[I know that] abolishing slavery sounded hopeless and naive in 1857, when Frederick Douglass spoke of struggle. I know that throwing off the British Raj sounded hopeless and naive in 1915, when Gandhi retuned to India. I know that ending Jim Crow sounded hopeless and naive in 1955, when Rosa Parks stayed in her seat on that bus in Montgomery. I know that ending apartheid sounded hopeless and naive in 1962, when Nelson Mandela went to prison in South Africa.
Without optimism–without hope–without a sense that a better world is possible–progressivism cannot survive. The progressive vision can never yield to temporary despair.
Not to say that there aren’t rational reasons for despair. With every police assault on an unarmed black man or woman, with every shooting by a deranged person who had no damned business owning a gun, with every scientific report about the grotesque consequences of global climate change, one can’t be blamed for thinking that a better day will never come.
Yet the promise of progressivism is that a better day will come, that a better day must come. Hope and progressivism are inextricably linked: without that hope, we would have never had the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Loving v. Virginia, Obergefell v. Hodges. We would have never had a black man in the White House. We would have never had an advance of rights and freedoms once thought impossible in this country.
The progressive legacy is a fundamentally optimistic one, and that optimism must always be emphasized when the progressive vision is articulated. That is the legacy of Deval Patrick, a legacy that should not be forgotten. The progressive vision gave us Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act–initiatives that saved and protected millions. Viewed from this perspective, the progressive movement is the real “pro-life” movement in the United States. That’s something to boast about–and something conservatives cannot possibly refute.
Deval Patrick taught us to be proud of what we have accomplished, to defend the ability of government to help the average person, and to always express a positive and hopeful vision for the future. There are problems in this country and in this world–and progressives are the only ones who can solve these problems (so many conservatives think such problems don’t actually exist!). There are hurting and hungry people in this country and in this world–and progressives are the only ones willing to heal them and feed them. There are extremists in this country and in this world–and progressives are the only ones who can conquer these extremists.
The lessons of Deval Patrick can lead to victories for progressives in the near term and in the long term. Let’s embrace those lessons and move forward. To quote his 2006 campaign slogan, “Together We Can.”