Let down by a dangerous Republican White House, a compromising Democratic Congress and a distracting and dysfunctional mainstream media, progressives persevered in 2007, laying the groundwork for what we can only hope will be the different and better politics of 2008. The list of heroes and champions is endless, but here are some of the MVPs — Most Valuable Progressives — from the activist, political, media and cultural spheres of the last full year before the last full year of the Bush-Cheney interregnum:
* Most Valuable Teaching Moment: When fundamentalist Republicans made a stink about the fact that newly-elected Minnesota Congressman KEITH ELLISON, the first Muslim elected to the House, would not be swearing his oath on their version of the scriptures, Ellison trumped them with history. He placed his hand on an edition of the Koran that had been donated to the Library of Congress by a student of Islam and all the world’s great religions: Thomas Jefferson.
* Most Valuable Activist Group: At a time when Congress and the White House seem to have agreed that there will always be more than enough money for defense spending, the terrific Caucus4Priorities campaign of IOWANS FOR SENSIBLE PRIORITIES has kept alive the concept of a peace dividend. The group — a grassroots project of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, the national group founded in 1998 by BEN COHEN of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, has used creative tactics and old-fashioned people power to make an issue of wasteful Pentagon spending. In doing so, they’ve succeeded where the media has failed in forcing presidential candidates to discuss budgeting in deeper and smarter terms. “We aim to redirect 15% of the Pentagon’s discretionary budget away from obsolete Cold War weapons towards education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger, deficit reduction,” the organizers explain. “This 15% cut, or $60 billion dollars, on obsolete weapons systems and the further proliferation of nuclear weapons does not include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in no way impacts homeland security or our defense. We have the money; let’s spend it on sensible priorities!”
* Most Valuable Activist: TIM CARPENTER of PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA did not just argue that progressives should stay and fight within a Democratic party that seemed to let them down at every turn in 2007. He showed them how to do it by leading PDA’s aggressive and unblinking campaigns for rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, impeachment of Bush and Cheney, a single-payer national health care plan, media reform and a real response to climate change. PDA won the confidence of Congressional Progressive Caucus members, with House lefties such as Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Raul Grijalva joining its board. Much of the credit goes to the tireless, humble yet unyielding Carpenter.
* Most Valuable Think Tank: LIBERTY TREE: Foundation for the Democratic Revolution is staffed by young, smart thinkers with roots in green and student politics who push the limits of the debate about how to repair elections, reform education and renew the spirit of 1776. Fellows such as BEN MANSKI and KAITLIN SOPOCI-BELKNAP go beyond narrow interpretations of both the Constitution and what is possible in a republic to explore what real democracy would look like at the international, national, state, regional and local levels. Read their great journal and visit them at: www.libertytreefdr.org