has run into the buzz-saw of moral condemnation – the famous “millennia of moral teachings” which the Bowers v. Hardwick court invoked in 1986 when it upheld Georgia’s Sodomy law.  LGBT people have to engage with religion and engage the anti-gay arguments made against them on terms of moral equality and fundamental human rights, rather than avoiding these issues.

Why?  Because at the root of every anti-gay policy or position today is still an often unstated or hidden set of assumptions about gayness as immoral or shameful.  And that moral disapproval has stayed fairly constant over time, despite the gains made by LGBT people in securing majority support for equal rights.  The moral condemnation of homosexuality can be best tracked over time in answers to  a question that has been asked in the General Social Survey each year since 1972 – “What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex — do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?”  In 2006 56% said it was always wrong.  Majorities continue to say that same sex sexuality is always wrong.  (See, “Changes in Family Structure etc.” Tom Smith, NORC, 2007, Updated 2008).[1]

Anti-gay moral condemnation arises primarily from religious interpretations that characterize our desire as a violation of the divine code – usually as written or interpreted in various texts.  The moral condemnation of homosexuality transcends particular religions, countries, ideologies, skin color and even deep seated nationalist or fundamentalist hatreds.  For example, when the little gay community center in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Open House) sought to produce the World LGBT Pride celebration in 2006, ALL religions traditions in Jerusalem came together despite centuries of hatred to condemn them – somewhere I saved the photo of all these religions leaders united in their hatred of the lovely gay community in Jerusalem.  The Pride celebration happened in 2007, and it was indeed marred by violence, when an orthodox individual stabbed several marchers.  But Jerusalem Open House perseveres, and is now expanding to include an overt focus on religious organizing.

This hostility towards LGBT people has a direct and immediate result—those who attend hostile and anti-gay houses of worship are themselves less supportive of LGBT human rights than those who attend houses of worship that are more supportive and welcoming.  (See MAP Report on Anti-Gay Religion, 2006, citing Pew and other data).   Yet in the face of this hostility there is a vibrant and growing minority movement that is striving to become the majoritarian voice in denominations like the Episcopal and Methodist churches.  The UCC, the Unitarians, the MCC church, some Quakers, Reform Judaism and now a growing number of conservative Jewish institutions are among those leading this movement.  The argument is being carried inside the conventions and regulatory bodies of many religious denominations, congregations across the country are striving to be more welcoming of their LGBT members, coalitions of clergy and  faith leaders are pending their voices to anti-violence measures and nondiscrimination laws, and seminaries and houses of religious training and religious scholars are enlivening our understanding of religious traditions by countering the fundamentalist   interpretations with grounded and sound theological frameworks. This vital and growing pro-LGBT faith movement in this country needs much more energy, visibility, support and resourcing.

Another dimension of the moral condemnation we face can be found in the characterization of the acceptance of gay people as somehow being bad for children.  This was a huge part of the right’s Yes on 8 campaign in California.  And this was clearly the message of the Arkansas measure.  This is an old trope – from Anita Bryant in 1977 to today, the danger to children argument is designed to scare and silence.  It comes from fear and it preys upon fear.  The homophobic use of children can only be countered by the realities of millions of gay parents and from the strong public support of non-gay family members and friends of gay parents  who  see us raising our children and see that we are just like their straight counterparts – some better at it than others, all trying very hard, and all needing supports like medical care, child health care, day care, good and safe schools, among others.

The seventh lesson from LGBT activism is that social justice in the US cannot be achieved until we challenge racism. America’s history of slavery created structures and residues that continue to affect us to this day.  Today’s racism pretends to be color blind, it has colored tokens like Condi and Ward Connerly as its spokes-models, it is embodied in Rush Limbaugh claiming he cares about the Navy seals shooting the three Somali pirates, while saying, why are we going after three boys; it is embodied in the NY Post cartoon which showed police shooting a chimpanzee and saying who’ll write the stimulus bill now – perpetuating the racist trope associating apes and African Americans.  Today’s racism blames the immigrant for taking jobs and argues for a closing of the borders for some, while offering an open door to anyone with money.

For LGBT people, the lesson of the importance of racism was driven home again in the aftermath of the 2008 elections. The loss of Prop 8 was characterized by some as a sign of “black homophobia”.  But, it would have been just as accurate to say it was a consequence of “white homophobia” — after all 63% of the electorate in CA was white and 49% voted against LGBT rights;  64% of white Catholic voters voted overwhelmingly against the measure – as did 65% of white Protestants.

