What Does It Mean To Be A Progressive?

BermanPaul Deaton wrote this book review for The Prairie Progressive.  Published here with permission.

Who is a progressive? Who is a “real” progressive? Who will continue a progressive legacy after the 2016 election?

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated what it means to be a progressive at the beginning of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating process, with both claiming progressive bona fides.

Here’s what I say. You are not a progressive unless you have read Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Fairfield, Iowa’s own Ari Berman.

In this extensively researched, easy to read text, Berman reminds many of us of the reason we became politically active: as a way of engaging in progress toward racial and social justice centered around the Voting Rights Act (VRA) signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965.

There has been a concerted, well-planned effort to suppress provisions of the VRA. The June 25, 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Section 4, which required certain states to get preclearance of changes to voting laws from the Department of Justice, was only the most obvious, recent incident. Berman’s account of the Nixon and Reagan administrations provides insight that de-fanging the law was part of Republican intent from the beginning. My reaction was incredulity at everything that was happening before my eyes without me understanding it.

Berman interviewed Rep. John Lewis extensively for the book (along with many others) and it shows. Lewis wrote in the Washington Post, “(Give Us The Ballot) should become a primer for every American, but especially for congressional lawmakers and staffers, because it so capably describes the intricate interplay between grass-roots activism and the halls of Congress . . . Congress must fix the Voting Rights Act, and Berman’s book explains why, without passion or favoritism. It is the first history of the contemporary voting rights movement in the United States. It is long overdue, but Berman’s extensive reporting makes it well worth the wait.”

It’s hard to disagree.

Be a progressive. Read Give Us the Ballot this summer.

–Paul Deaton is Solon, Iowa’s own.


While we’re on the topic of progressives and what to read, check out these selections from The Prairie Progressive’s Summer Reading List.

Extreme Prey
by John Sanford

Lucas Davenport is on the campaign trail during the caucus season, not as a candidate but as a private detective monitoring some unusual rumors and suspicious activities in the precincts of Iowa. Politics as usual, or something more sinister?

Alive: New and Selected Poems
by Elizabeth Willis
One of Iowa City’s finest poets writes deceptively simple, polished meditations that earned her selection as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for 2016. “The poet is a trespasser.”

The Story of My Teeth
by Valeria Luiselli
Possibly the greatest dental novel ever, in the surreal but earthy tradition of Cervantes and Marquez. Prairie Dog predicts that Luiselli, born in Mexico and raised in South Africa, will someday win a Nobel.

Quixote by Ilan Stavans
Speaking of Cervantes, his epic Don Quixote is now 400 years old, and nearly that many years ahead of its time. Stavans crafts an air-tight case for the saga of Quixote and Sancho Panza as the best, not just the first, novel of all time.

Shakespeare’s Money: How Much Did He Make and What Did This Mean?
By Robert Bearman
Another 400-year anniversary rolls around (watch for an exhibit of the First Folio at the University of Iowa this fall). Shakespeare, according to Bearman, was just another hack trying to support his family, although he did turn a nice phrase occasionally.

Nothing Ever Dies
by Vietnam Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen examines the Forever War through the prism of popular movies, literature, and art, while reflecting on memory and its distortions. How do we remember wars? How should we remember them?

We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War
by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner
Hendrix, Aretha, Dylan, Creedence, Merle Haggard – all were as popular on the Vietnam battlefront as on the American home front. Soldiers sometimes gleaned different meanings from the same songs, but the music helped them tolerate combat, and often brought together urban and rural, black and white, and even pro-and anti-war troops.

West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776
by Claudio Sant
Sure, a lot was happening on the east coast, but what about the rest of the continent? Russia and Spain were running wild along the coast of California, Lakota Sioux roamed the Black Hills, France and England were attempting to divide and rule the land on either side of the Mississippi, and beavers were performing ecological engineering miracles throughout North America. Sant’s fascinating depiction of a world in spectacular upheaval brings together market forces, climate change, and struggles for freedom – a world much like today’s.

Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart
Three sisters become armed Sheriff’s deputies in rural New Jersey a century ago. No profanity, no violence, barely any crime – the ideal historical novel for sensitive mystery lovers.

One Kick
by Chelsea Cain
Girl waits with gun, chainsaw, and bondage cuffs. Iowa native Cain delivers another not-for-the-fainthearted thriller.

The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin
52 years later, the writing is as powerful as ever, and the insights into America’s racial divide are, unfortunately, as timely as ever. “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

The Soul of an Octopus
by Sy Montgomery
These cuddly creatures always make the lists of Smartest Animals, but few writers have love affairs with them. This one does, although she insists it’s platonic. Readers will no longer find calamari appealing on the menu.

This Too Shall Pass
by Milena Busquets
A story of sex and death on the Spanish coast. Not too deep, not too light – the perfect beach book for a steamy Iowa summer.

Amusing Ourselves to Death
by Neil Postman
Thirty years ago, as public discourse in America increasingly began to resemble show business, Postman predicted the rise of politicians who would entertain and control the masses through mastery of new communication technologies. He credits earlier thinkers Marshall McLuhan, for perceiving that mediums determine messages, and Aldous Huxley, who predicted that people would “adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”  Substitute Twitter for television, and you’ll find this book uncannily prescient and useful in understanding the undermining of our democracy.

–Prairie Dog, with thanks to Paul “Prairie Mouse” Ingram

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

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