I have been asked before what the difference is between “progressive” and “liberal;” my response has usually been something like the following– I see the difference in action. Liberals talk. Progressives act.
Throughout the past 27 years of my life I have known plenty of liberals. Growing up as the daughter of small-town community college administrator, many of these liberals were like aunts and uncles to me. They spoke to me of their desire for national health care, gay marriage, and green energy. They refused to accept that the Iraq war wasn’t a complex, corrupt, oil-driven, military action that had little to do with ensuring anyone’s ‘freedom’ or finding weapons of mass destruction. These liberals had a profound influence on me. They cared about issues beyond our small town.
But I have also known another type of liberal. This type is the inspiration for the much used Republican criticism: “whiny liberal.” This type is a constant source of complaints and demands. This type is very quick to tell you what is wrong but comes short in being able to articulate a solution. No, this type is not just a young, white college student unfamiliar with ‘how the world works’. Many of this type have traveled the world and know that other systems can provide healthcare to all of their citizens and actually treat not incarcerate their mentally ill. But that touches on an element I would like to tease out a bit– privilege. The main issue I take with liberals is that often times their more enlightened beliefs are the product of education, world-travel, and a wealth of experiences. They know that people from different countries or religious backgrounds needn’t be feared. The unknown isn’t as scary after you have received an undergraduate or advanced degree. The unknown isn’t as scary when you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. So in criticizing those whose whose beliefs they see as backward, they are also being extremely classist. Much American ignorance is due to propaganda and poverty, and, without access to quality education or global travel, ignorant Americans will continue to believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, that most Muslims are terrorists, and that all liberals want to destroy their way of life.
So why do you think that conservatives make fun of whiny liberals? Well, it’s easy. It’s also a very natural reaction. Small-town, Bible-belt conservatives make fun of liberals, because they talk a lot of nonsense. Liberals are against everything they hold dear– Conservative Christianity’s influence on American policy and a respect for ‘traditional’ values. Liberals call them ignorant. Liberals see them as inferior. And yet, these small town Bible-belt conservatives are living paycheck to paycheck, working hard to produce our food or factory products. They are living in the ‘real’ America, while liberals are living in the ‘ivory towers’ of academia or glitzy high-rises of America’s cities, removed from many of the hardships of lower middle-class to impoverished American life. Conservatives such as these have little save their faith and pride in the way of life into which they were born. Of course they would defend this. What’s sad is that they have suffered greatly because of the deregulation of Wall Street and Corporate America’s decision to produce abroad. And yet, they continue to elect politicians who support these disastrous policies. Why? Because these politicians respect, if only in speech, their way of life. Feeling heard and respected is so important.
Then there are your highly-educated, more well to-do conservatives. This type sees conservative values as preserving a way of life that will be no longer possible if America really were to become the land of the free. This conservative believes in the ‘free’ market, in which businesses are free to make whatever choices make them more profit. The average American is hardly free in this market system. While they, on their meager income, support this economy, the very wealthy venture capitalists and CEOs evade taxes and hoard their wealth. These wealthy conservatives make fun of liberals as well, again, because they can. They do not fear liberals. Liberals are a joke to them. Liberals may constantly cry for legislation antithetical to their new world order but aren’t going to really do anything to stop them.
And then we must consider that, after Citizen’s United, the wealthy own Congress. So, whether conservative or liberal, whatever is profitable is policy. The type of liberal who thrives in this atmosphere loves to tout liberal ideology and yet has economic practices that move in a direction opposite of their proclaimed values. This type of liberal carries on about workers’ rights, women’s rights, and immigrants’ rights, and yet supports military actions abroad that destroy the lives of workers and women and turns them into refugees, refugees who are not quite welcome in our country. This type of liberal will go on about green energy and fair wages but will allow American factories to destroy ecosystems and pay slave wages abroad. This type is what we progressives call a “neo-liberal,” liberal in speech but favoring ‘free’-market capitalism in action.
So now we have come full circle; the distinction between progressive and liberal is ACTION. Progressives see not backward policies but injustice. We don’t mock; we educate. We desire to communicate across boundaries, for it is only in banding together that we will be able to fight against the big money that controls our government and policies. We strive to be individuals of character, compassion, and common sense. We practice what we preach. We organize. We act. We are types that both the conservative and liberal elite should fear. And we are types that your average conservative may not agree with but can respect, for we have strong values and work hard. We live out our values in what we say and do. We don’t mock those with whom we disagree; we endeavor to understand and befriend those individuals. We will work to earn the respect of others; we don’t want prestige. We crave justice not power. Progressives are activists, not politicians, though don’t let me confuse you– we will be running for office.