Why I'm a Progressive

Progressives knew that legislation is only one way to fight social and economic justice. They knew that we must also directly confront the sources of that injustice.
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UPDATE: See Sherrod's response to reader feedback in the comments below.

I want to thank Arianna Huffington for all she is doing to organize and lead the progressive movement in this country. Thank you to her and her staff for this opportunity to speak directly to so many fellow progressives. I also want to thank the readers here and hope you'll share your thoughts with me.

I recently toured my home state of Ohio as part of my United States Senate campaign kick off. At each event – 13 events in 4 days – I shared a story of social and economic justice that is near to my heart. I talked about the pin I wear on my lapel at work, not the congressional symbol, but a pin that depicts a canary in a cage.

The workers' rights movement began out of necessity. More than one hundred years ago, coal miners would take a canary down in the mine with them, to protect them from the toxic fumes where they worked. If the canary died, they knew they had to get out – and fast.

Back then, there was no formal protection for workers – they had only each other to rely upon. And so was born the fight for workers' rights. Those who believed in social and economic justice fought for the right to organize. And they won. They fought against child labor. And they won. Their efforts – which cost many of them dearly – gave us all food safety laws, civil rights, rights for the disabled, pensions, and the minimum wage.

Their demand for our rights led to Democrats -- and even a few dozen Republicans -- working together in Congress to create Social Security, Medicare, the EPA, and worker safety rules.

But progress has stopped. As I mentioned earlier, I wrapped up a statewide announcement for the U.S. Senate in Ohio a few weeks ago. It was an exhilarating and sobering four days on the road.

At every stop, we were greeted by crowds that far exceeded our expectations – and we were aiming high. Many of the people who showed up – despite rain, snow, and even ice storms – knew me from twenty and even thirty years ago, from my time as a state representative and then secretary of state. It felt like one long family reunion.

Many others, though, came to a stop on my announcement tour because staying home is no longer an option. So many Americans feel betrayed by their government.

Some were Ohioans in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties who remember a better America, an America that keeps its promises. Young people showed up at every stop, their faces full of hope.

Everywhere, I met people who dared to believe that working on this Senate race in Ohio could change the direction of this country. They are right. This is a high-stakes race and we will need every one of them for the long road ahead, because, as progressives, we're asking people to take sides.

Some think the word "progressive" is just another word for liberal. But American history instructs us otherwise.

Most of my political heroes were progressives: Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, John Lewis, and of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Most were Democrats, but not all. They knew that legislation is only one way to fight social and economic justice. They knew that we must also directly confront the sources of that injustice.

That is why it is not enough to fight on the side of working families. As progressives, we must also take on those that would harm our nation's most vulnerable citizens:

We must take on the prescription drug companies that charge our senior citizens two and three times what seniors in Canada pay.

We must hold accountable big oil companies that gouge consumers at the pump, and through home heating bills, while reaping record billion dollar profits.

And we must fight multinational corporations and bad trade agreements that ship U.S. jobs overseas and exploit cheap labor abroad.

The pharmaceutical companies wrote the Medicare law. The chemical companies write the environmental rules. The oil companies wrote the energy bill. Wall Street writes Social Security privatization legislation. Bankers and outsourcers wrote the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Sometimes – in politics and in life – we have to choose sides. We have to draw a clear line between what's right and what's wrong. Between what works for the people of our great nation and what works for only the privileged few.

When you choose sides, you take the heat. Because I chose sides years ago, I will make a prediction: America's largest drug companies will pour a million, two million, maybe three million dollars into our state to try and defeat me.

We are ready here in Ohio. Join us in the fight.

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