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What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto

By John Halpin, Guest Contributor and Ruy Teixeira, Guest Contributor on March 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

"What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto"

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People often ask what, exactly, do progressives believe?  Over the past few years, we’ve worked with a great group called the American Values Project, representing a cross section of leaders from think tanks, philanthropic organizations, and environmental, labor, youth, civil rights, and other progressive groups, to try to distill progressive beliefs and values into clear language in one digestible resource.

The result of this collective effort is called Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions.  The document is free and we encourage you to read, review, critique, and pass it around to others.  As the handbook states, the central progressive message is one of fairness and equality:

Our approach is simple to summarize and is built upon the ideas of generations of progressives from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama:  everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. As progressives, we believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent, fulfilling, and economically secure life.  We believe that everyone should do his or her fair share to build this life through education and hard work and through active participation in public life.   And we believe that everyone should play by the same set of rules with no special privileges for the well-connected or wealthy.

The book is divided into sections outlining the overall progressive story, foundational beliefs about government, the economy, and national security, and the application of this framework to contemporary issues.  It also includes a number of useful speeches and essays that show progressive values and beliefs in action throughout our nation’s history.

In terms of values, Progressive Thinking breaks down the four pillars of progressive thought as follows:

1. Freedom.  In terms of our political foundations, the most basic progressive value is freedom. This also happens to be one of the most contested values in American life.  Progressives have a two-part definition of freedom:  “freedom from” and “freedom to”.  First, we believe that all people should have freedom from undue interference by governments and others in carrying out their private affairs and personal beliefs.  This includes our rights to freedom of speech, association, and religion as well as the freedom to control our own bodies and personal lives.  Second, we believe that all people should have the freedom to lead a fulfilling and secure life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity.  This includes physical protections against bodily harm as well as adequate income, economic protections, health care and education, and other social provisions…

2.  Opportunity.  Complementing our commitment to human freedom is our belief in opportunity.  Like freedom, the concept of opportunity has two components:  one focuses on political equality and the other on economic and social arrangements that enhance our lives.  The first component of opportunity prohibits discrimination against anyone based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability.  It also means embracing the diversity of American society by ensuring that all people have the chance to turn their talents and ambitions into a meaningful life, not just the rich and powerful or dominant racial and ethnic groups.  The second component of opportunity involves the conditions necessary for people to be secure and to move up in life—health care, education, a decent job, labor rights, a secure retirement…

3.  Responsibility.  Along with freedom and opportunity comes responsibility — personal responsibility and the responsibility we have to each other and to the common good.   Personal responsibility requires each of us to do our part to improve our own lives through hard work, education, and by acting with honesty and integrity.  Responsibility to others and to the common good requires a commitment to putting the public interest above the interests of a few and an understanding that strong families and communities are the foundation of a good society.  It means working to achieve greater social justice and economic conditions that benefit civil society broadly.  It demands an open and honest government and an engaged and participatory citizenry…

This requires pubic investments in things like transportation and trade, innovation, a skilled workforce, courts to protect patent rights and contract agreements, public safety and other measures that support the creation of wealth and help to make individual prosperity possible.  It also requires progressive taxation, meaning those who have and earn more should pay more to help support the investments in things like schools, transportation, and economic competitiveness necessary to advance the interests of all.

A key component of responsibility involves ecological and social sustainability.  This requires on-going stewardship of our land, water, air and natural resources, smart use of energy, and the responsible consumption of goods…

4.  Cooperation.  Rounding out these political values which are primarily directed at the rights, opportunities, and duties of individuals is the basic progressive value of cooperation.   Cooperation is the foundation of our most important social institutions including our families, our communities, and our civic and faith groups.  Freedom without cooperation leads to a divided society that cannot work together to achieve common goals and improve the lives of all.  Cooperation as a value requires that we try to be open-minded and empathetic toward others and that we are accountable for their well-being as they are accountable to us.  Progressives believe that if we blindly pursue our own needs and ignore those of others, our society will degenerate.

Successful families and communities cannot exist without cooperation.  We also value human interdependence on a larger scale and accept the importance of looking beyond our own needs to help others and find global solutions to global problems.

As progressives gear up for inevitable fights over taxes, budgets, and social policy, we shouldn’t forget about the importance of values in explaining who we are and what we want to achieve. We believe in freedom with opportunity for all, responsibility to all, and cooperation among all. We believe that the purpose of government is to advance the common good, to secure and protect our rights, and to help to create a high quality of life and community well-being. We want decent paying jobs and benefits for workers and sustainable economic growth. We want growing businesses producing the world’s best products and services. We want an economy that works for everyone, not just the few. We want all nations to uphold universal human rights and to work together to solve common challenges. This is what a progressive America looks like.

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