Folks, we need to get out of the bubble.
Seriously. To my fellow progressives, if we genuinely want to make the change that we say is necessary–that we know is necessary–to be made, we’ve got to get out of these utopian-like liberal enclaves where everyone already agrees with us and go to the places where people need convincing the most. I know how awesome it is to live in places like San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. I know how great it can feel to walk into work or around your neighborhood and say “F*** Trump,” and people not only agree, but offer to buy you a drink in solidarity. I get it. I like it too.
But progress isn’t about being comfortable. In fact, most of the hard but necessary things that we know need to be done will require a lot of heavy lifting and discomfort. Yes, sometimes it will mean talking to racists, bigots, climate deniers, crony capitalists, and the like. But sometimes, it means talking to the guy that can’t seem to separate football players protesting police brutality from his perception of being unpatriotic. Or talking to the school principal who genuinely believes that she’s doing the right thing and serving students but also doesn’t acknowledge disparities in how (and to whom) school discipline is being applied. Or the gay-bashing preacher who otherwise runs an amazing soup kitchen. Those are folks who are misinformed, yes, but they’re not deplorable and they’re most certainly not lost causes. They are the cause.
But most of us will never even meet them–let alone know what they think or what motivates them–if we refuse to live near them. Or if we refuse to talk to them or listen to them. And if we never engage with them, we’ll never broaden our base enough to accomplish the tangible outcomes–the impact we say we’re fighting for–that are within reach. Yes, we are progressive, but why does that mean that we won’t take some progress over no progress? A lot of us disregard tangible singles and doubles all on account of a “I-don’t-get-out-of-bed-for-less-than-a-homerun” mentality. And it’s ridiculous.
We as progressives, above all else, are about serving the most vulnerable, the most marginalized among us. So how do we justify delaying some sort of relief or progress on their priorities because we want to get the “perfect” solution, lest we don’t pursue it at all? They’re agenda–they’re priorities and needs–don’t get put on pause because the think tank needs to refine the model. They need help now. They want solutions today. I’ll use an example to better articulate the point.
One of my organizations, Groundswell–where I currently serve as Associate Director of Public Affairs and Communications–is developing a large-scale community solar project in West Georgia, south of Atlanta. We’re working with the local utility to do it and a whole bunch of conservative Republicans who–while we never asked, a la President Donald Trump to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe–likely voted enthusiastically for our current commander in chief in 2016. Moreover, some of them may or may not even believe in climate change. Fine. Because truth be told: that was never the point in the first place!
The point wasn’t to convince them that climate change is real–that’d be nice–but it was to convince them to do a thing that we knew could help combat climate change, even if that isn’t why they’re doing it. They’re doing it because the economics make sense. We’re doing it because it helps us accomplish our climate goals. They don’t care why we came to the table, they’re just grateful we did. And the feeling is mutual.
Do you think I care why someone bought an electric car? Would you really not sell it to them if they said they didn’t believe in climate change? That’s insane! You’ve got your win, you are fighting climate change, but all of the sudden you say no and take your toys home because you didn’t win the way you’d like? What about the communities we say we’re fighting for that are impacted every day by the effects of climate change (like my home state of Louisiana)? How do you think they’ll appreciate knowing that help is on the way, but if it has to come in a cheap Honda Accord, then help might have to wait?
Get it done. That’s the mantra. Radical pragmatism. Let’s be ruthlessly pragmatic about accomplishing our goals. You’d be surprised where we’re at a few years from now if we stopped letting the perfect be the sworn enemy of the really frikkin’ good.