Web Only// Views » June 30, 2009
Progressive Blind Spots
The progressive movement runs the risk of overlooking what should be one of our most crucial responsibilities.
Since its formation in 1997, the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) has been one of the progressive movement’s least heralded but most essential organizations.
Best known for its annual “Take Back America” conference, CAF has also been a key catalyst in the growth of the movement’s extensive infrastructure of grassroots organizations, single-issue coalitions, think tanks, media watchdog groups and polling firms.
With Barack Obama in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in both branches of Congress, CAF changed the name of this year’s conference (held in Washington D.C. in early June) to “America’s Future Now.”
Although I’ve always been impressed by the politically astute, movement-building orientation of CAF conferences, I’ve occasionally felt that international issues don’t receive the attention they deserve. The new conference name only heightened my unease. After all, are progressives only supposed to be concerned with America’s future? What about the rest of the world?
Now that we have (arguably) “taken America back” and elected a president who says he is committed to establishing a new international role for the United States, shouldn’t progressives be devoting more energy toward achieving a complete overhaul of American foreign policy?
Although CAF itself exclusively focuses on “bread and butter” domestic issues (hence its name), its annual conferences have always had a broader scope. Issues like the war in Iraq war and global warming have over the years received considerable attention in conference plenaries and panels.
But what was striking about this year’s conference–more so than ever before–is that global warming and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were almost entirely discussed in terms of how they affected Americans and the U.S. economy. And entire subjects were omitted: There was barely any mention of the ongoing tragedy in Darfur at the conference, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to eliminate extreme poverty by the year 2015 was ignored.
Now, I understand that connecting international issues to the day-to-day concerns of Americans is the best way to frame them in electoral politics.
But when an important national progressive conference adopts such a limited view, our movement runs the risk of overlooking what should be one of our most crucial responsibilities.
A concern for oppressed people around the world should always be near the top of the progressive agenda. This should be the case regardless of how direct the connection between the plight of those abroad and the lives of Americans might appear to be.
While there was an abundance of rhetoric at the conference about holding Obama to his campaign promises regarding universal healthcare, the Employee Free Choice Act and a full withdrawal from Iraq, I heard nothing about pressuring Obama to abide by his pledge to help stop the slaughter in Darfur or to substantially increase U.S. economic aid to developing countries.
Nor did I hear any of the speakers–which included leaders from the labor movement and MoveOn, progressive senators and representatives, as well as leaders from a broad spectrum of other organizations–even vaguely refer to the staggering fact that approximately 18 million people around the world die from poverty-related causes each year.
The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world. Our nation’s foreign and economic policies have too often caused or perpetuated global injustice and poverty.
As American progressives, we can make a major difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people suffering throughout the world. But to do so, we must expand our political agenda to seriously address the urgent issues beyond our borders.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Ken Brociner's essays and book reviews have appeared in Dissent, In These Times and Israel Horizons. He also has a biweekly column in the Somerville (Mass.) Journal.