What is a ‘progressive’? Part 1

By DJ Kelly February 22, 2010

As I’ve written about before, coming out of the first Reboot Alberta event, many individuals (including bloggers) were invited to write on what “being a progressive” means to them.

While there have been a great many posts and white papers written on the subject as a result – I invite you to visit to read as many of them as possible – I wanted to take advantage of the week leading up to Reboot Alberta 2, which begins this Friday in Kananaskis, by offering my own take.

The first Reboot Alberta event was billed as a meeting of progressives before the event. I considered myself to be ‘progressive’ in my thinking (or at the very least not ‘regressive’), so off I went to Red Deer. But it didn’t take long before I, and others, started asking “what does it mean to be ‘progressive’ anyway?”. It’s amazing how sometimes we simply label ourselves as something and do not bother to delve into it to find out what it really means. We’re far too often to simply sit back and be comfortable with a superficial label.

So for me it seemed only natural that the first group discussion of the day I would attend would be “What is a Progressive?”. I’m glad I did, as that very first conversation helped frame the rest of my Reboot experience and the outcomes of it came up several times throughout the weekend.

In that group we came up with the following traits that we believe ‘progressive’ is about:

  1. Interconnectedness
  2. Understanding
  3. Adaptability

It was shortly after the first Reboot Alberta conference that I came across this post by Tyler Shandro, who, while it is true did not attend the event, still hit the nail on the head. “Progressive” isn’t a left or right thing and it should not be the domain of any single political faction. The definition of progressive my group came up with can easily be applied to ANY political party. (And, in my opinion, should be applied by all parties and by all individuals in their personal lives to.)

I, unlike several of the individuals who have written on the topic over the past couple months, do not see progressive as the opposite of anything or any other political ideology. Instead I see progressivism as a principle – a tool to help create wise decisions built on the best knowledge available. With this in mind, progressive policies – policies that are built on interconnectedness, understanding and adaptability – could just as easily be created by self-styled conservatives or liberals. Hence progressivism should not be the domain of one party to the exclusion of another.

There are many ways to for Albertans to be progressive within their community. I think this is why all four “ways forward” discussion groups at the first Reboot Alberta were so heavily populated. No one group dominated. Some thought “progress” can happen via the current parties we have, others wanted a new party option. Some thought “progressive” ideals could be best pursued by them on their own, others thought it best to happen as part of a non-political movement.

I felt – and still feel – it was a shame the “news” being heard by those not at the initial Reboot Alberta was so focused on the new party option, because focusing on that alone is to ignore 3/4 of the discussion.

But, I digress.

I think it is healthy that Tyler and others question what “progressive” means. I know I did, and still do. Every person who subscribes to an ideology, principle or policy, should always dig deeper into what it means, what its causal architecture is, why it is the way it is, and what cognitive dissonance might be at play in both the presenter and ourselves. It is through our recognition of how these various facets are interconnected that we may gain better understanding and we can become adaptable and change our ways and minds based on the evidence we may find. This is something I think – and hope – every individual and political party would want to do. (And you’ll just happen to note, those are all three of the ‘pillars’ of our group’s definition of ‘progressive’.)

So, during this upcoming week, I plan on writing a series of posts exploring what it means to be ‘progressive’ and what ‘progress’ actually means. I plan on doing this by going dedicating some time to each of the three ‘pillars’ as well as one extra post on what I believe to be a key feedback tool to ensure the pillars are possible: openness and transparency.

Tomorrow I will begin with a little more on ‘progress’ and what the term itself means and where it comes from. I hope you’ll take the time to follow along as I explore this rabbit hole in anticipation of Reboot Alberta 2.