Here’s What the Progressive Movement Should Stand For

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
July 3 2013 11:06 AM

What’s Left? (Part 2)

Our progressive—and popular—wish list.

(Continued from Page 1)

Relatedly, we need to reform a prison system that warehouses and often brutalizes a population of young men, filling the pockets of those who build them and securing the jobs of those who work in them. It makes no sense that in the land of the free, one of the things we do best is incarcerate people.

The gap between the rich and the poor in America grows every year. It’s a new Gilded Age in which Americans work harder than ever and earn less money. Progressivism followed the original Gilded Age. Occupy Wall Street was an inspiration, one that we regret didn’t go further. We’re all for the incentives provided by the capitalist system; they’ve made this country great. But we’re equally well aware of the perils of market dysfunction and rampant greed. Drastic, breathtaking inequality—inequality that even many wealthy today regret—has never been a prescription for long-term social success. Progressives should make the case for addressing this without looking to alienate the upper reaches of the income scale.

It’s also progressive to care for a planet. This is about committing to protecting scarce resources, even if it means slowing our rabid consumption. We should stick to a green strategy, rather than tucking tail and running as soon as Republican candidates argue that drilling for oil is what America does best. We need to do so much more than we are doing to protect an environment degrading before our eyes.


Progressives should understand that race is as fraught and complicated in America as it has ever been (notwithstanding our first African-American president and to some extent because of him). The conservative majority on the Supreme Court is wrong: We are not past race in America. Progressives can push for a color-blind future without blinding ourselves to the reality that we’re not even close yet.

Progressives also respect women by recognizing that violence against them in the military, in the media, in the workplace, and at school is pervasive and unacceptable. Before we condemn Africans and Egyptians for their treatment of women, we should ask ourselves why we can’t do better here. 

Finally, there’s voting. We’ve been headed in entirely the wrong direction. This includes state laws that make it too difficult to establish one’s right to vote, the disenfranchisement of too many people for possessing drugs, and an outdated machinery for running elections that leaves us constantly on the brink of confused outcomes. This is a democracy; voting should be our priority.

There is much more. This list is just a first cut. Although plenty of you “liked” our first piece about what’s left on Facebook, it made some people angry, including our friends. That’s OK, because we’re angry as well. We tried to make clear that gay rights was a worthy cause and that we admired the people in the trenches who’ve been fighting for the longtime left agenda. But the country needs a broader agenda to aspire to, one that can make people feel greater than themselves.

And we think elections can be won this way. Build it, and people will come.

Like we said, those are our thoughts, but we really are curious about yours. So over this holiday weekend, sit with your kids and friends, read the Declaration of Independence, and come up with your own ideas to send us. We’ll be back after the holiday to report in.

Barry Friedman is the Jacob D. Fuchsberg professor of law at New York University School of Law and the author of The Will of the People.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.