Back in September 2014, we discussed the year-old grassroots campaign to have David Koch removed from the Board of Trustees of Boston’s PBS affiliate, WGBH, amidst concerns that Koch would inappropriately influence the station’s content, as he had reportedly done during his tenure on the board of New York’s PBS affiliate, WNET. WGBH’s thin-skinned reaction to the campaign was bizarre, to say the least: one would figure that the affiliate would have immediately recognized just how offensive Koch’s presence on the Board of Trustees would be to the affiliate’s audience, and seek his removal as soon as possible.
In an example of good things coming to those who wait, WGBH has finally walked away from the wealthy wingnut. This news is a double blessing for Massachusetts activists in particular, coming just weeks after the announcement that the Bay State’s venerable Suffolk University had decided to sever ties with a Koch-funded, radical-right think tank best known for savage attacks on federal and state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Suffolk’s announcement came after a two-year campaign by Suffolk students and alumni to have the school reconsider its association with the think tank, which had been part of the Suffolk family since 1991.) While two swallows do not a spring make, the WGBH and Suffolk developments demonstrate that progressive activism matters.
When did it become fashionable to ridicule progressive activism, to chuckle at calls for change, to laugh at the left? I still remember the days when right-wing talk radio hosts in Boston would deride Iraq War protesters as “pro-Saddam,” a senseless slur. Those hosts quickly changed the subject as the bodies of American soldiers piled up, and the chances of actually finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq went down.
We have a nasty habit in this country of looking down at progressive activism: remember the casual insults hurled at marriage equality activists in the mid-2000s and Occupy members in the early-2010s? In many ways, disdain for progressive activism constitutes the last acceptance public prejudice in the United States; this society will not move forward until this form of prejudice also becomes unacceptable.
Shouldn’t we all consider ourselves ”social justice warriors”? How the heck did that term become an insult? When someone expresses scorn for “social justice warriors,” that person is stating that he or she is in fact a warrior for injustice and inequality.
Al Gore has often noted that racial slurs used to be socially acceptable until non-racists finally told their bigoted friends and family members to knock it off. Why don’t we use that same tactic the next time we hear an acquaintance ridicule progressive activists? After all, hippie-punching won’t stop until the hippie punches back–hard.