Today is International Workers Day, or in more common parlance, May Day.
Today we celebrate those that gave us the eight-hour work day, the five day work week, the end of child labour, and the other foundations of the modern welfare state.
Today we celebrate workers.
And starting today, I am no longer going to call myself a “progressive”. I’m a democratic socialist.
For a long time now, I’ve felt obliged to describe my beliefs in a less specifically ideological fashion, by using the term progressive. In the past little while, I’ve started to re-evaluate what the word really means.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “progressive” as:
progressive: adjective pro·gres·sive \prə-ˈgre-siv\
1: of, relating to, or characterized by progress
2: of, relating to, or characterized by progression
3: moving forward or onward
Now obviously dictionary definitions are always a little wooden and lacklustre, but what exactly is to be celebrated about allowing oneself to be defined by such a meaningless and weak political stance.
Forward to what? Progression to where?
“Progressive” can honestly means whatever people want it to mean at the time.
In the 2014 Ontario election, progressive meant voting for a government that within the year, began to sell off the province’s public assets.
In the 2015 election, progressive meant giving people who make $200,000 a year a tax cut. Progressive meant supporting the implementation of the most excessive security bill Canada has ever seen.
That’s why the language we use is so important. I’m not saying I’ve never described myself as progressive, and I do believe there is one way we can leverage its prevalence to our advantage.
When Davis Whittington-Heeney and I ran to become Co-Presidents of our NDP campus club, we utilized this strategy. Our campaign slogan was a commitment to “build a community of progressives”.
This wording irritated us as much as it inspired us, but we knew we had to do it.
Progressive was the common language used to describe what we were on campus, and to get new people on board, we knew we had to talk about things in a manner that was widely accepted.
So, our community of progressives was born.
Soon we began to turn it into something different though. Slowly but surely we started referring more to ourselves as being “left-wing” and even started dropping the ‘S’ word.
As we began to show our stripes, people started to see that we were primarily here for the economic liberation of the working class, and we were going to do our part to bring economic equity to our campus.
We focused most of our energy in the early days of our term on a campaign to unionize a large alcohol distributor, starting with our local branch.
Then, we honed in on bringing a wage increase to our campus. Over the year we worked slowly to raise the profile of our living wage motion, and by the end of the year had garnered significant support from the student body.
It was a proud moment, to see the full force of student engagement standing against an executive pay raise in favour of a living wage for workers.
Now that I’m no longer Co-President, I’m finding myself more and more tired with wishy-washy progressiveness, and looking for that sense of engagement I found at the end of my school year, rather than the beginning.
I keep asking myself, why have we allowed increasing liberalization to infect the very language we use to define ourselves, and what we stand for?
Think of the rage that was unleashed when this photo of the Trump administration signing a bill on women’s health was released:
Is it abhorrent that we allow a room full of men to make decisions about what’s in the best interests of women’s health? Absolutely. But why don’t we talk about the fact that we allow the same thing to happen with our economic interests in every single election.
Why have we surrendered to the liberal individualist politics and forgotten that we aren’t progressives, we’re social democrats and democratic socialists, and always, always, left of wherever the centre may lay.
This year on May Day, lets retire the word progressive.