The Progressive Honor Roll of 2010
MOST VALUABLE TV VOICE: Ed Schultz
One of the most remarkable moments during the healthcare debate came when MSNBC's Ed Schultz interviewed Dennis Kucinich about his decision to vote for legislation the Ohio Democrat had condemned as a handout to big insurers. The give-and-take between Schultz and Kucinich, both backers of the single-payer "Medicare for All" approach rejected by the Obama administration, was electric, filled with emotion yet nuanced in its recognition of the moral and political pressures faced by progressives. Again and again in 2010, Schultz highlighted not just partisan divisions but the frustrations that surfaced as Democratic members of Congress wrestled with questions of when to support a Democratic president and when to object. The most populist of MSNBC's hosts, Schultz shows his anger not just with right-wing "psycho talk" but with Democratic double talk. A proudly independent "lefty," Schultz highlights members of Congress and activists who criticize compromises, especially on bread-and-butter issues. That makes his show energetic, and often newsworthy, as when Sanders raised the prospect of filibustering the tax deal on the program. Yet Schultz keeps things fun; his one-man crusade to hold Dick Cheney to account for political and corporate wrongdoing mocks the former vice president who famously wounded a hunting partner as "Shooter." Schultz does good television, and good politics.
MOST VALUABLE RADIO VOICE: Patt Morrison
On her Southern California public radio show, Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison takes apart complicated issues—tax policy, the mortgage crisis, net neutrality, food-borne illness—and rearranges them as accessible topics that citizens can debate and address. Morrison's two-hour daily program raises the quality of the discourse with savvy and unexpected guests, from student activists to IMF researchers to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Morrison is not afraid to stick with an issue as it evolves; her coverage of the DREAM Act debate in particular, and immigration issues in general, brought the skills of a beat reporter to radio. Of all the regional radio shows that should go national, this one tops the list.
MOST VALUABLE AUTHOR: Wendell Potter
Wendell Potter, former vice president of corporate communications with insurance giant CIGNA, now a fellow with the spin-busting Center for Media and Democracy, used media appearances and testimony before Congressional committees to expose the dark manipulations of fact that insurance firms use to preserve for-profit healthcare. Then he put it all on paper with a terrific book, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. The book revealed how the industry tried to discredit Michael Moore before the release of his film Sicko. One of the year's most powerful television moments came when Moore questioned Potter about it all on MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann.
MOST VALUABLE MUSIC: Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record, 1961–2008
Great songs are being written about today's wars; just listen to Neil Young's poignant "Love and War" on the album Le Noise, or Dar Williams's rendering of "Empire" on her new collection, Many Great Companions. But the year's boldest musical project was Next Stop Is Vietnam, the stunning thirteen-CD collection of 334 songs and spoken-word tracks (many forgotten or never really known) that chronicles the war and its aftermath. The accompanying book includes a warm and thoughtful introduction by Country Joe McDonald and a moving oral history (by authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner) with veterans discussing the power of song.
MOST VALUABLE IDEA: Amend the Constitution
Conservatives know the power of proposing constitutional amendments. Even when they don't succeed, amendment campaigns educate people about issues and get them engaged at the local, state and national levels. In recent years progressives have been cautious about the Constitution. But after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision freed corporations to use their immense resources to buy elections, two groups responded with aggressive challenges to the notion that businesses should enjoy the same rights as citizens. Free Speech for People, a campaign sponsored by Public Citizen, US PIRG, Voter Action, the Center for Corporate Policy and American Independent Business Alliance, seeks to counter the Court's move with "a constitutional amendment of our own that puts people ahead of corporations." (Representative Donna Edwards has introduced an amendment, with backing from outgoing Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers.) Another group, Move to Amend (with support from Progressive Democrats of America, the National Lawyers Guild and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, among others), proposes a broader "multi-year movement to amend the Constitution" that would use state legislative resolutions to force Congressional action on "democracy amendments" or schedule a constitutional convention. These campaigns are capturing the imaginations of activists. By year's end, Move to Amend had almost 100,000 signers.
MOST VALUABLE LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL: Let Wall Street Pay Act
Official Washington is obsessed with deficits. How should progressives respond? Oregon Congressman Pete DeFazio's got a notion: the "Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act." Backed by the AFL-CIO, consumer groups and top economists (including the New York Times's Paul Krugman), financial transaction tax proposals are not new. But DeFazio's plan is specific and well drawn; it would apply a small tax to stock transactions; "options" contracts that allow speculators to buy or sell particular assets; and credit default swaps, which bet on the failure of bonds and loans. Even with exemptions to protect average investors and pension funds, DeFazio's tax would generate $150 billion a year—half directed toward job creation, half to deficit reduction. DeFazio has attracted thirty-one House co-sponsors and a key Senate ally, Tom Harkin. That's a start. But when the next Congress takes shape, this measure should not just be reintroduced; it should be positioned as the smart alternative to destructive cuts proposed by new House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan.
MOST VALUABLE STATE LEGISLATOR: Kyrsten Sinema
There are plenty of outspoken Arizona progressives, but few speak as loudly—or as boldly—as Sinema. In 2006 the openly bisexual legislator chaired Arizona Together, the first successful campaign to beat a state ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage; in 2008 she chaired Protect Arizona's Freedom, the coalition that defeated a ballot initiative to eliminate equal opportunity programs; in 2010 the former social worker in Phoenix immigrant and refugee communities emerged as a thoughtful critic of Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant legislation. Sinema dismissed the push for the state measure as a crude "strategy on the part of the right" and detailed how the law undermined civil liberties, made it harder for police to do their jobs and discouraged battered women from seeking help. The media-savvy Sinema warned national activists: "Be careful...your state could turn into Arizona very quickly." On her home turf, voters elected the term-limited state rep to the Arizona Senate.
MOST VALUABLE LOCAL OFFICIAL: Kitty Piercy
Activism to address global warming suffered when November election results gave increased power to climate-change deniers in Congress. But that isn't stopping progressive mayors from acting. Along with fellow members of the Mayors Innovation Project, Eugene, Oregon, Mayor Kitty Piercy has promoted the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, now backed by more than 800 local leaders. One of her first projects after her 2004 election was a Sustainable Business Initiative that encourages the growth of businesses that produce sustainable products while promoting green building, recycling, natural food, alternative fuel and alternative energy development. With purchases of hybrid vehicles and the use of biodiesel fuel, Eugene has decreased its city CO2 emissions by 10 percent, and the community recently developed a broader plan to cut carbon.
In addition to her environmental activism, Piercy champions LGBT rights, women's rights and child-welfare initiatives. Active with US Mayors for Peace and Women's Action for New Directions/Women Legislators' Lobby, she shows up at peace rallies to declare: "Some may scorn our local efforts to change national priorities, but I, like you, believe in the power of our city, the fierce grassroots power of our people to do what needs to be done."