Growing Pains of Salt Lake, Progressive Divide, and The New Bad Words of The Left Wing

5 04 2016

Being someone who has lived throughout the country in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Denver, about a year and a half ago, I chose Salt Lake City as my home.  I never in a million years imagined I would have ever lived here but upon visiting a brother casually over the course of a few years, who loved and couldn’t stop talking about the area, the city casually grew on me.  Being an extremely progressive and liberal person who had thrived in San Francisco for many years, was I really feeling at home in Salt Lake?  But isn’t it so Republican, so religious, so opposite of what I stood for?  The things that you think you’ll hate about Salt Lake actually are what makes it thrive.


The city has a history of religious normalcy in Mormonism and makes the non-Mormon crowd extremely tight knit.  They know exactly what they are not and if you are not part of the dominant Mormon group then there is automatically a special bond that is created.  Not that you can’t be an open minded Mormon, as I obviously know some wonderful Mormon people, but to be apart of this special bond, usually entails an additional conversation to make sure your Mormon side doesn’t come with overall narrow mindedness and a certain level of intolerance towards others as is so often expressed by the establishment of their church here.  As a result, the area is home to one of the only places in the country where a white person can actually feel like a minority, in a religious sense.  This brings about a lessening of white privilege in the non-Mormon crowd and more of an understanding for minority cause and makes people open, tolerant, accepting, and refreshing to be around.  Not to mention that the Mormon religion also is a minority within the country and has a sense, more than your average Christian or Catholic dominant sect, of understanding what it is like to be of minority status and hence can fall under being labelled as “progressive” in their own right.  All of this is what makes Utah unique and in a rare position to say fully embrace a Bernie Sanders and absolutely despise a Donald Trump.  If it’s those candidates battling for the presidency the previous divides between Republican and Democrat, Mormon and non-Mormon have a chance to dramatically become improved and more united than ever before.  We shall see.  What is responsible for this overall situation is what is happening within the non-Mormon crowd.  There is a staunch, almost aggressive stance in this city and the surrounding areas that progressive attitudes will prevail.  Whereas other cities might be technically more liberal and progressive, the desire and spirit and openness in Salt Lake of the states progressive minority is a truly admirable thing and that alone is leading to bridge building and, overall, making it a wonderful place to live being around extraordinary people.  I love it and knew that I could blossom into something special here that I couldn’t necessarily do in San Francisco or other already established progressive places.  There was opportunity here.  It was a city coming into its own with the population growing rapidly with people such as myself moving here.


The city realized its true content and potential during the most recent primary caucus on March 22nd.  Just like your adolescent nephew one day surprisingly beating you in arm wrestling, Salt Lake flexed its progressive muscles on caucus day and made it glaringly aware there was a new force coming into its own.  It also made it apparent to the citizens that we have a lot of progressive neighbors and the old myth of being in a red state as an outright minority came suddenly into question.  With this new population and presence and state of mind comes even more growing pains as new progressives here are challenging old progressives.  Some are legit challenges, some perhaps not as much, but it’s the symbolism that is seeming to matter most.  The age old activist of Bernie Sanders has brought this movement on.  It’s destroying old labels and establishing new definitions for what is considered progressive.


For older progressives, especially in Utah, the old bad word was “liberal.”  Being known as a liberal was an instant negative label, hence, how the term “progressive” really came into play.  This defensiveness is a result of thinking it is more advantageous to hide who you really are in the hopes that you can get more of your cause and agenda accomplished when dealing with a super conservative majority.  It represents an age that has far been surpassed as “liberal” now is a very light hearted, un-inflammatory label vs other terms now being thrown around.  For both sides of the political spectrum, the new bad word is “establishment.”  This is making things a bit confusing because it can label older progressives who are not exactly jumping on the Bernie fandom as part of the establishment.  The establishment being the system that has failed and is the enemy and holding the people back from rightfully gaining their voice and power in the political sphere.  It is a group of people who want to keep things the same, go about business as usual, or at the most, continue with liberal gradualism, but be more conservative in their approach.  New progressives see this as the threat and even sometimes define these old progressives as “The New Republicans” due to their keeping things as is, conservative nature.  The new progressives want their generation and their new definition of progressives to be allowed in as the old establishment and guard has failed them no matter if they are older progressives or republicans.  However, these new labels are not going unnoticed and, for example, for Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters to be called part of the establishment is absolutely insulting and instantly leads to inflammatory in-fighting in the left wing.  The big issue that goes back and forth is what the real definition of progressive is and often the dialogue turns into a battle of who is proclaiming they are more progressive.  It of often a very emotional and aggressive conversation that persists.


Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how you look at it), both sides are progressive.  It just depends on who you compare them to.  Progressive means favoring and developing social reform and new liberal ideas compared to some status quo.  Back when Obama was elected it was pretty unanimous he was seen as a progressive liberal due to him coming after the disastrous presidency of the conservative, outlandish, and failed policies of George Bush Jr.  HRC was also seen similarly and there were other issues at play in 2008 rather than the progressive argument.  In 2016 and coming after Obama, HRC seems very much like the status quo/the establishment/more of the same.  She is progressive in the sense that the right wing has gone tremendously far right but compared to Bernie Sanders she almost seems like what an old school Republican was like (back when there was still moderate Republicans). Sanders has instilled in his followers that he and them represent true progressive values.  And to back this up he has done something historically unprecedented in how he funds his campaign.  The elephant of all issues is campaign finance reform and going against citizens united and corrupt/dark money having horrible and atrocious and outlandish consequences for our society, and it is what truly stands out for Bernie Sanders and his progressives for setting the bar for what a true progressive is.  Standing up to citizens united and dark money and being a proponent of campaign finance reform has become the biggest issue and is currently the litmus test for what defines a progressive.  It affects so dramatically our whole society that everything else seems like much smaller details or branches of the larger, tree trunk and root core of the problem.  So sorry HRC supporters, it seems to be that progressivism has really re-defined itself and is really standing on the side of Bernie Sanders and his followers due to him taking the most extreme progressive step and running a historically different campaign that truly goes directly to the core of the problem and if remedied will bring about the most possible overall progressive change for our culture and allow other progressive issues to flourish.


Now wait a minute HRC supporters.  Before your head explodes and before you write a scathingly long Facebook essay response to this article, hear me out.  Is being the most progressive candidate actually the best thing?  Locally we are seeing the rise of such groups as the UPCH (United Progressive Coalition of Utah) who are putting forth progressive candidates modeled after the values put forth by the Bernie Sanders campaign.  There is much dispute and anger at this as it is claimed that the UPCH candidates are taking away energy and resources from already progressive candidates.  The race between Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Darin Mann comes to mind.  With Darin being new and unexperienced does it really make him the best candidate compared to Rebecca and her long resume list of insanely accomplished liberal causes she has fought for, been apart of, and achieved?  Doesn’t seem to be the case.  Is Darin an outstanding guy who has done great things for his community and is a wonderful caring person to those he meets and is starting out his career in this realm and has the potential to have an outstanding career in politics?  Absolutely yes.  Does Darin deserve to be taunted by Rebecca supporters in the back of the room at progressive caucus meetings for running against her (yes people are listening and watching what is going on by the way)?  A resounding no!  Darin stands for progressive values modeled after Bernie and pledges to make his campaign based on battling the ills of campaign finance reform and dark influential money which is an issue symbolizing the plague on politics and all of society in our modern times.  It needs to be considered and implemented as quick as possible.  Again, does that mean we throw aside someone great like Rebecca?  Absolutely not.  However, does Rebecca need to adjust her policies to reflect the new definition of true progressive values?  Absolutely.  If she doesn’t want to do this then Darin and UPCH and the people need to stand up and put in a candidate who represents the biggest issue in all of progressive politics.  Symbolism is important and if she doesn’t respect this new progressive stance then she stands to be seen as that scary “establishment” label, regardless of her resume, and lots of people will vote against her and someone like Darin could be more successful than originally imagined.  Hmm, sort of sounds like someone else that is running for president.


Darin and the UPCH are standing up for very important causes in politics and it doesn’t matter if they win or lose as they will only grow and it’s a sign of things to come in Salt Lake City and throughout the country.  Aside from the powerhouse and accomplished candidate of Rebecca Chavez-Houck, all the other races that involve UPCH candidates are also refreshing to see as new, normal people are getting involved in politics who are so moved by Bernie Sanders and the disastrous issues of campaign finance reform and dark money influence.  They are wonderful people and match up very well against who they are running against and hopefully at least a few of them will win as their new voice and ideals are much needed.  Unfortunately, this sentiment isn’t expressed by many of the progressives who have been involved for longer periods of time and UPCH is looked upon as a threat to the status quo and just a temporary surge of energy that won’t persist.  This outlook is a mistake and will just lead to the demise of the Democratic party, more infighting, and will be like throwing punches at a strong wave that is coming onshore.  UPCH wields great power and it’s not how this movement can be stopped but how and where this movement will land and who will stand to benefit.  They exemplify what an extraordinary successful grassroots campaign looks like and the unfortunate truth for the older progressives is that they need the modern day progressive cause working for them more than the UPCH needs the older progressives.  Without the help of the many new people they will eventually fall flat and work increasingly harder to stay in power until the foundation truly breaks.  The power and energy of the new progressives getting involved in politics and the energy and devotion being shown by Bernie inspired people are creating an army of people to do grassroots things like knock on doors, be social media/tech savvy, phonebank, hang out with people, start new organizations to cater to empowering people, engage everybody at where they’re at, relentlessly pursue creative ways at connecting people, etc. The energy and potential is limitless because they have nothing to lose (or have already lost it based on the current system failing them).  They are not operating within a defined limiting system and they are led by a fervent desire to make positive social change that truly goes to the core of what people need.  They will instill the will in people to vote for who they support.  The best candidate might not always win but they will have their voices heard and their power will be expressed through their brilliance at connecting.  Not having dialogue with them, not taking them seriously, not respecting them, not compromising with them would be a very big mistake.  This city and the country overall is heading towards an approach where more people will be operating outside of the system and wielding more power than those working inside it who are getting bogged down by the old, inefficient, non-inspiring infrastructure.  These are the growing pains of Salt Lake City and progressive cause.  Adaptation and evolving are often painful and uncomfortable.  How much breakdown needs to happen before utter breakthrough occurs?  Such gratitude for what 2016 has brought us!





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