Just as the label “liberal” has been tainted by disingenuous self-adopters and negative representations, the word “progressive” has started coming under fire as well. Conservatives always had a negative view of it (likely because they equate it with liberal), but lately even ostensibly progressive people have begun villainizing the word. In light of this, I wanted to discuss what being a progressive means to me, why I don’t shy from the progressive label and why I decided to become a Real Progressive.
The first thing that needs to be defined is progress. The dictionary defines progress purely as forward motion in something, or moving toward something. In my view, within a societal context, progress is very simply defined as improvement. Some people may define improvement differently, like conservatives who think improvement means glorifying the past and wanting to go backwards as a society, but, in my mind, improvement is couched in equity. Not equality but equity.
While the words are connected, their meanings are not the same. Equality implies that everyone is the same, everyone is equal. However, this ignores a fundamental truth that we are not all the same. Humanity is diverse and full of beautiful and interesting differences. This is why I prefer to use the word equity. Equity is like equality-plus. It is equality with justice. It means that rather than everyone being the same, everyone should be treated the same. It means an elimination of races and classes. It is equal rights and equal access.
Diversity should be embraced and celebrated, not shunned. Equity means everyone is equal in how we are treated regardless of our differences. Equity is two completely different people living as neighbors and treating each other as decent human beings. Equity is the rich and the poor all have their needs met without special treatment for the wealthy. So, progress ends up being whatever works to make equity a reality. Progress is intersectional and includes everyone. Progress eliminates inequality in power structures whether they are cultural, economic, or political. That is what progress means to me.
Therefore the term progressive is defined by its root, progress as societal improvement. Progressivism, as far as I’m concerned, is and always will be about progress. It is not about any specific ideology in the sense of the various labels we use to define different groups/movements. It is about what is best for the people. What makes the world more equitable regardless of where the idea comes from. It allows for uncompromising principles while simultaneously being open to different ideas on how to achieve our goals.
Progress is and always will be the key. Making the world better than it currently is requires a willingness to critique the world as it is and seek out better answers. It requires that you be willing to tear down what exists today and replace it. You cannot stand for progress if you are unwilling to change things that need to be changed. That would be a hindrance to progress. Institutions, parties, and organizations that stand in the way of progress, either due to tradition or loyalty to a leadership that refuses to give up power, cannot be progressive by this definition.
To me, progressivism is inherently anti-authoritarian. Deference to those who block progress is not progressive. How can it be? Submission to parties that actively seek to maintain power at the expense of change and progress is not progressive. Idolizing the rich and allowing them to get away with various forms of oppression is not progressive. Refusal to consider dismantling economic power structures that stifle equity in the name of profit is not progressive.
On that particular point, I do not believe progressivism is anti-capitalist as an ideology, but rather as a matter of practical understanding that a system which puts profit motives over the needs of the people cannot ever be equitable. So, regardless of what system individual progressives end up supporting, it’s almost certain not to be this naïve “the market is god” capitalism so many on the right push. You’d have to be completely indoctrinated by capitalist propaganda and wholly unwilling to actually look at the world we live in to not see how capitalism fails the vast majority of people in it. Therefore progressives must work toward a better solution, no matter what labels are used.
Something else to keep in mind is where your belief comes from. It is entirely possible to consider oneself left-leaning, or liberal, or progressive but still be working against the cause. I have spent years studying politics and economics and seeking out answers rather than simply taking someone’s word for it. A true, real progressive isn’t someone who believes what they believe because they were told to. Those who just accept what they are told without question are liable to fight back against anyone who tries to point out where they might be wrong. A real progressive takes new information and analyzes it before rejecting or accepting it.
This is something I have felt encouraged to do within the Real Progressives organization. It isn’t about people blindly following anyone or anything. This is why I take up the moniker of Real Progressive, because, to me, the organization represents these values. I followed them for months before reaching out to say that I wanted to help, and my time with them has only reinforced this belief.
I have a desire to improve the world by seeking better solutions to its problems, to create equity and agency among all human beings outside of ideology, and to do so ceaselessly without yielding my own analysis. This desire makes me not only glad to accept the label of progressive, but to proudly claim that I am in actuality a Real Progressive.