Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Friday, April 17, 2009

Progressive: 100 years for justice

Much of the history of the United States in the past century has been told by The Progressive. It pages resonate with some of the greatest leftist writers and reformers in American history.

That honor roll includes Philip Berrigan and Louis Brandeis, Theodore Dreiser and Martin Luther King, Norman Thomas and Ralph Nader, Helen Keller and Jane Addam, Hugo Black and Bill Douglas, Sinclair Lewis and Upon Sinclair, and Noam Chomsky and Edward Said.

Those names glorify the 100th anniversary issue of Progressive published this month. The magazine was founded in 1909 by Fighting Bob La Follette, great progressive senator from Wisconsin.

The anniversary will be marked by a conference in Madison, Wis., May 1 and 2. The lineup of speakers includes Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Klein, Katha Pollitt and Katrina vanden Heuvel, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich, Jim Hightower and Robert McChesney, Amy Goodman and Howard Zinn, and George McGovern and Russ Feingold.

Matt Rothschild, Progressive editor, lists its main causes: championing civil liberties, combating corporate power, opposing war and empire and fighting for women’s rights and civil rights, human rights and labor rights.

Rothschild, in his anniverary issue column, writes sadly of unfulfilled goals that Progressive battled for.

“It is disconcerting to read about the need for universal health care by Jane Addams in 1909,” Rothschild writes. “It is eerie to stumble on an article demanding an end of the corrupting influence of money in politics from 1909. It is frustrating to read article after article against the death penalty, starting with Tolstoy’s in 1910.”

Some of the significant issues Progressive fought for over the past century:

Sen. George Norris in 1922 called for abolition of the Electoral College. (It still exists as a mockery of democracy.)

La Follette in 1927 deplored the armed invasion of Nicaragua. “The inevitable result of this harsh, bullying and unjustifiable action is to set the nations of South and Central America against us.”

La Follette in 1942 ridiculed Churchill, that Great Reactionary, for refusing to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Norman Thomas in 1946 lamented that 3,200 Americans were jailed for the “crime” of conscientious objection to war.
Philip Randolph in 1948 flayed Jim Crow as an “unmitigated evil” and pointed out the absurdity of a segregated army. Douglas decried the Red Scare in 1952. “Character assassinations have become common...Fear runs rampant.”

In 1949 Stuart Chase declared that Hiroshima was unnecessary, citing a study predicting that Japan would probably surrender in 1945. “The 80,000 children, women and men slaughtered at Hiroshima would thus be alive today if the men who dropped the bomb” had listened to the study group (Foreign Morale Analysis Division).

Martin Luther King in 1960 lauded Southern black college students for their sit-ins at lunch counters while facing “hoodlums, police guns, tear gas and jail sentences.”

In 1963 King wrote that moving classic, “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He excoriated the “vicious lynch mobs” and “hate-filled policemen” who “curse, kick, brutalize and even kill.” He denounced white and colored signs in the South. He noted the indignity of being called “nigger” or “boy,” left with “a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness.’ ”

Wayne Morse in 1964 pilloried the U.S. role in Vietnam. “We are pursuing neither law nor peace in Southeast Asia. We are not even pursing freedom.” (America, having learned nothing from history, is doing likewise today in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Noam Chomsky in 1982 deplored the fact that Washington “continues to underwrite Israeli encroachment into the occupied territories.” He denounced the U.S. commitment “to an Israeli Sparta as a ‘strategic asset’ that frustrates the international consensus on a political settlement.” (Nothing changes. Israeli horrors continue with American backing.)

Robert Fisk in 1999 denounced NATO folly in the Balkins, breaking “international law in attacking a sovereign nation without seeking a U.N. mandate and killing “hundreds of innocent Serb civilians.”

Bernie Sanders wrote in 2004 of the yawning gap between the rich and the poor. He called unacceptable that “the 13,000 wealthiest families in this country earn more income than the bottom 20 million families.”

Howard Zinn in 2005 deplored the scourge of nationalism, calling it “one of the great evils of our time, along with racism and religious hatred.”

Alas, America rarely listens to The Progressive and its prophets. Prophets like McGovern who wrote in 1973: “America can accomplish far more by the power of example than by the power of bombing.”


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