Progressive changes: Both movements – of the 1930s and the 1960s – were diverse, mass, militant and spontaneous as well as organized

Millions make change

September 2 2011

The two main eras of progressive change in our country in the last century were accompanied by a broad and spirited upsurge of people.

In the Depression years, a powerful people’s movement, in the forefront of which was the working class and its organized sector (trade unions), crystallized into a mighty force for social progress. It was the backbone of a series of people’s legislative victories – Social Security, unemployment insurance, welfare benefits, the right to organize into unions, etc.

Three decades later a movement led by Martin Luther King broke the back of legal segregation and enacted civil rights laws, while at the same time inspiring a host of popular struggles that followed on its heels.

Both movements – of the 1930s and the 1960s – were diverse, mass, militant and spontaneous as well as organized. Both combined political action and mass action. And both, as mentioned, were decisive to the change process specific to their era.

In other words, had they not been on the scene at the time, progressive change would either not have occurred or occurred in a much more limited way.

Which brings me to the present. Following the recent debt agreement between the president and the Republicans, progressive and left voices were critical of the administration. Many felt that it gave up too much and got little in return.

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