If Progressives are “Radical,” America is “Radical”

For far too long, the right has controlled how the political conversation is framed, much to their advantage. Roxanne refutes the labels and frames commonly used by the right to disparage ideas embraced by most Americans.

Roxanne is the all too unsung hero of this organization. I may do the bulk of the writing, but every post is borne from our long conversations. Very often, our discussion on an issue or policy will end with a powerful insight from Roxanne that I then spin off into a blog. In Roxanne’s career she served as the Communications Director for the National Writing Project, so words matter to her. Today, she writes about the use of language as a political tool.

In Brief,

Time to pay the rent. Join us tonight and find out how you can get active.

Tuesday, Aug. 6, 6:30-8:30pm Retake Our Democracy Organizing Meeting, 1420 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, The Center for Progress & Justice. Join us as we begin with a short presentation on how to contribute to the NM Democratic Platform. We will also have a discussion about the Sept. 20 Climate Crisis General Strike and how to plug in. EarthCare has assembled a tremendous youth-developed and youth-led plan with training coming in civil disobedience being offered by Rainforest Action Network. There are lots of other ways you can plug in and help make Santa Fe’s General Strike and the subsequent 7 days of disruption the kind of response to climate change we have been longing for.

There are also youth-led climate strike groups advancing plans in Albuquerque, Four Corners, Las Vegas, and Taos. If you know of a group forming in any other part of the state, please let us know. Time to follow our youth.

Finally, for 45 minutes we will break out into Action Teams: media and marketing; outreach and organizing; climate action; and research. There is plenty to do and coordinators to facilitate and focus that work. Activism is the antidote to depression and anxiety, so come get un-depressed and help us the vision of justice in NM into the present.

Please RSVP by email: Paul@RetakeOurDemocracy.org

Roxanne On the Power of Language

As an activist fighting for social, environmental, and economic justice for some years now, I have become increasingly frustrated by the use of categories, or labels, that attempt to define people and their actions but misrepresent and distort the truth. I’m talking about labels like “progressive” and “liberal” and what they’ve come to misrepresent for many people.

Language is powerful, and narratives can be absorbed subliminally, without conscious intent. People sometimes use words and phrases without knowing who crafted them for what purpose.  In part goaded by moderators, even some of the candidates in the recent Democratic Presidential debates fell into using the rhetoric of the right wing––conservative arguments so skillfully costumed that even well-meaning Democrats parroted them with little thought. This led Senator Elizabeth Warren to warn during the debate, “We should stop using Republican talking points.”

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff writes in his popular book Don’t Think of An Elephant that narratives, or “frames,” shape the way we see the world, the goals we seek, the plans we make. It’s well documented that right-wing conservatives have worked hard over many decades to impose their narratives, or frames, on the American people. These frames are so powerful that many Americans have no idea that they’ve been duped into acting, and voting, against their own best interests.

In my work with Retake Our Democracy over the last three years and as a founding member of the Adelante Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, I am no stranger to my “progressive” values being described as “radical” or “socialist.” But these labels need to be called out for what they are––the frames of the right wing, the language of fear, exclusion, and greed. What “progressives” want for our country is, in fact, what most Americans want for our country. Progressive values are not “radical” values, they are human values. They are human rights and values we should all be fighting for.

Who would march against fairness or solutions? Well, besides Trump.

Since when has it become “radical” to help a neighbor or stranger in need? Since when has it become “radical” to protect our land, air, water, and wildlife––the very things that give us and this planet life? Since when has it become “radical” to think everyone deserves food, shelter, and safety? To believe that every human being deserves free, quality health care? To want every person to have the opportunity to secure a living wage job? Tell me, since when has it become “radical” to think that every human being deserves equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal protection, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or physical ability? These are values this country was built on.

And I’m tired of the fear-mongering conservative narrative that people should help themselves, the false narrative that helping people encourages them to be lazy, to become dependent on that help. We spend billions of dollars more on corporate welfare in this country––bailing out corporations and giving tax cuts to the wealthy––than we do on individuals and families in need, in fact double the amount. There is little proof that corporate welfare benefits our economy, but plenty of research shows that social safety nets consistently improve lives, and the earlier in life that help is given, the greater the benefit. And where is the conversation about how people in need may have been forced into that situation in the first place? What about Manifest Destiny, colonialism, slavery, racism, redlining, forced displacement, violence, exploitation, and more that has undermined, oppressed, and destroyed communities, particularly communities of color, over centuries?

