What are our principles?
The following begins, but does not end, our first essays into constructing shared principles among heartlanders who work for a just, decent, and sustainable community.
What do we mean by “just, decent, and sustainable,” and how do we summarize them? Our short and simple answer is that they – and we – are “progressive.” Yet labeling what we believe to be bedrock American principles in this way often leads folks to stop listening. Accordingly, we use “progressive” interchangeably with “just and decent and sustainable.”
Now, all those words mean much more, and we will have more to say about them in the future. Let us first agree that no individual or group controls or “owns” such terms as “just” and “sustainable” and, for that matter, “progressive.” The meanings of principles are the products of the vast and onrushing discussion held by millions of human beings. Similarly, we all understand terms in slightly different ways, processing them through the filters of our own experiences.
Even as Heartland Democracy comes forth with its own answers to these questions, developed in consultation with many people, we believe that a greater service will be performed if we are able to show, openly on our website, how representative thinkers, leaders, and organizations have answered the same questions.
The joke is that any two progressives will have three opinions. Still, we must say what we mean. To that end, we have identified the five bedrock principles highlighted by the Board and Staff of Heartland Democracy, as well as the categories they represent.
Taken together, these values bridging justice, democracy, a sense of decent civility, and sustainability may be called “progressive.” At its core, that is what we mean by “progressive.”
What is exciting, in the challenge of winning hearts and minds to public goals, is the ability we all have to find common ground with neighbors, friends, and family members who have different views of the world. They may be conservative, centrist, or liberal, but if one brings the conversation down to fundamental values, one can find agreement. If one thinks of this challenge as an exercise in building a structure, the tricky part is maintaining that same agreement on principles as one builds up to positions on specific policy questions of the day.
Just as we examine our own values, we encourage you and everyone we reach to examine your own principles and values in order to figure out what you really believe and think and feel.
That last step is important to the next one: educating yourself, your peers, and us on issues of public significance. Heartland Democracy is engaged in setting up ongoing discussions to help Midwesterners think through what they think and, therefore, what they might to do influence their communities, from their block to their nation.
Heartland Democracy needed to identify our principles in order to fulfill our mission, to ground our strategy in a framework, and to filter our thinking and our work. We created an initial set of interrelated values for ourselves. The relationships among the principles we highlight are critical. The frame our principles create informs the story we tell. The frame also helps define the problems we attack and the sources of the problems.
We are capturing historically and typically Midwestern values in our principles, including: self-reliance, pragmatism, efficiency, opportunity, democratic spirit, fairness, innovation, reform, religious tolerance, knowledge, creative thinking, community, independence, and equality. As we noted above, we believe that heartlanders are fundamentally, and, for the most part, decent and honorable. Moreover, we have a rich and ongoing history of democratic populism and a related demand for reform, fairness, equality of opportunity, clean governments and elections, accountability and innovation in government. Heartland Democracy is reminding Midwesterners of the value and wisdom of our progressive heritage. We are working with thinkers and groups around the nation to draw upon the lessons of history to approach 21st Century challenges with the same kind of practical solutions in the interest of our human and natural communities.
Below, we identify progressive principles important to us and group them into four categories. (The order of the subsidiary principles does not necessarily indicate importance.)
JUSTICE: equity, fairness, religious tolerance, equality, human dignity and human rights, anti-racism. All boats should rise together.
COMMUNITY: sustainability (environmental and social), democracy and democratic spirit, common good, greater good, inclusion/inclusiveness, integrative thinking, security, pragmatism. Again, all boats should rise together. For us, Community stands for – or signifies – such principles as the common good, the greater good, and the notion that government can achieve the public good.
OPPORTUNITY: that is to say fairness of opportunity and equality of opportunity: freedom, self-reliance, security, independence, knowledge, education, human rights, and pragmatism.
ACCOUNTABILITY: public and private accountability, good governance, innovation, reform, security, pragmatism, efficiency, democracy, openness, and transparency. Government is a public good worth making excellent and sustainable.
We agree that the four groups of principles we hold important may be represented by the four category principles, which we therefore choose to highlight: Justice, Equality of Opportunity, Community, and Accountability. Democracy, captured in our name, is a theme that runs through, and informs, each of these principles.
What are yours? Click on Get Involved [here] to ask for a discussion guide, further questions for discussion, or suggestions for reading.
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