The Progressive Honor Roll of 2013
MOST VALUABLE UNION: Seattle Education Association
When teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School refused to administer the Measures of Academic Progress test to ninth graders in January—with support from parents, students, rank-and-file activists from Seattle Equality Educators and local NAACP leaders—they put the issue of overtesting on the agenda. That boycott, and their broader challenge to the obsession with standardized testing, caught fire, spreading to other Seattle schools and inspiring actions across the country. The Seattle Education Association backed its members in the critical early stages of the struggle and pressed the issue until the superintendent announced in May that schools could opt out of the testing regimen and that test scores would no longer be a graduation requirement. Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian says: “This movement is just beginning. It’s going to spread from school to school to school.” If it does, much of the credit should go to the courageous boycott initiated by Hagopian and his fellow teachers.
MOST VALUABLE BUDGET PLAN: Bernie Sanders’s Progressive Budget Blueprint
When the Vermont senator joined the select Senate and House budget committee after the GOP-led government shutdown, he did so as a steadfast opponent of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But Sanders went further, producing a progressive budget blueprint that seeks to shift the debate from austerity and toward fairness. The Sanders budget would crack down on offshore tax shelters as part of a strategy to reduce the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next decade; tax capital gains and dividends in the same way we tax salaries and wages to raise over $500 billion; and repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the rich to reduce the deficit by $400 billion. It would raise hundreds of billions more by establishing a progressive estate tax; ending breaks and subsidies for big oil, gas and coal companies; and initiating a Wall Street speculation fee on the sale and purchase of credit default swaps, derivatives, stock options and futures. “When we are experiencing more wealth and income inequality than at any time since the 1920s, and when Wall Street and large corporations are enjoying record-breaking profits, I believe that we should be asking the very wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share,” says Sanders.
MOST VALUABLE PROGRAM: NPA’s Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy
It’s easy for activists to be so focused on day-to-day struggles against abuses of power that they never get around to saying what they are for. But National People’s Action, the network of grassroots organizations involved in direct-action challenges to economic and racial injustice, took the time in 2013 to consult economic fairness, civil rights and immigrant rights campaigners and develop a plan to “reimagine what’s possible.” With its focus on expanding democracy, the agenda charts a course toward a “just economy” with more public ownership and community control of capital. NPA’s agenda does not just attack “too big to fail” banking; it proposes moving money to infrastructure banks and state banks that invest in communities and people.
MOST VALUABLE EDUCATION OF CONGRESS: PDA’s “Letter Drops”
Working with Food & Water Watch (on fracking), Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (on the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and US Labor Against the War (on intervention and Pentagon spending), Progressive Democrats of America has organized monthly “Educate Congress” interventions. Activists have dropped by as many as 250 congressional district offices in a single day to deliver letters and talk with representatives and staffers. “Instead of lobbyists, members of Congress are hearing from constituents who want to talk about economic and social justice, environmental justice and peace,” says PDA director Tim Carpenter.
MOST VALUABLE PROTEST: Mountain Moral Monday
When up to 10,000 North Carolinians rallied August 5 on Mountain Moral Monday in Asheville, the Rev. William Barber II, president of the state NAACP, announced: “This is no momentary hyperventilation and liberal screaming match. This is a movement.” The protests against legislative attacks on voting rights, public education and programs for low-income families began last spring at the state Capitol in Raleigh. But when the GOP-controlled legislature adjourned, the massive rally in Asheville signaled that the movement had spread. Barber declared that “from the mountains to the coast,” there is a movement for “a new South, a new North Carolina and a new future.”
MOST VALUABLE TRANSLATION OF THE POPE’S MESSAGE: Network
Pope Francis is Time’s “Person of the Year.” Why? Mainly because he’s reminded Catholics—and everyone else—not only of a duty to the poor, but of how the “tyranny of capitalism” impedes that duty. Now the question is whether the pope’s high-minded statements will translate into action. Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby, is trying to make the connection. The group that provided critical support for healthcare reform and challenged Paul Ryan’s budgets with its “Nuns on the Bus” tour issued a December appeal for Americans to “Join with Pope Francis to Pray and Act for an End to Hunger.” Network’s specific demand was that Congress protect food stamp funding. The broader message was a call for politicians to “prioritize people who are most vulnerable in our nation, remembering that the measure of our nation’s greatness is how we treat those who are struggling.”