What’s Left for the Progressive Agenda (Part 3)

The law, lawyers, and the court.
July 17 2013 1:31 PM

What’s Left (Part 3)

Reader suggestions on the progressive agenda.

Dream Act Paperwork, Washington DC.
Bolivian Diego Mariaca, center, his mother, Ingrid Vaca, right, and brother Gustavo Mariaca, left, fill out DREAM Act paperwork on Aug. 15, 2012, at the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, we posted a series of pieces asking—in the wake of the huge gay marriage wins at the Supreme Court this term—what progressives’ next big battle might be. We wondered what issue or issues could unify and inspire us, and how we could parlay the lessons just learned in the fight over marriage equality into a larger, achievable agenda for change in the new millennium. 

Reader mail is (almost) always a pleasure, and in this case, we were heartened and inspired by the serious, careful responses. Even the critical ones. Same for the comments posted below the piece, which were thoughtful and smart. We thank you. Below, and in no particular order, we highlight some of the reader suggestions for reclaiming/reframing and reinvigorating the liberal agenda, with the caveat that there was so much more to say, and we hope that the real conversation is only just beginning.

I. VOTING REFORMS: Probably the greatest number of readers suggested that liberals should enact swift and simple election reform, to ensure that the rest of the progressive agenda can be implemented. A sampling of suggestions:

A. FIXING VOTING: Ian Campbell wrote what many were thinking: “How about actual elections? Free and fair ones, in fairly-drawn districts, without hackable voting machines, restrictive anti-voting laws, and with a better, more fair voting system than the current ‘first past the post’ that sustains the two-bad-party system? Elections that forbade corporate influence, were publicly funded and allowed the most compelling argument, not the richest voice, to gain support?”

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B. GERRYMANDERING: Robert Hallinan writes: “Our two party system as it currently functions runs the risk of consolidating power in the party apparatchiks rather than the people in a way, as Hannah Arendt recognized years ago, that could, in effect, de-voice a people otherwise ostensibly free to speak out. Gerrymandering is wrong on its face and both parties need to admit it and create rational municipally based voting districts without regard to political demographics.”

C. SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION: Jerry Gale writes: “I think that the best thing progressives can do ... is to pass a national law calling for same day registration. If someone shows up on the day of voting with a valid government issued ID with an address on it, they get to vote. Requiring people to register to vote weeks before the day of voting makes it more difficult for young votes and minority voters to vote.” In a similar vein, from reader Karl Miller: “Aggressive Enfranchisement. Not just fixing the encroachments of sneaky state legislatures, but making elections a national holiday. Not compulsory voting, like Australia, but another kind of July 4, if you will. If the Right sees our nation's founding as the overthrow of pernicious Government ... the left must remind us that our new government was a magnificent invention of its own, one that only works in proportion to the individual's engagement with it. Is it worth a few hours of your time each year to sort out who you want to run your school, city, state, Congress and country? We say yes and the more we can do to free up that time, the better.”

II. SUPPORT FOR UNIONS: Kyle writes: “I don’t think the importance of the labor movement is acknowledged enough in the current progressive movement (let alone in the mainstream American left). But if income inequality is the single greatest economic problem to progressives, then freedom of association and collective bargaining should be at the forefront of the progressive agenda. ... Not only do union workers receive better pay than non-union workers, but unions could likely have prevented the staggering growth of CEO-to-worker pay: thirty years ago, CEOs were paid 42 times more than employees, but now they’re paid 354 times more. Not even Don Draper’s generation of employers thought they were 354 times better than their workers, because that generation of employers was more likely to negotiate with their employees. The solution is for Democrats and progressives to begin fighting as much for unions as conservatives fight against them.” Michael McBrearty writes to add: “It is astounding you did not mention the drastic need for reform of labor law. 5000 workers are fired in the US every year for attempting to organize their workplaces. More than any other factor, the corporations' unbridled, ruthless and sometimes violent campaigns for ‘labor-free’ work forces are responsible for the inequality and the hegemony of the super-rich.”

III. MEANINGFUL HEALTH REFORM: From Jill B.: “Our fight as progressives must focus on economic justice. We do have to find some way to save the middle class. I believe that splitting health care away from job benefits, making it a societal responsibility instead via a national health plan, is one essential part of that.” Daniel Carey writes: “Single payer health care for all!!”

IV. FINANCIAL REFORM: From Frank Pasquale: “Instead of focusing on disclosure in finance regulation, we need to just start forcing finance intermediaries to do socially responsible investing ... on a FAR larger scale than it is currently done. Otherwise, our entire future (i.e., our patterns of capital
allocation) simply get sorted into whatever seems to make a fast buck for the already wealthy.”

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