Stanford Progressive

Progressivism Today: Talk is Cheap

By Emma Ogiemwanye, published October, 2010

There are very few American leaders who acknowledge the fact that our country has serious structural issues.  Even smaller is the number of those leaders who have made actual progress towards eradicating the inequalities that are deeply embedded in our society.  There are two main reasons for this sad reality.

Evan Lowe, Progressive Mayor of San Francisco (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Evan Lowe, Progressive Mayor of San Francisco (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

First, change in this country has been stunted and stigmatized by a combination of conservative opposition and progressive hesitation.  Quite often, “progress” does not extend far beyond inspiring conversations and empty legislation.  It temporarily satiates those of us who really do want to see change and mollifies the many more who are not and will never be ready to move America onward and upward.  Too often, what starts off as a great idea or initiative is whittled down to a skeletal representation of what could have been a full-bodied movement towards a better America.

Second, many of those who possess the power to improve this country have no desire to.  They benefit from the vast gap between the rich and the poor and therefore have no incentives to alter the fact that 10% of the American population owns 90% of the country’s wealth.

Public and private sector leaders who claim to be progressive do not match that label with their actions, which makes me wonder how long this period of accepting unsubstantiated rhetoric as progressive action will last.  When will progressive actions themselves become the stepping-stones of progress?  When will politicians who are forward thinking and/or more representative of a beautiful and diverse American population – including people of color, the youth, LGBTQ individuals, religious communities besides Christians, and the economically disadvantaged – become the norm? America is so much more than the Caucasian, male, Christian, and upper-middle class character of most of our elected officials would suggest.

Politicians like the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, and the mayor of Campbell, CA, Evan Low, are examples of what America needs in office to move forward.  They possess progressive values and are unafraid to speak about them.  More importantly, they have the audacity to act upon their ideals.  However, these individuals are not receiving the support that they need to successfully bring about change.  Not only do they have to fight conservative opposition, which has a solid foundation and constituency of active voters, but they also have to deal with skepticism from their own party.

Low ran twice before winning the mayoral election.  Similarly, Newsom could not garner enough support and was forced to drop out of the California gubernatorial race.  These individuals who represent our interests and the best interest of America’s future should not have to curb their desire to do great things out of fear of re-election or election at all.  Cue the predictable commercial for civic engagement and youth voting.

But ideal or not, voting is the best option we have to voice our opinions.  Precedent and power are the only reasons why there is an obvious archetype we all think of when we hear the word politician.  In order to have an America that better represents the interest of individuals outside that demographic, politicians have to be elected who look like us, share our ethnicities, experiences, and favorite TV shows.  How can someone who cannot relate to your life experience be able to make decisions that will cater to you best?

The obvious scapegoat for progressives is the conservative population of America.  “Conservatives stop us from growing.”  “Conservatives don’t want to improve America.” I for one don’t think the blame is totally on them.  I acknowledge that conservative ideals are the obvious opposition to progressive ones, but as I said before, I think progressives are to a certain extent afraid of “rocking the boat” too much.  I don’t think conservatives fear change or progressive ideals.  They dislike progressive ideas because the current state of the country is comfortable, and more importantly profitable, for them.  There is the argument that “die-hard capitalism” is what made us the most powerful country in the world? To what extent will our efforts at leveling the playing field compromise that position?

The main questions I ask myself are: when will America accept change, to what extent should America change, and how can I help make that happen?  I push you to ask these same questions of yourself.


  1.  Tweets that mention Progressivism Today: Talk is Cheap « The Stanford Progressive --, November 2, 2010 @ 3:53 am

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  2.  auntie, November 4, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

    Well said and fair!!

  3.  Jeanne Knox, November 8, 2010 @ 12:23 am

    This is a challenge to the American electorate.
    I am in agreement with Ms.Ogiemwanye’s observation “voting is the best option we have to voice our opinions.”

  4.  michael rosen, November 9, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    This article expresses the essence of that which causes the “American Experience” to be so far from the ideal for so many U.S. citizens. The achievement of a reasonably good quality of life is made difficult for middle class Americans and unattainable for way to many poor through the efforts of the “few” to maintain the status quo through repression of progressive change. The “few” quite obviously are the 10% of Americans whose annual per capita income exceeds $100,000, and the disproportionate amount of influence that the legislative branch of government permits this relatively small group to wield on both state and federal levels. The author’s very apt example of California government serves as a prime example of repression of efforts on behalf of the “many” to “level the playing field”. So long as lobbys and “PACTs” exist and big buisness is empowered to directly influence elected representatives and elected officials there is little hope of seeing a major change in the “business” of legislative government at the federal level, and who become the elected officials at the state level. So long as financial contribution and influence by special interest groups hold sway over the electorate there will be little hope of seeing significant progressive change. Lobbys and “PACTs” did not exist and were not forseen by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Their existence undermines the balance of power between the three branches of government, and permits the wealthy, conservative element to maintain the status quo.

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