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Not There Yet

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In my new book (The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be), my speaking tour about the book, and my blog posts over the last several months, I have been arguing that the stars are aligned for another Big Change Moment: an era like the 1860s, early 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s where a lot of big transformational changes happen in a very short period of time. The polling is clear that the American people are ready for big progressive change, the progressive movement is stronger and more cohesive than it has been since the 1970s, and there are big problems which can only be solved by big ideas and bold change.

But every day there's another reminder that we are not there yet, that -- as in all other Big Change Moments in our country's history -- big change will not come without a big fight. As Frederick Douglass said in perhaps the greatest single quote in American history:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will... men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get.

It took the horrors of a civil war to finally end slavery.

It took 90 years of mockery and civil disobedience and organizing to get women the right to vote.

It took a banking panic, 25% unemployment, and sit-down strikes to get New Deal reforms.

It took children dying in church firebombs, and having German shepherds and fire hoses set on them, to end Jim Crow.

And we struggle today against the power of massively wealthy special interests -- big oil, big insurance and pharmaceutical companies, big banks -- to make big change. The struggles aren't always as dramatic as they were in past times, but the nature of those fights is very much the same. We don't have the same level of physical violence, but the economic and political violence is just as real as in those historical struggles.

You want specifics? I'll give you specifics:

  • The defeat of banking legislation that would have let 1.7 million homeowners restructure their mortgages

  • The warnings of Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe- and, of course, the health insurance lobby- against including a public health plan option in health care reform

  • The complaints- by some Democrats!- against being able to pass health care reform measures with 51 votes in the Senate

  • The trouble Obama's energy/climate change legislation is already running into in both the House and the Senate

  • Complaints against Obama's plan to help students get better deals on college loans at the expense of lenders

  • Complaints from some Democrats about Obama's plan to tax overseas investment and outsourcing of American jobs

The powers that be, who have bestowed millions of dollars in campaign contributions to their friends in the House and Senate, are fighting big change with everything they have.

I'm glad we have a president who is fighting for big change on most of these issues (in spite of my periodic complaints about his banking policies), and I'm glad the Democratic leadership in Congress is on the right side of most of these issues. What we need now is some more Senators who will stand on the right side of history, and who will say yes to big change. And we need a progressive movement that rises up and battles the powers that be every inch of the way.

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