Progressive: to move forward, to advance (Oxford English Dictionary).
Progressive ideology: to be open to new ideas, to look for a better way, to allow open dialog, to ask why, how, and then move for change (Oxford English Dictionary).
When listening to the political rhetoric of the right, we hear the word "progressive" being thrown at the political left like it's a bad thing. I have walked with progressive ideas since I was old enough to think beyond myself. It is most unsettling to hear the outpouring of hate and fear coming from the party of Abe Lincoln. Old, outdated ideas and past social issues are being resurrected. Constitutional "rights" are being threatened by a political party that is the first to yell "unconstitutional" at any attempt to control guns, yet voting rights, women's reproduction, freedom of religion and speech, the "right to pursue happiness" (gay marriage?) to name a few, seems to elude the consciousness of this same group. What gives any group the right to terrorize another? This is what threatens our national security.
I am constantly amazed when I think of the Republican Party in Lincoln's time. He was a progressive thinker. He saw a terrible wrong and worked extremely hard to correct it. Yes, we had to fight a civil war but only because of a southern exposure of small minds and backward thinking. And today, we still fight those same battles with a small-minded group that bears the remnants of the "South of Ol' Dixie." Unfortunately with the media the way it is today almost any idea can draw traction.
Even Ronald Reagan would not recognize this new Republican Party. Today he would most likely be a Libertarian. I have spoken to many Republicans and they mostly concur with the view that their party has abandoned them. I find myself thinking the party is headed for an implosion. It saddens me. Progressive thinking should be coming from both sides of the isle because no matter what your party, you should be looking to move forward with our nation and the world, not looking backward and wishing for days gone by.
Progressive thinking has brought us on an exciting adventure. Women and minorities have opportunities and access to our social structure that were unheard of just 50 years ago. This fantastic diversity that makes up our nation has grown leaps and bounds and is leading us to even greater heights. We are opening our minds to this multi-cultural smorgasbord that is now us. I am awestruck when I look out at my classes on the first day and actually see the "face of America." What a great country this is. It makes me proud to be able to interact with these young minds and hopefully open most of them to this world that we share.
Open minds and open dialog will open doors. The need to move forward is why this country was founded. Our Constitution is the foundation for progressive ideas. You don't think our founding fathers and mothers weren't afraid? Hell yes they were, but the biggest fear was of stagnation. Keeping with the status quo was more frightening then striking out on their own.
And so we find ourselves in an unsettling time. The old bigoted status quo fearing to move forward against an open-minded progressive future that beckons to us. Our country is the youngest of all the super powers, and yet we have become a leader of nations. This was achieved by progressive thinking. A progressive nation is one that moves beyond petty differences and understands the needs of its entire people to go forward. "Progressive" is not a bad word. It is what brought us from the Stone Age to modern times, and it is what will lead us to an even greater future.
Catherine Steele Smith is a Valley native and has her master's degree in English composition. She has taught freshman English for Fresno State and is currently a professor of English at Fresno City College and for College of the Sequoias in Visalia and Hanford.