Out of our experience in California we should have learned again that LGBT people cannot avoid engaging with communities of color or issues of racial justice as a movement. LGBT leaders and institutions that build meaningful relationships with allies in communities of color will be able to win at the ballot box and in the streets. While the religious right has invested nearly 15 years of effort to build relationships with black and brown clergy and communities the LGBT movement has done very little such relationship building until very recently. While the right marshals eloquent anti-gay advocates of color to speak against us, our own community lacks strong and out and powerful Black and brown leaders to speak for us.

The lack of power, voice and visibility of LGBT people of color within both communities of color and within the LGBT movement has not been addressed by our movement. While 25% of the GLBT population is POC, less than 10% of foundation funding for LGBT issues goes to organizations and projects serving LGBT POC.  Fewer than ½ of all autonomous POC organizations received foundation funding in 2007 and 75% had budgets under $100,000.  (Source, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, January 2008 report).

The history of American racial prejudice is littered with examples of how government regulations engineered the families of immigrants, African Americans and other low-income people.  From calls for sterilization because too many babies being born to poor people, to Moynihan’s 1964 report on how to address decline in the black family, to the welfare policies of the 1990’s welfare reform that punish certain kinds of family and reward others – all have been measures tried by the US government to regulate low income families in general, and in particular families of color.  These efforts to constrain and contain family forms in communities of color through government policy are linked of to the efforts to  ban our access to the institutions of family formation and protection.    Not only are they linked by the same forces being behind them – namely the right wing, but they are linked in policy terms:  when government can mandate one form of family as its sole desirable form, we all suffer.

I think the experience of LGBT people with our families leads me to the eighth lesson from our activism: social justice advocates should have a big and bold vision. Politics at its most inspired is about organizing with a vision. Vision is present every time an activist imagines some goal, institution, or idea that goes against the dominant grain.   Both vision and faith are qualities that advocates for social justice and LGBT activists need urgently needs today.  To claim that we want equality and that we are mainstream is not to articulate a vision, it is to state an extremely obvious fact.  To seek to move the moveable middle is not a vision, it is an electoral strategy to get to 51%.   Vision is found in the work that activists have done to change school systems.  it is found in the possibility of redefining family, and extending it to a plurality of family forms. Vision is found in the creative advocacy to educate and counter homophobia that you in religious denominations are forging.  It is found in the thriving cultural work of GLBT artists and poets and writers.

Our families are nontraditional – like many straight families.  Some are single parent headed or grant parent led. Still others are extended family systems with cousins and relatives all sharing and living together in broader ways that constitute a different form of family than the hetero-nuclear couple form.  The legal challenges that arise out of these nontraditional living arrangements do impact GLBT people, just as how we frame our rights and efforts could impact these nontraditional families as well.  This is a key point of Nancy Polikoff’s new book, Beyond Gay and Straight  Marriage:  Valuing All Families.  As John D’Emilio notes in describing her book, “Polikoff reframes the debate by arguing that all family relationships and households need the economic stability and emotional peace of mind that now extend only to married couples.  Unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and myriad other familial configurations need recognition and protection to meet the concerns they all share:  building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence, and nurturing the next generation.”http://powells.com/biblio/97780807044322?&PID=32490.

Vision requires a clear-headed assessment of the political landscape in which we find ourselves.  Several years ago, LGBT grassroots activists argued that the legitimacy and power of the federal state has eroded.  They noted that local governments (city, county, and state) are the sites of great opportunity and new power.  In addition, the arenas of engagement in our ongoing battle against homophobia are not limited to legislatures or courts.  The media, the church, the synagogue, the school the family, the neighborhood, the workplace are all places in which great activity is taking place.  The old paradigm of politics as primarily focused on law making and rule shifting at the federal level, needs to change to accommodate the new paradigm of politics as rule and culture shifting taking place at the state and local level.  This is why the LGBT movement has focused today at the state and local level and more effective there than at the national – because it has the vision to see that all politics is local.

Another critical element needed for effective activism is that you have to have Courage – this is the ninth lesson. Faith is often described as the opposite of fear.  In a classic sermon at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church entitled “Antidotes to Fear”, Dr. King wrote about the relationship of faith to fear: “…fear is mastered through faith.  A common source of fear is awareness of deficient resources and of a consequent inadequacy for life.  All too many people attempt to face the tensions of life with inadequate spiritual resources.” He went on to credit the importance of psychiatry in dealing with fears arising from our self-esteem but argued that faith – in this instance, he was speaking of religious faith or a faith in god – was itself essential to overcoming fear, to finding courage and finding the motivation to carry on a sustained political struggle.

