The Kids Are Alright
Yesterday, I was asked to say a few words at a meeting of progressive activists. As I was winding down my comments, I remember looking out at the many young faces in the room. Many were there representing different candidates for president and in that moment, I felt compelled to encourage them.
My exact words escape me now, but I said something like this: if you’re supporting a candidate who is proposing ambitious policies to change this country and this world for the better, please don’t be deterred by anyone – especially other Democrats – who tell you these policies are not possible. Don’t even listen to them.
I’ve certainly heard this charge leveled at Sen. Sanders’ policy program, but I’ve also heard folks say this about Sen. Warren, the now exited Sec. Castro and others. You may not personally believe we can see a Green New Deal, or eliminate student debt, or pass Medicare for All, or do the other things, but please don’t discourage the folks – especially the young folks – who have given themselves over to fighting for what they believe in; for what they know to be right and achievable. These individuals will be the reason these policies happen, and I want the home team to be well rested heading into the legislative fight that will come once a progressive candidate becomes president.
Last night I called it a poverty of imagination; a condition we as Democrats should be inoculated against because we’ve been here many times before. We’ve stood on the precipice of change fighting against the powerful forces of the status quo. The naysayers will claim that these ambitious policies are not pragmatic. They will say they are too expensive. They will say the votes aren’t there and that the electorate isn’t ready. It seems they’ve forgotten that these are the same claims that were leveled against nearly every major progressive program throughout the history of this country. Yet and still, we prevailed. At almost every turn, a mass movement of people, buoyed by a common vision of a better society, organized in the streets and throughout the halls of power. They put pressure on their elected representatives and changed enough hearts and minds to get the job done.
Now it would be hard to imagine our country without social security benefits (although this programs remains under attack) strong labor laws (although the attacks on organized labor and collective bargaining are real), a minimum wage (although it is too low), and civil rights acts (that need to be updated and expanded). None of these programs and initiatives came without a fight. All of these policy accomplishments fell under the critique of being too ambitious, or dare I say radical at the time of their proposal. It took a band of committed individuals to understand that for one of the most advanced industrialized countries on the planet, anything is possible.
For most of my childhood, I remember my grandmother telling me that she didn’t think she’d live to see a Black President. I imagine her great grandparent’s dreams of freedom were similarly bleak. But she lived to see the desegregation of public schools, and a Civil Rights Movement beat the odds. She saw Neil Armstrong disturb the lunar surface seven years after a president declared the moon as our new frontier. And finally, she took a phone call from me during my undergraduate years in college as we watched Barack Obama give a victory speech in Grant Park.
We have done the hard things before. We have moved the status quo. We have changed hearts and minds. Now, I’m not saying you need to support my preferred candidate for president. I’m not saying you need to subscribe to my worldview. I’m not saying you even need to believe in what progressives are fighting for. If you’re one of those Democrats who feel as though bold progressive policies are untenable or unrealistic for whatever reason, all I’m asking is that you not discourage the people – especially the young folks – who are doing the hard work to make it all happen.