The Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party is a strange alliance of disparate groups that can’t seem to set aside their differences in order to win.
By David Todd McCarty | Thursday, November 14, 2019
It should come as no surprise that an organization as diverse as the Democratic Party would struggle to have a common voice or even a shared ideology. The Democrats are far less monolithic than the Republican Party which is driven by white, evangelical conservatives who mostly share a common culture and ideology. The Democrats, on the other hand, are a diverse coalition of cultures, ideologies, religions, class and education. But unlike the Tea Party of the Right, who had a pretty narrow ideological goal, the Progressives of the Left have no such thing.
Progressive Democrats are a unique bunch. They tend to be white, college-educated, middle to upper class, and live in urban or suburban areas. They also tend to be women more often than men. There are working class voters, non-college educated and ethnic minorities too, but they are not the most vocal participants typically.
Many of these people have been driven out of the traditional Democratic Party framework because they were too radical for the center. They rocked the boat or got tired of beating their heads against the institutional walls of party politics. They are smart, confident, well-educated, informed and passionate. They are also quirky, awkward, wonky, and obstinate.
They are an island of misfit toys.
You have lots of strong women, already on edge because they’re tired of misogynistic men treating them with condescension and talking over them. They are opinionated men used to speaking over the crowd in order to be heard and oblivious to their own privilege. You have radicals of all types representing various racial, cultural and class differences. Everyone has a different “most important thing” they’re fighting for, everyone is passionate, and to them it’s all life and death.
In reality what you have are a lot of smart, passionate people who all want to change things, who are terrified of where this country is headed, who are empathetic to the pain of the less fortunate, but who all want to be in charge and can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see it their way.
Right now, anyone reading this, is getting ready to write a forceful rebuke of what I’ve already said, explaining how I’m wrong and why they’re right. Progressive Democrats all believe themselves to be the smartest one in the room, and they probably often are, but when you get them in a room together, it can be difficult at best.
I wish I could say that I had the magic bullet. The formula for how to make this all work, but democracy is messy, compromise is difficult, and there’s nothing worse than trying to get a group of idealists to cave on issues they think are critical, simply for the good of the group.
Progressives believe in ideas. They believe in change, empathy, democracy, and freedom. But they are strong-willed people who ultimately believe they are right. They are crusaders, and crusaders aren’t likely to be turned back by someone telling them their holy grail is just a red Solo cup.
So what do we do?
The best I can come up with today, at this moment in time, with the information I have, is to work a lot harder at listening to one another and being even more empathetic than we think we already are. For a warrior class of protesters, this might seem counter-intuitive, but it seems like the only reasonable response.
If you think education is a priority, go talk to some teachers and learn about their struggles, but also talk to students and parents and find out what they need.
If you think the environment is a priority, go talk to communities most at risk from climate change, but also talk to small businesses at risk from stricter environmental law.
If you think inequality is a priority, go talk to social workers and learn more about the plight of people living on the fringes of society.
If you think criminal justice reform is a priority, go talk to prisoners and prison guards, talk to defense attorneys and the police and learn how we can make it better.
Then, gather a group of like-minded individuals, and tell them what you learned, and ask them their opinions on how they could take that information and present it to our elected officials in order to change policy.
One of the issues Progressives are all dealing with, is that we are all suffering from the trauma of the Trump Presidency. We were lulled into an apathetic nap during the eight years of the Obama administration, and we were awoken to unfathomable terror, seemingly overnight.
We are panicked. We are terrorized. We are angry. We want justice. We want to do something. We want to do it right now, and we don’t want to spend too much time talking about it. We want action. We want it now.
But I fear that without a great deal of thought, and quiet reflection, and urgent listening, we will continue shout over each other, and we will have missed an opportunity to change our future.
I’m just a broken toy. I’m happy to be on an island with a bunch of other misfit toys. But if we fight amongst ourselves, I don’t see how we can help anyone else.