What Does it Mean to Be a Progressive?

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Last Friday's Daily Cal piece on progressive trends on the City Council raises an important question. In this election year some City Council members are campaigning on being members of an outspoken minority and the "most progressive" voices on the Council. In that connection, Mayor Bates asks a good question: "What does it mean to be "progressive?" Exploring the answer would be an important service for the Daily Cal to provide. I'll give it a shot.

A progressive works to ensure that all members of society have their needs met and are provided the fullest opportunity to lead fulfilling lives. A progressive gets good things done for people, especially for those in need - those who, for whatever reason, lack the personal resources to meet their own fundamental needs: food, housing, health care, etc. A progressive agenda in Berkeley should prioritize public health, safety, justice and education, and work to enrich our culture.

A progressive leadership gets results. True progressives take the lead in working to actually build affordable housing. They respond quickly and effectively to concerns raised by constituents. They provide enlightened environmental stewardship (creating, for example, a state-of-the-art David Brower environmental center, or working with the regional Air Quality Management Board to clean up our industrial sites and improve our air quality). Effective progressives help guide the city in developing the financial ability to support vital services in a time of economic downturn (achieving, for example, an AA+ bond rating when other cities around us are struggling to fund basic services). Progressives advance tangible and feasible action plans for enlivening and enhancing our downtown.

They actively support our schools and work to improve student achievement (through participating, for example, in efforts to close the achievement gap among our students, efforts such as the 20/20 Vision). True progressives rise above the Us-vs.-Them dichotomy that has too often squandered time on needless partisan squabbles (symptomized by labels like "most progressive?"), working instead to develop more mature public processes in which our best thinking coalesces to produce results. And - in the time-honored Berkeley tradition - progressives speak out forcefully and effectively against injustice in all quarters. These, it seems to me, are the qualities that qualify as progressive.

On the other hand, one could amass what seems a "progressive" record by filling each week's Council agenda with items in support of, or opposition to, one or another house or senate bill, or with items praising the work of worthy community groups, or with items condemning unjust behavior near and far. Such items - if well-documented, well-worded, and well-reasoned (often not the case)-rarely meet with significant Council opposition, and are passed without much fanfare. Such agenda items are relatively easy to prepare, often prepared by interns, and cumulatively produce a long list of seemingly "progressive" accomplishments. They may be well-intentioned and worthwhile, but in the bigger picture how weighty are the results?

I encourage the Daily Cal to take a deep look at actual "progressive" achievement, at how tangible advances have resulted from the Council's work, and to report to your readers what you learn, where you've found substantive progressive achievement, to help voters determine where the "progressive" label really belongs.

Linda Maio is a Berkeley City Council member. Reply to [email protected]

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