The Common Good

The 25 Best Progressive Victories Of 2013

Date: January 1, 2014

Progressives are rarely satisfied. It is part of our political DNA. There's so much injustice in the world, it's sometimes hard to feel that we're making progress. But as Chinese philosopher Laozi reminded us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

As I document in my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012), the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next generation. One hundred years ago, ideas like Social Security, the minimum wage and women's suffrage were considered radical. Fifty years ago, most African-Americans in the South couldn't vote, few women were welcome in politics and many professions, and all but a handful of gays and lesbians were locked in the closet. In other words, if we take a long view, we can see that things do often change for the better, sometimes in big leaps, but usually in incremental stages....

5. A Populist Pope: Occupy's message seems to have reached the Vatican, too. Pope Francis has consistently criticized the human and spiritual damage caused by global capitalism, widening inequality, and corporate sweatshops. In November, he released a remarkable 84-page document in which he attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny," criticized the "idolatry of money," and urged politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare." "Today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Pope Francis wrote. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis is the most progressive pontiff since Pope Leo XIII, whose 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, focused attention on social justice and workers' rights at the dawn of modern industrial capitalism. There's no doubt that Pope Francis' public statements have boosted support for progressive movement in the U.S. and around the globe. He adds his voice to the growing number of faith-based groups in the U.S. -- including Network (the Catholic Social Justice lobby group and its offshoot, Nuns on the Bus), Sojourners, Interfaith Worker Justice, Bend the Arc (a Jewish justice group), PICO (a faith-based community organizing group), and others - who have expanded their efforts on behalf of workers' rights, immigrant rights, and the poor.