Optimism for Progressives in 2006
Published on Monday, January 2, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Optimism for Progressives in 2006
by Mike Ignatowski

Something important happened in December that should generate some optimism about a progressive society. TIME Magazine picked Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates as their persons of the year. Now many of us may have strong emotional feelings about Microsoft, or about rock stars with big egos, but I 'm asking you to put those aside for a moment. These three people could have easily retired to a life of private luxury as many people in their position do. But they chose to spend some of their time and money traveling the world working on poverty and disease in the poorest areas of the planet. TIME magazine did not choose to honor government officials or military leaders this year. They chose three private citizens who had exercised their ability to do some significant good in the world. In effect, TIME Magazine recognized these people as the most important role models for the coming year. This is a positive thing.

There are other good signs about where we are heading as a society. Jim Hightower likes to point out the facts about progressivism in America from some recent polls.

  • 77% believe the country should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment.
  • 65% say the government should guarantee health insurance for everyone-even if it means raising taxes.
  • 86% favor raising the minimum wage
  • 60% favor repealing either all of Bush's tax cuts or at least those cuts that went to the rich.

These trends span both red states as well as blue states. Americans might not call themselves progressive, but on many of the basic social issues they are.

While cultural conservatives have gained influence in our national government, they are troubled because they are losing the cultural war, and they know it. Take the example of same sex marriage. Despite the results of some ballot initiatives, both civil unions and marriage for same sex couples continues to gain support with the American public each year. This trend is particularly strong with the younger generation. Even Bush and Cheney have both come out in support of civil unions. Consider another example in the recent news - intelligent design. After the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania voted to include it in their public school science curriculum, the entire school board was voted out of office by the people of Dover in November. Then in December, a judge who was appointed by President Bush dealt a very significant legal blow against the intelligent design movement in that same Dover case.

After a slower start, progressive religions are now growing much faster than fundamentalist religions in America, and they are beginning to organize at the national level. One key example, the "Network of Spiritual Progressives," was started in 2005 as a national organization. It's goal is to challenge the misuse of religion by the religious right, and to change the national debate on what it means to be a truly moral society. It continues to grow and gain influence, and will be holding a major conference in Washington DC this May.

A growing number of members of Congress, as well as governors and mayors are coming up with their own plans to address global climate change. So far, over 160 cities have signed agreements to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Recently a collection of traditionally conservative churches has formed the "Evangelical Environmental Network". I'm looking for them to bring climate change and other environmental issues into the debate in a big way for the 2006 elections.

More and more people, including thoughtful Republicans, have reached their tipping point and are publicly challenging the actions of the Bush administration. Congress has finally starting taking the first steps to live up to its constitutional duty to serving as a check-and-balance on the executive branch. I expect this trend to continue if not intensify as we head into the 2006 elections with an unpopular president. The upcoming congressional hearings on the secret wiretapping of American citizens could become particularly passionate. Did the President commit an illegal and impeachable offense when he authorized these? Having this debate dominate the nightly news for a while should provide an interesting and educational lesson on civil rights and the rule of law for the American public.

This is the year that troop reductions will finally begin in Iraq, the only question is how many and how soon. The majority of Americans now support some troop reductions, and the courageous statements by Representative John Murtha finally provide a credible and reasonable proposal for members of Congress to rally around.

2006 could also be the big year of reckoning for the "culture of corruption" in Washington. The trials for both Tom DeLay and Scooter Libby are expected to begin, with more indictments still possible in the coming months from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame case. Also watch the events surrounding Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He appears to be in major legal trouble and could take down a number of other politicians involved in his shady dealings before 2006 is over.

So look forward to this coming year. Once the tide starts turning, the momentum can easily turn into a flood.

Michael Ignatowski is the Chair of the Social Action Committee for the Unitarian Universalists Congregation of the Catskills, and serves on the board for the Hudson Valley Humanists. He can be reached at mikeig@yahoo.com