Progressives Discuss the Future of a Liberal Nation

by Eri Hillyer on October 6, 2005

A progressive leadership voices progressive ideals but the conduct and vacillation of Democratic leaders has produced a schism among progressives. Progressives need leaders courageous enough to make stands. Such was the general consensus of a panel discussion hosted by the San Francisco Democratic Party and the Local Left. It met to discuss the past, present and future of progressive politics. Panelists included former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, Tim Redmond of the Bay Guardian, progressive activist Debra Walker and SF State Professor Emeritus Richard DeLeon.

“Does the rise of a progressive party make the Democratic Party conservative?” asked the Noe Valley Democratic Club’s Rafael Mandelman.

“The Green Party has not, contrary to initial reactions at its formation, destroyed the Democrats but it may wake the party,” answered Redmond. “It’s a challenge to direct a progressive message – whether Democrat or Green,” continued Walker.

There needs to be a better consensus among progressive parties on candidates in order to mobilize the coalition of votes necessary to put progressives into state and national positions. A candidate willing to stand up against the war and for the civil right of gay marriage would help cement progressive sympathies. The SF based, Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club has produced excellent examples of candidates that bridged progressive party lines.

Where are Democratic Party leaders willing to make the occasional appearance or speech at rallies and protests? Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, represents one of the most anti-war districts in the nation but never even sent a statement supporting last week’s anti-war rallies? The panel suspected it was Green support of queer marriage that swung Newsom into making a stand on the issue. “Half of Gonzalez’s votes in the last election were Democrats. We have a lot of soul searching to do about our candidates,” said Walker.

Gonzalez seemed to agree. “I left the Democratic Party because it had no opinion on the death penalty or gay marriage,” he said. “To get into office you have to win your opponent’s supporters, look at the movement in SF centering on gay marriage.” Redmond also agreed, “That’s what Newsom did, he saw what was happening in SF politics.”

“The ideology of the Green Party is one I believe in,” said Walker. “There is a partnership between the ideology of the Green Party and the practicality of the Democratic Party – there are Democrats in the party who are very progressive, who work towards a progressive ideology. I work on a daily basis to turn the party around.”

“Another Democratic challenging Nancy Pelosi or running against Diane Feinstein would keep me a Democrat,” said Redmond.

While Hurricane Katrina underscored America’s socio-economic issues it initially met with silence from national leaders. “There is frustration at a national level with our leaders not speaking for us,” said Walker. “Inspiration comes from people who represent ideals and stand on them. People want to hear their ideals from their leaders.”

“I have given up on D.C.,” said Redmond. “Left wing liberal democrats are not going to control Congress for the next 20 years. Liberal ideals and politics are going to have to be practiced on a local level until then. San Francisco, politically, is going to have to be a city-state.”

Prof. DeLeon agreed. “The (political) strategy has to be urban based. We have to connect America’s blue dots. San Francisco is kind of the national Petri dish. It has produced so many social movements. Although it is only 2% of the state population it carries tremendous clout because of its vanguard image.”

Gonzalez saw the future of national politics leaning towards a less party-oriented line. “The Green Party, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party – they are all losing membership because more and more people want to just walk into the booth and cast a vote for who they want to vote for.”

“What is a progressive?” asked an audience member. “A progressive is a liberal who doesn’t like real estate developers,” said a straight-faced Redmond. “It’s someone who used to be called a liberal. A progressive believes in civil rights for everybody, including gay marriage. A progressive believes in the role of government to create positive social change and believes in heavily regulating the private sector.”

The future of a progressive America lies at the heart of the debate. Prof. DeLeon quoted Bill Clinton. “If voters think, Bush loses – and that would put us back into a Post-Enlightenment period.”

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