Progressives have systematically disempowered themselves by not presenting a unified challenge to the pro-corporate forces that continue to dominate Congress and the Obama administration. To reenergize the progressive movement, we need a new discourse in the public arena to pull public attention toward a vision of what this country could be like if the values of generosity, caring, compassion, environmental sanity, nonviolence, social justice, peace, and love for all humanity were to shape our schools, economy, media, and government. In short, the public arena needs a spiritual progressive voice. Shifting public discourse in this way will require many small, local interventions to happen simultaneously in neighborhoods, city councils, school board meetings, and living rooms across the country. A single person can’t bring about such a change—it’s a task that can only be accomplished by many people acting together. Will you join me in making a New Year’s resolution to speak up for this vision in the public sphere?
I know that urging friends, neighbors, coworkers, and extended family to move beyond cynicism and apathy can be discouraging. Even people who agree with spiritual progressive ideas often say such ideas are too far in advance of the electorate. To get progressive lawmakers elected and progressive legislation passed, they argue, we need to focus on pragmatic strategies based on polling statistics and calculations about what seats are “in play.”
The problem is, this approach is deeply mistaken. Why? Because its calculus requires the Democratic Party to put forward candidates who are so centrist that a mere twenty years ago their ideas would have been judged mainstream Republican. Once these centrist candidates are elected, they undermine the ability of the Democrats to put forward progressive legislation anyway. That’s what happened in 2009 and 2010 when, despite controlling the Senate and the House, Democrats were unable to pass truly progressive legislation because of resistance from within their own party.
The wonderful gay and lesbian victories around marriage equality in 2013 suggest that the more effective way to build change is to root the articulation of a political position in a discourse not only of rights but also of love. The key is finding ways to understand what others fear in your spiritual progressive vision, and then finding innovative ways to speak to those fears.
The Power of a Coherent Vision
The Republicans have long understood the power of offering a coherent vision to the public. That’s why they adopted Newt Gingrich’s ten-point “Contract with America” in 1994 as their central unifying message—a decision that enabled them to take back control of the Congress. Lacking a similar unifying vision, the Democrats are once again on the path toward self-marginalization, while progressives stew in their own sense of powerlessness.
Putting forward a larger worldview is both ethically appropriate and likely to be politically effective. The core values of love, kindness, generosity, and caring (caring for each other and the earth) must become the central focus of all who hope to heal and transform our world. A progressive political movement that does not prioritize love will never succeed in effectively challenging unbridled corporate capitalism and the toxic ethos dominating the global economy.
Most people have two voices in their heads. One voice says this is a world in which other people are out to advance their own interests at all costs, and they will exploit us unless we succeed in dominating them first. The other voice says our own security and success in the world is more likely to be achieved when others experience us as loving, caring, and generous toward them. Those who hold the domination worldview tend to vote conservative, whereas those who hold the generosity worldview tend to vote liberal or progressive.
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