It’s a lot like obscenity: “progressive” is a word shunned by people up and down the political spectrum. Its actual definition is open to interpretation, yet everyone thinks they know it when they see it.
This free-for-all is one reason we identify as progressive at TRM. Progressive is too important of a word, and a movement, to leave flailing in the winds of political rhetoric.
When we use the word “progressive,” we mean it in the Odd Fellows way. This dates back 300 years, to a time when civilized society still didn’t have flushing toilets.
For years, the Odd Fellows were just the weird name on the scary-ass, Goth-looking rustic brick building in Mason City, Ia., where my father saw speech pathology clients sometimes. This was the I.O.O.F. Orphan Home, turned nursing home. I eventually learned the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (or the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, for many African-Americans) was first founded in the 1730s, in England. Many historians consider it the first-ever “progressive” group, for the same reasons I feel a connection:
• Taking care of each other and furthering education have been part of the Odd Fellows since their founding. Their mission is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
• The Odd Fellows formed at a time when hardly anyone helped out their fellow human. Think Charles Dickens. Tiny Tim. Scrooge. Miserly was an understatement in the 1700s.
• The Odd Fellows’ name derives from its historic practice of accepting “odd” tradespeople, rather than only certain tradespeople. Consider them an 18th-century indie contractor or gig worker network.
• The Odd Fellows have learned from their historical mistakes. An early split over segregation led to two strains of the Odd Fellow — and the group only began allowing Blacks to join in the early 1970s. Since then, the Odd Fellows have done right, creating a non-discrimination clause that covers not only race and ethnicity, but sexual orientation. Group leaders openly champion diversity.
These qualities of the Odd Fellows are the foundations of progressive thought, for this publication.
Over hundreds of years, “progressive” has gone through phases associations — some positive and others, bad moves. It’s a word associated at one time or another with women’s rights , labor unions, social and racial justice — and briefly prohibition and religious zeal. Conservatives and the media use the word as a euphemism for the far-left, that old trick of using a marginalized word to further marginalize people already marginalized. Meanwhile, many actual far-leftists see the progressive push to invest MORE in government as the wrong path.
What a stew! The next time you find yourself lost in that stew of rhetoric, take a step back. To grab a theme from our new columnists at The Plantiful Pantry, take it to the roots.
Progress. Comfort. Support. Education. Accessible to everyone. Nothing is less partisan, and more practical.