Let’s not even begin to look at the label “socialism,” a word that turns conservatives apoplectic with fear and rage at the slightest mention. We’ll save that discussion for another day. In the meantime, we will all continue to enjoy public roads and highways, public schools, public libraries, fire departments, police departments, post offices, state and national parks, Social Security, and Medicare––all “socialist” services in America.

I hope the next time you hear someone claim that progressives don’t represent the people of New Mexico or don’t represent most Americans, you will gently tell them they are mistaken. Ask them what they believe in and tell them what you believe in. Ask them what they’re fighting for and tell them what you’re fighting for. When we move beyond manipulative frames or labels and talk about issues, about our values, about what we want for our state and our country, we can find our common vision and work together to accomplish it.

In solidarity,

Roxanne

15 thoughts on “If Progressives are “Radical,” America is “Radical”

  1. That’s telling it like it is, Roxanne! I wish Democratic candidates would sound more like you and champion the values of the common good.

  2. Roxanne. Yup. The common good is the social good. All living things and all the support systems that make life possible are social entities, linked together in the ‘ism’ of socialism. What is ‘radical’ is the nihilistic behavior that fears the neighborhood and the neighbors, and ‘frames’ the gated enclave, surrounded by fences, guards and golf courses, as the panacea that will civilize mankind.

    Mick Nickel

  3. Agreed. It’s hard to talk to “conservative” people these days because they have their own terrible media and their Lakoffian frames are deeply imbedded in their psyches…as is their hatred of “liberals” — manufactured though it is.
    As for socialism: technically socialism means that the means of production are in public/government hands. We don’t have that in the US–never have, likely never will. It’s a total misnomer. Equitable distribution of public services is more accurately called social democracy than socialism. All of which makes their accusations more absurd.

  4. Spot on. One minor point of contention with the last paragraph, however. Is there any reason why progressives can’t come up with our own good, strong frames and labels that front for the underlying moral issues and values. Most discussion between two people who don’t agree politically is neither lengthy nor wholly rational. I know it sounds like bumper sticker activism, but I think that we can pierce the shell of some unbelievers with exactly the right word-memes.

    • Sounds like a project you should work on, Robert! Or maybe the Media Team can take it on… Sticking to the actual issues, or the values they connect to, is probably the most straightforward, honest way to approach it.

  5. Right On!

    We need to look at the role of corporate media, in this distortion. There are no laws or regulations anymore. Local news media is beholden to some industries too, and it has seriously limited certain local discussions.

    The big tech companies have an agenda too, no one paid much attention before 2016, and they are still not paying attention.

  6. Bravo Roxanne! When politicos, in either party, use the words “progressive,” or “radical,” it’s a premeditated attempt to disparage and undermine our human rights and democratic values, by intentionally making the inference that one who holds such beliefs to be true, is “hysterical,” way out there “extreme,” worthy of being discounted. The message being packaged and distributed to our voting population is that “socialism” is “communism” which is “welfarism” and will lead to the inevitable overthrow of “capitalism.” The opposition is fighting to maintain power over the people and thrives on “classism”, inequality and unfair distribution of wealth. The anecdote in my mind is to continue our grassroots movement to educate and ignite activism, wherever and however we can.

  7. Peripherally related… When there is a mass shooting, the media use terms like “gunman”, “active shooter”, and so on. These terms subtly glamorize and legitimize what the murderer is doing – as if using a rifle to resolve one’s grievances is an OK solution. I think media should say “murderer” (or “cowardly fool”) in such cases.

  8. You have so thoughtfully pointed out one of my pet peeves of years, but never expressed so well. All labels seek to “make sense” of what we’re experiencing. And, while there is a place for that in the grocery store, it is a divider of people’s, and requires little thought. “Liberal”, “Progressive”, “Radical”, “Socialist”, and “Conservative” are boxes we use to decide that we know all about the “other.” We don’t. However, the term “Progressive” is earning to be taken seriously.

  9. Pingback: A Look Back: Language, White Male Violence & a Red New Deal | Retake Our Democracy

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