Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, had a great op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, on "The New Progressive Movement."
Sachs believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement suggests the coming of a third progressive era in American politics (after the Progressive Era, following the financial crisis of 1893; and the New Deal in the 1930s, after the Great Depression). In all three of these cycles, an era of great inequality (the Gilded Age, the Roaring 20s, the financial bubble of the 2000s) was followed by a financial crisis, and then a demand not only to restore economic prosperity, but also to address inequality.
He argues that this new progressive era should aim for three things:
The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.
While Sachs praises the activists in Zuccotti Park and the occupations around the country, he also argues that the movement will need to expand to include shareholders, consumers, and students -- he doesn't mention labor unions, but it is great to see a renewal in labor activism that has sprung up in response to OWS -- and, yes, elected officials.
Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads.
Just a few short blocks north of Zuccotti Park, the New York City Council Progressive Caucus is doing just that. The Progressive Caucus (which I am honored to co-chair, along with Melissa Mark-Viverito) was created just last year, mostly by grassroots candidates elected for the first time in 2009. If you're inspired by Sachs' call, then I hope you'll check out our website, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or sign up for our e-mail alerts. Our policy agenda mirrors the one that Sachs is calling for as well:
The new movement also needs to build a public policy platform. The American people have it absolutely right on the three main points of a new agenda. To put it simply: tax the rich, end the wars and restore honest and effective government for all.
Right now, we are fighting for New York's "millionaire's tax." The tax is set to expire at the end of this year, giving a $5 billion tax break to millionaires and billionaires, while starving our public schools of resources even as class sizes are growing past the breaking point. We are pushing for "living wage" legislation (so that the City's multi-million dollar economic development subsidies don't go to developers to create poverty jobs). If you're interested in joining this effort, please join us for a Living Wage NYC rally at Riverside Church on Monday, November 21st. And we are working for a new law that would grant "paid sick days" to all New Yorkers (right now, one million working New Yorkers can't take a paid day off when they or a family member is sick). You can check out our entire statement of principles here.
But it's not just our legislative fights and our progressive principles that make us part of the "new progressive movement." It's also a style of politics that is infused with hopeful energy, and partners with community members, activists, and leaders. Our colleague Jumaane Williams has turned his own encounter with overzealous police into momentum for what he calls the "police accountability movement." Melissa Mark-Viverito worked closely with Make the Road New York to sponsor a new law -- the first in the country -- that limits the NYPD's cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, so immigrants who are not convicted of a crime cannot be detained after their case is dismissed so ICE can seek new ways to deport them. Jimmy Van Bramer and Danny Dromm are the first LGBT elected officials from Queens and while they are leaders in the fight for LGBT equality, they are far more than this. Jimmy is probably the greatest elected champion that public libraries have in the U.S. And Danny -- a public school teacher for 25 years -- has led the Council's efforts to make NYC the most immigrant-welcoming city anywhere. Debi Rose has built an interfaith coalition against hate, in response to bias crimes on the North Shore of Staten Island. And the list goes on.
And I'm also pleased to be working in a very concrete way (together with Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams, and Republican Eric Ulrich -- not a Progressive Caucus member!) on an energetic new effort to "restore honest and effective government for all" (another Sachs' platform). The four of us have brought "participatory budgeting" to New York City, giving our constituents a direct say in how our tax dollars are spent to solve problems right in our neighborhoods. As I've written elsewhere, participatory budgeting is a great antidote to lack of faith in government.
As Sachs concludes:
Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.
We will be working to make sure that the winter of our discontent (with inequality) is made summer by the progressive sun of (New) York.