Finding courage to carry on is especially hard after failing.  And that is one of the most important things to remember for activists young and old – we are all going to fail at some time and we have to find a way to continue. It is possible to find courageous stories of amazing activism and resistance all around us.  I saw it in the 1980’s during the struggle to get the government to respond to HIV/AIDS. I saw amazing acts of daily heroism in the care that volunteers provided to complete strangers living with HIV long before we knew that there was any chance of treatments.

I recently met a gay leader from Nepal named Sunil Pant.  Sunil is a gay man whose quiet and effective leadership has brought him to the national assembly of Nepal as an elected official and brought that country to the opportunity of becoming the 6th nation to include homosexuality in its national constitution.  Nepal is about to do something that Ireland, South Africa, Spain and others have done, but that the United States remains far from doing. Sunil has guts. 

But you know, so does that straight young person who organizes a Day of Silence against homophobia at her school.  Courage is in the heart of the pastor who stands up and condemns anti-gay violence in a fundamentalist Church.  It can be found in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s steady and growing support of LGBT equality over the years.

AND THAT brings me to the tenth lesson in doing effective activism – engage in intersectional practice. Progressive politics is for many of us a politics of intersection that seeks structural change. It is a politics that believes that institutional racism and sexism are connected to institutional homophobia and to structural economic inequality. And it is optimistic in believing that through democratic participation and debate, institutions which reproduce inequality can be transformed.

Progressives are people who believe, as Amartya Sen argued  that freedom enables development and that freedom must be defined as the ability not just to participate politically, but to be able to participate economically.  The unfettered market produces violence and inequality that in turn produces tremendous pain for large numbers of people.  Progressives believe that prosperity in a society should be shared through mechanisms like free education for all, universal health care, compassionate and focused strategies to assist working people to raise up their standard of living.  We believe that hunger and homelessness do not need to exist in a world in which technological advances can allow us to feed and shelter all the people. We believe that an environment ought not to be abused in the interests of short-term bottom lines – and that a focus on sustainable development is both possible and profitable in the long run.

Progressives believe in pluralism — the notion that there are many voices and views in civil society and that these can coexist and flourish, the hallmark of democratic government is that it allows dissent to flourish with the least of regulation.  Progressives are people who believe in justice for all under one standard of law. We believe that human rights are vital, essential and that they include racial justice, women’s reproductive freedom, sexual freedom, along with the basic rights to food, clothing, shelter and other aspects of life articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The left lost the battle of ideas to the right for many years because it has failed to marry its redistributive agendas to a cultural agenda that resonated with people’s desires and needs.  It failed to knit existing progressive infrastructure together more effectively – until last year’s campaign!  It rejected and disdained identity based movements – where the energy has been for the last 30 years – and only recently has been able to harness that power.  And it did not pursue political power in a focused and strategic manner at the state and local level.  This is changing and we are living through an extremely exciting time where a new synthesis is possible.

For young people who are progressives, for faith based activists, for LGBT people, this era represents a fantastic is an opportunity for linkage and for leadership.

You have experience, you  have ideas and you have energy.

You just have to get off the side lines and take the lead.


[1] From Tom Smith: “ Approval of homosexual activity has never been high. In the mid- 1970s 69-70% said it was always wrong and this moved upwards to 76-77% during the mid-1980s to early 1990s (Table 22). Then after 1991 disapproval began falling. By 2006 only 56% considered homosexuality was always wrong. Likewise, objection to gay marriage fell from 73% in 1988 to 51% in 2006 (with 35% accepting it and 14% neither approving nor disapproving)(Table 24). Also, discrimination against homosexuals has declined. In the 1970s 53% opposed a homosexual teaching at a college, but opposition fell to 20% in the 2000s. Likewise, opposition to having a book favoring homosexuality in a public library decreased from 43% in the 1970s to 25% in the 2000s.  But while opposition to homosexuality has appreciably decreased in recent decades, it is one of the issues on which Americans are sharply divided. Nearly unique among family values, views on homosexuality are highly polarized. In 2006 while 56% said it was “always wrong” another 32% said it was “not wrong at all” and only 12% were in the two middle categories (“almost always wrong” and “wrong only sometimes”).”, p. 10

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