If you listened closely over the last several months of 2012, the progressive voice of the American people began to get louder and louder. It has never really been silent; rather it has been drowned out over the last 30 years by a noise machine that has made us as a people forget our proud progressive past – that great period of American history that brought us a strong middle class, the Great Society, the environmental movement and proclaimed the idea that we work together as individuals to form a community-based society that believes: We are all better off, when we are all better off.
Our December Progressive Profile proudly salutes all of us who used our voices (and sometimes our feet) to reclaim the notion that we live in a country of, by and for the people – not the corporations, not the elite, not the 1 percent. The American people rose up in every corner of this country and on just about every topic that impacts our lives: voting rights, labor rights, peace and non-violence, and helped us refocus on the important question of what is it we really want from life. And ultimately, perhaps it is the environmental voices that speak the loudest: What does it profit anyone to have a ton of paper money when our very existence on this planet is threatened.
In a year-end salute to the wisdom voices of the American people, we have included the following as examples.
- Those staff members and volunteers at TakeActionMN who made more than 500,000 phone calls and reached over 100,000 individuals in the final weekend before the November 6th elections to help beat back a “voter ID” constitutional amendment that would have forever changed the way people vote in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. A Republican state legislator who serves as the state chairperson for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) brought forth the amendment, which was nothing more than a boilerplate for voter suppression. When first introduced, the amendment polled at nearly 80 percent in favor of passage. On November 6th, thanks to individuals and groups who relentlessly fought back, the measure failed — soundly. At a recent fund-raising event for TakeActionMN, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton told the crowd quite simply and quite powerfully, “You saved democracy (in Minnesota).”
- Mike Brickner, spokesperson for the ACLU of Ohio, who has spent years fighting back the insanity known as the Ohio voting system. He, and hundreds other like him, has worked tirelessly fending off the Ohio Republican Party’s attempts to suppress voters. “I’ve been a part of this in Ohio for the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections,” Brickner said before this year’s elections. “We call elections the ‘silly season.’ But when manipulation of the system is done to get a desired result, it’s ultimately the voter that suffers. Because it’s confusing by design, we’re doing all we can to get the truth out and to empower Ohioans to get to the polls and to get someone else to the polls. Because for everyone of us who can get to the polls, we know 1, 2 or 3 people who need assistance to get there.” Despite the numerous attempts by Republican Secretary of State John Husted, Ohioans by the thousands stood in long lines to cast their votes with resounding success.
- The thousands of courageous people in Florida who spoke with their feet as they stood in line for hours to vote and to say: You cannot take away my right to vote. I often wonder, would I have had the patience, courage and conviction of these people?
Tacoma, Washington, resident Rev. William Bichsel, S.J., now in his 80s, who has dedicated his life to the causes of peace and justice, even when taking that stand meant going to jail. He never stops speaking truth to power through non-violent demonstrations. He recently won the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize and is headed to Oslo Norway to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremonies later this month. As he wrote in a homily about ‘laying down one’s life for a friend’ while incarcerated in 2011 for his anti-nuclear protests:
“As I slowly shuffle around the common area, I thank God for being here and for the peace I experience. I am not anxious or overly concerned by anything…A very touching incident that highlights our treatment by the inmates happened on our second day here when there was a shake down. All the inmates had to file into the big, very cold exercise room while the guards went through our cells looking for contraband. While I was standing there shivering one of the Mexican inmates came up and put his jacket around my shoulders. I was touched by his compassion… I’m blessed by the peace and quiet spirit inside. I’m not concerned about trying to be more than I am with the other inmates. I’m trying to let them see – and not hide or disguise – my lack of knowledge of so many things. I want to be as I have been formed by time and the community of people about me at different stages and positions in my life. Like I said: I’m lucky to be here.”
- Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis who led an incredible show of unity on the labor front as Chicago teachers said, “no more” to charter schools and overcrowded and underfunded classrooms and pushed for neighborhood schools that would give students and parents the schools they need and deserve. Their strike brought into focus the need to re-commit to public education as a core value of our country. “The only way to beat a bully,” Lewis said at a rally down the block from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office days before the strike was called, “is to stand up to a bully!”
- The incredible courage exhibited by Walmart workers who, with their Black Friday strike, took the first step in beating back the retail bully on the block. Every social movement begins with a first step. “I’m just tired of it,” says Michael Wilkins, a Walmart worker. “I don’t have a regular schedule. They send me home. And I have bills to pay and a family to feed.” The labor fight has begun and life at Walmart will never be the same.
- Bill McKibbon and the hundreds of protesters outside the White House in April who fought back and gained a temporary victory over the Keystone Pipeline. The hope remains that the energy created then will carry over to 2013 as the discussion of the pipeline returns. As McKibbon reminded us: “The point is Election Day is no more important a political day than any other day on the calendar. It’s important, but so is every other day when you’ve got to get up and push whoever it is as hard as you can.”
- Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, who works with communities fighting back against every form of corporate takeover of local natural resources. “What gives us hope is that people are finally pulling their heads out of the regulatory quagmire. They have given up begging and pleading for regulatory agencies to do the right thing. They’ve given up asking corporations to do no harm. They’ve given up asking their elected officials to do something at the state and federal level and instead, they are beginning to take the law into their own hands.”
- And even in a sports culture dominated by money, greed, and a win-at-all-costs atmosphere, came the voice of one college player channeling the spirit of the indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Islands. The No.1-ranked University of Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o explained why he came back for his senior year saying, when he died, he couldn’t take with him a Rolex watch, a big house or a car, but he could take with him memories of his friends and teammates. He said, “money is only paper.” Wisdom beyond his years.
Progressive voices became stronger, louder, and more unified in 2012; yet it is painfully obvious that they need to grow even more vocal in 2013. A working democracy requires active citizen participation– in our neighborhoods, our local communities, our state, our nation, and the world.
Use your voice (or your feet) in 2013 as if the life of the planet depended on it. And never forget the words of Robert F. Kennedy:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope… and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”