The problem at the University of Massachusetts is that our political spectrum has broken into two parties and a ragtag team of far-left radical groups. We actually have a whole lot of political action groups pushing hard on important single issues, but students who haven’t taken a particular interest in a particular issue don’t really have an umbrella under which to push progressive politics in general. Sure, the UMass Democrats conduct electioneering when it’s election season, but it’s all along party lines. The Amherst area votes almost uniformly Democratic, anyway, so shouldn’t we build on that to push the Democrats and the country further towards progressivism?
What if there was an organization for people who hold strongly progressive beliefs and want to get involved, but don’t want to constrain themselves to the program set by a party structure? In effect, isn’t it about time we had a left-wing Tea Party? I propose to you: S.U.P.R., Students United for Progress.
We need to answer not merely the challenge of this recession and this radically reactionary epoch but of the gradual reactionary turn America has taken over the past three decades. We need to admit that the American social covenant has broken down into what Thomas Hobbes called, “the war of all against all.”
Many of our nation’s large companies now make their money by suing and counter-suing citizens and each other rather than producing any real products or services. Our vital public services and institutions are starved for funding. Budget cuts over the last several decades have driven our public universities in particular to operate like for-profit businesses, shed entire departments and rely on ever-increasing student fees to stay afloat. Politics has become a vicious gladiatorial contest between the radically reactionary Republicans and the moderately conservative Democrats. At the same time, political parties have gained more influence over the elections, debates and media, narrowing the spectrum of opinion heard in public discourse. In short, right-wing political influences have largely succeeded in their campaign to privatize everything, leaving them to watch from privileged private balconies while the rest of the nation fights for the scraps.
We call ourselves progressive in the sense of Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party, who said that “to destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
We – S.U.P.R. – must address not only the obvious tasks but the subtleties of fundamental issues. We must reverse the ruling of Citizens United, which deemed any limit or reporting requirement on campaign donations from corporations unconstitutional. We need a true universal health care system. We have to cut defense spending by dismantling the costly American empire and bringing home the troops from free countries like Germany and Japan, if not ending our current wars. We owe it to our youth to bring funding for public universities to a level that can finally curb the exponential growth of tuition and fees, while the ecosystems of our nation and our world demand our efforts at conservation and revivification.
We cannot, however, consider obvious measures enough.
Our project is a positive and coherent project to rejuvenate the American public spirit and to rebuild the American public sphere. America is not merely a collection of conflicting individuals, an enforcer of property rights, or the Death Star of neoliberal economics. It is a nation built by the contributions of its individuals’ bodies to the common good, with a social contract binding to a form of liberal democracy. We believe that in order to maintain our democracy, a measure of socialism is inevitable and necessary. However, social democracy is the truest liberal democracy.
At the campus level, we demand fair wages for all UMass students, staff and faculty. We demand equal access to all University services for every student regardless of status. Specifically, we need to address exorbitant gym fees for graduate students and the limitation of the new Commonwealth College living quad to honors students, since all students pay fees that contribute to these facilities.
Locally, we support livable, equitable urban planning and policy, to create thriving human and natural environments. We are for sustainable and local agriculture, as well as enforcement of fair labor practices. We will investigate alternative methods for taxing real-estate, such as Georgian site-value taxation in an attempt to combat unwanted gentrification and slum conditions. We believe a community has a responsibility to all of its members, and that the good of the members is the good of the community.
From states, we demand a permanent, workable budget for the entire Massachusetts public education system, including state universities and community colleges, ensuring the right to free, public education for all Massachusetts citizens. We support the resurrection of organized labor and workers’ cooperatives and new legislation to reinforce workers’ rights.
Nationally, we support creating additional income brackets at the upper income spectra and restoring the progressive income tax. We intend to push for genuinely universal public health care, and the improvement of our agricultural regulations to promote Earth-healthy and human-healthy farming. We aim to end corporate personhood and the precedent of capital over community it has engendered. We intend to replace the entrenchment of lobbying with publicly-funded candidacies and strong ethics laws. We demand that the two-party system enforced by the first-past-the-post voting system be replaced by a multi-party one.
In the international arena, we aim for the United States to act as an ideologically neutral, promoter of peace, liberal social democracy and environmental stewardship all across the Earth.
Right now, we are all students. Many of us believe in progress. We ought to unite for it.
Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.