Progressives Need to Start Playing Offense

Progressive projects and social movements today are active in working towards building a more pluralistic future.  It’s never been a better time to be an activist because there are just so many things that we can improve in the world, some more critical than others.  Collective efforts of activists across the U.S. are making great strides in many directions, and yet at the same time, their work is regulated to trying to humanize the perpetual inequities that our present arrangements create.  Maybe it’s time we stopped playing defense with our policy. Together we could build a Progressive offensive offering creative and imaginative policy solutions that address core systemic issues of distribution of access and agency within our society.  A shared vision of a greater good is the first brick in the foundation of a unified population that can democratically choose a future beyond serfdom.


Defense Doesn’t Win Games

Much of the policy activism people are working towards today is about decreasing the inequalities generated in a market economy.  These programs take the form of some distribution of wealth financed via tax and transfer. The underlying idea makes sense because we understand that the growing wealth inequality is the primary driver for a significant number of problems facing America.   

Protecting social entitlements is a necessary action presently, but because of the corporate interests in our legislature, we’re always fighting back an encroaching tide of wealth transfer that hurts the majority of Americans.  Everytime we score a victory we find ourselves defending another offense. We keep moving forward, but it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.

If we’re going to have any hope of creating genuine change, then we’ve got to start thinking differently about our focus.  We need to confront the truth that all of our activism assumes that the present order is static. That there are set rules of engagement and establish frameworks for ideas of the possible dictated by what has been instead of what will be.  Even the most “radical” among us advocate for a substitution of structure pulled from history; Capitalism for Socialism, or something of that sort. We focus on creating access to equality and security but lack a real vision of increasing agency within our lives.  

We suffer from a failure of imagination, an ailment that is preventing us from creating a proactive approach to fixing problems of the present.   The Progressive vision of the future will never gain majority support without a break from the past.


Understanding our Offensive Strategy

Protecting access to entitlement programs will not matter if we do not codify the right to change the structure of our established institutions.  The most glaring flaw in our arrangements is that they are resistant to change in a time when change is occurring exponentially. Driven by the growth of information technology[1] change across emerging economic sectors is happening more rapidly than ever before[2].  Embracing and accelerating our ability to adapt to change is a necessary and unavoidable reality we must confront. So how do we incorporate change into our institutions with our activism efforts? The imagination of alternatives and their translation into policy is a great place to start.

Each of us can begin with an of an area of improvement that strikes our passion.  I’ll propose the deepening of democracy here in the United States as it is foundational to all progressive movements. Right now democratic participation in the United States ranks poorly compared to other western democracies[3], highlighting an opportunity for improvement.  At the same time, we observe changes[4] being implemented in states such as New York and New Jersey to move towards a more accessible democracy which provides us momentum that we will build upon.

Image Credit: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Justice Agenda

Voting rights is an ideal example for our argument as these initiatives illustrate the concept of playing defense instead of offense.  These practices exist in numerous other western democracies, and the implementation here in the U.S. is essentially bringing our institutions up to speed with the rest the democratic world.  They are a step in the right direction but do nothing too innovative within our arrangements. We increase access to the ability to vote but do nothing to address the lack of agency embedded in the process.  It’s a missed opportunity to create real change that pushes the boundaries of how we operate within society.

A Progressive offense focused on voting rights would seek to push the boundaries of how and why people participate in elections.  It would require by law that candidate information for all contests, School Board to President, be accessible online easily and conveniently.  Thinking pluralistically, we would want to make sure that information the candidates provide is available in a variety of mediums so that every person has an opportunity to learn in a format that best resonates with them. Mandated civics education seminars for high school seniors and university students would be implemented to introduce our youth to the process and show them where and how to gather and evaluate information about candidates.  If we created a publically funded and owned centralized candidate information platform we could ensure that the experience of obtaining this information was as easy and convenient as possible, creating a customized user experience to for all individuals. All of these concepts do more than open up access to voting. They open up access to a personal agency within the process. By ensuring the information and communication about candidate options is directly available to the public at all levels, we build the framework for an informed electorate who understands the power within each person.

These examples demonstrate the concept of a Progressive offense, going above and beyond existing methodologies and infusing imagination and creativity into the process. Progressives should work towards becoming the movement that gives every person more stake in the shaping of the world and ourselves.  It is a task that allows for transcendence over the limitations the past projects on the present.    It’s an offensive strategy that opens us up to supporters who will realize that there can be a better way then belittlement through the present arrangements.  A Progressive offense is an embracing of our potential for change in the present unbeholden to the institutions of the past.



[2] Human evolution is still happening – possibly faster than ever by Laurence D. Hurst

[3] [5] U.S. trails most developed countries in voter turnout by Drew DeSilver Pew Research Center

[4]  The Law That Just Passed In New York Is A Huge Win For Voting Rights by Ari Burman Mother Jones

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