The Future of Progressive Action in America
Our lives and our fates are intertwined. We all have a stake in our future and must raise our voices and speak up for a society that respects each and every person.
To grow strong, the multifaceted Left in America—including those who call themselves “liberals” or “progressives” as well as others who simply draw upon the central teachings of the Torah to love our neighbors as ourselves—must come together around this basic value of interconnection. We share a commonality of thought and heart that rejects a false dichotomy that success happens when you put others down.
This message of interconnection is especially important as we watch right-wing extremists seek to damage our entire economy and democracy to undermine the Obama administration. Our nation is suffering from an attack against the most fundamental American value: community. E pluribus Unum.
To fight back—and win—we need solid strategy and smart tactics. But the foundation of this victory will depend on a positive vision for an inclusive society. This vision centers on the basic tenet that we all benefit by respecting and looking out for one another.
We can’t simply reject internally the destruction caused by selfishness—we must be active counterpoints, both in our personal lives and in our politics. There’s a great many examples, from health care to marriage equality to immigration.
I believe that putting this basic tenet of respect and care into practice means fighting for true universal health care coverage: a single-payer system. From an enlightened self-interest perspective, we could provide more effective and less expensive care. From the perspective of simple selflessness, such a system would honor our belief that an injury to one is an injury to all.
This vision applies, too, to human rights and civil rights. For decades, opponents of equal rights have pursued a divisive and hostile agenda that claimed to protect and strengthen heterosexual families—while demeaning and discriminating against LGBT people, couples, and their families.
Denying same-sex couples equality under the law in an effort to “save marriage” was harmful and insulting to the LGBT community—but moreover, it failed to help the straight families they claimed to be defending. Heterosexual families struggling with challenges like divorce, unemployment and home foreclosures did not get any relief from these challenges any more because loving, committed same-sex couples were prevented from marrying. Ironically, the time and effort spent on attacking gay and lesbian couples and families took away time and effort that could have been spent to help families—of all stripes—thrive and succeed.
Similarly, we’ve seen xenophobia rear its ugly head as extremists have attempted to make white people stronger by putting down the hard-working people of other countries, cultures, and faiths who want simply to provide a better life for their kids than they’ve had. Whether by denying citizenship to law-abiding immigrant workers—or by denying their children the right to an education—the strategy to benefit some at the expense of others isn’t even an effective one.
Exodus 23:9 told us “do not oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Or, put another way—in the words of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone—“we all do better when we all do better.”
More than ever, we need action toward real progress in this country. When the dust settles from the malicious miscalculations of right-wing extremists in Congress, those of us who believe in compassion and empowerment must be willing to step up for social justice and work to build a society in which we are stronger together, seeking to be “a blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3).
(This web-only article is part of a special series associated with Tikkun’s Spring 2014 print issue: Does America Need a Left? Subscribe now to read these subscriber-only articles online, and sign up for our free email newsletter to receive links to future web-only articles on this topic, as well! Visit tikkun.org/left2014 to read the other web-only articles associated with this issue.)