My turn: Progressives in Juneau need to stop being so polite

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Those of us in this community who consider themselves "liberals," "progressives," "leftists" or simply "activists" have a decent history of standing up for decent things, decently and generally inoffensively.

But these days, "decent" doesn't really cut it.

We have limited ourselves, too often and too needlessly, in our ability to be effective to the community in which we live.

We have limited ourselves demographically.

Progressives in this community are, far too often, a white, middle-aged, middle-class group.

We haven't connected with the young, workers, the Rainbow and, worst of all, with the poor and the dispossessed. Those groups don't think we matter to them. They should be a vital and equal part of a movement for change, because they need change more than anyone.

Even in an "affluent" place such as Juneau, there are people who are out in the cold, people with no say, no voice, no place, no chance.

If progressives don't look like the whole community, don't represent and include all of the excluded, we can do nothing.

We limit ourselves in the issues we deal with, focusing too often solely on global issues.

War, torture and human rights violations do matter.

Yes, we must speak against injustice, misery and exploitation everywhere. In fact we need to do so more about what's happening in Latin America, for example, where the outgoing "leaders" are trying to force out democratic governments for putting the needs of their people before those of U.S. corporations.

But we must tie these global issues to the question of suffering and injustice in our own community. And we also need to speak openly of the issues of inequality, concentration of local wealth in the hands of a few, concentration of real decision-making power in to the hands of this same few, and the institutional forms of bigotry that are designed to keep people here from coming together in a broad coalition for change.

And we must stop concerning ourselves with the fact that "everybody knows everybody" and that the truth might offend people. If someone is offended by truth spoken to power, that person wasn't going to help anyway. To put consensus first is to reduce ourselves to meaningless spectacles such as the bland, corporate-approved, reality-free "Oceans Day" event that occurred earlier this summer. The road to "consensus" is the road to uselessness.

And we limit ourselves through fear of being called "radical."

This is why we don't talk about energy and economics. Most of us never mention these issues and don't make enough effort to propose positive alternatives to the Republican/corporate Alaska agenda.

We need to come together and draft bold, far-reaching proposals on the energy issue and on economics, not because it would "feel good" as some who disparage the idea might put it, but because as long as we don't the "right" will control the debate.

And we need to talk about ideas that aren't "market-based," to openly say "sometimes, people are more important than profit." It's risky, but the times call for that.

Not addressing economics does more than anything else to keep working-class people and people of color away from identifying as progressives. Generally, those groups don't feel they have the luxury of supporting people and causes that don't offer real, solutions for their day-to-day problems. The only way progressives can change this is to be practical enough to be "radical."

We rightly call on our leaders to bring the troops home.

We must call on ourselves to bring the struggle home.

We need to talk openly about class and race, about the limitations on political choice and debate imposed in our current political culture, about the exclusion of too many people in our own community from any real place within it, about all the painful truths of the realities of life in this place we share yet don't share.

Let's tell the truth. Let's stand up to the blowhards and the bullies.

Let's matter for a change, progressives.

• Ken Burch is a Juneau resident.

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