The Progressive Honor Roll of 2013
MOST VALUABLE STATE INITIATIVE: Vermont’s Single-Payer Experiment
As everyone else wrangled over even the mildest Affordable Care Act reforms, Governor Peter Shumlin and his legislative allies were busy preparing a single-payer system for Vermont. Yes, they worked with federal officials to set up the Vermont Health Connect exchange as part of the ACA. But they also allocated resources to study development of a state-based single-payer system and prepared to seek the federal waiver required to implement it in 2017. It isn’t all studies and waivers, however; Shumlin is also building a constituency for what he calls “the most ambitious policy lift in Vermont history,” vowing “to gear up our staff and engage Vermonters from all walks of life.”
MOST VALUABLE MUSICAL PARTNERSHIP: Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello
When Springsteen added the former Rage Against the Machine guitarist to his touring band, two great rockers with progressive politics started making great music together. In November, Springsteen released a fabulous cover of the Havalinas’ “High Hopes” (“I wanna have some kids / I wanna look in their eyes and know they’ll stand a chance…”), crediting “Tom and his guitar” as “my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level.” Springsteen’s next album will have a political edge befitting the partnership; among the tracks is a new version of “American Skin (41 Shots),” a song about racial division and violence that he began dedicating to Trayvon Martin in his stage shows.
MOST VALUABLE BOOK: Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error
Yes, she really did serve as an assistant education secretary for George H.W. Bush, and yes, she once supported George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.” But Ravitch refuses to cling to failed strategies, as she explains in her groundbreaking new book, subtitled The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Driven by experience and data, she demolishes the argument that rigid requirements and punishments will make schools better. Indeed, she argues, these schemes too frequently serve the interests of misguided foundations, ideologically driven billionaires and Wall Street speculators more interested in privatizing public education—with some of them profiting in the process—than in helping children, parents and communities. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis says, “Diane is a fierce warrior against the so-called reformers whose ideology exacerbates the problems of poverty and inequity.”
MOST VALUABLE RADIO PROGRAM: The Marc Steiner Show
No one who has listened to veteran activist Marc Steiner’s morning show on Morgan State University’s WEAA can figure out why this guy hasn’t gone national. Yet Steiner is so into his hometown of Baltimore that it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else. This is what public affairs radio should be: informed, nuanced, interested in a range of opinions, yet clear and unequivocal in its passion for democracy and social justice. Steiner is exceptionally well prepared for every interview, determined to foster dialogue and so respected that state and national political figures are frequent guests. What makes his show remarkable, however, is Steiner’s respect for his listeners. He knows they will engage with discussions about poverty in Baltimore and poverty in Palestine, about the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And the Peabody Award–winning broadcaster’s “Day in History” review explores the cultural and political landscape with thrilling depth and reach.
MOST VALUABLE TV COVERAGE: Democracy Now! on Syria
When President Obama started talking about launching airstrikes, Amy Goodman, Juan González and the DN! team aired shows that highlighted the voices of Syrians, giving a human face to stories from inside the country. They focused on what international leaders were saying long before Vladimir Putin argued in a New York Times op-ed that airstrikes would undermine the UN. They opened up deep discussions about America’s role in the world with the likes of historian Andrew Bacevich—who appeared with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. And they aired dissent from Americans like Representative Alan Grayson, who said: “I’m very disturbed by this general idea…that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it.” That dissent—highlighted by a handful of other radio and cable TV hosts like Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann—was in tune with the American people, and the seriousness with which it was presented added credibility to the calls for an alternative to war.
MOST VALUABLE NEWSPAPER: The Stranger
Newspaper endorsements aren’t supposed to matter much in our digital age. But papers that take bold stands and back them up with all they’ve got can still have a dramatic impact. When The Stranger, a news and culture weekly that bills itself as “Seattle’s Only Newspaper,” backed socialist Kshama Sawant’s successful campaign for a citywide Council seat, it went all in, featuring the community college professor and Occupy Seattle activist on the cover and challenging the assumption that radicals can’t win. “If you are still laughing at the electoral prospects of Socialist Alternative Party city council candidate Kshama Sawant, the joke is on you. Sawant is the real deal. She kicks ass. And she could actually win in November,” read one piece, while another was subtitled “Why You Must Vote for a Real, Genuine Socialist.” Sawant ran a smart campaign that focused on her call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, but The Stranger’s full-frontal assault on politics as usual was a reminder that there are still newspapers—The San Francisco Bay Guardian is another—that can shake up the status quo.
Read Next: John Nichols remembers Willy Brandt on the 100th anniversary of his birth, and celebrates his continuing struggle against global inequality.