By Jeremy Wang-Iverson
Strong Arm Press recently published Stephanie Taylor’s first children’s book I Can Change Everything. This charming picture book, with illustrations by Laura Brenlla, encourages young kids to use their imagination to change their circumstances in life – both big and small. The wish to imagine change for a better world has driven Taylor throughout her professional career – first as a union organizer in Appalachia, and later co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an organization with over a million members. Her organization, which has supported over a thousand local, state, and federal candidates, is well-known for running the Draft Elizabeth Warren for Senate effort in 2011 and were the first national organization to endorse Warren for President. (Along the way, Taylor earned an MFA in poetry from Columbia in 2007 and a PhD in American History from Georgetown in 2017.) In a Reddit AMA last December, Taylor answered a few questions on the upcoming election, our current political situation and how to talk to children about the difficult issues facing us today. An excerpt from that conversation is below.
What would you say to my parents who are voted for Trump because they feel like the Democratic party has forgotten about the cultural values of rural America?
I live in Pennsylvania, and also have family in rural parts of Oregon and Missouri. When I think about our shared values, I think about kindness and sharing with our neighbors. My uncle wouldn’t hesitate to pull his neighbor’s truck out of the mud if it got stuck. So how do we develop a political language that equates the values we hold as progressives — lending a helping hand, making sure everyone can see the doctor when they get sick, making sure kids can go to college even if they can’t afford it — with that culture of kindness, sharing, doing right by your neighbor. I don’t think they are incompatible, but I also don’t think that most Democrats have done a good job developing the right political language around this yet.
“The young climate activists are the ones who give me the most hope for the future.”
With the ever-growing threat of climate change, how do you feel we should prepare children to live in a world that doesn’t resemble our own?
I think about this all the time with my own kids. It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book for them, to help prepare them to use their own resourcefulness and imaginations to change the world. I try to encourage their empathy, and imagination, and inner reserves. The massive social and climate upheavals are going to require humans to either cooperate or fail together. Right now the young climate activists are the ones who give me the most hope for the future.
How do you feel early educators, if at all, can approach and discuss this presidency with students?
My stepdaughter is nine, and we try to make our criticisms of Trump more what he’s done — and why it hurts people — than anything personal. So we talk about kids being separated from their parents, or how kids can’t have school lunches if they can’t afford to pay, and that Trump is allowing that to happen, and we don’t believe that’s right. We try to build our criticisms around empathy.
It looks to me that progressive movements are both in a great position and a terrible position, right now. On one hand, the existence of someone as ultra-right as Trump means the pendulum is more likely to swing further left than normal so progressive gains are far more likely….Especially given that Trump is, somehow, inexplicably, currently favored in a few critical swing states, how do you resolve the tension between long-term gains and the need for immediate relief?
We have a saying that we started using after 2016. “We need voters to run to the polls, not be dragged there.” When you look at Trump vs Clinton, she outspent him 10-to-1 on field. She had organizers out knocking doors everywhere on Election Day. But his voters got themselves to the polls. That’s why we need a candidate who inspires voters to get themselves to the polls — someone voters will believe will put more money in their pockets, help them get health care, and do something real about the crushing problems facing us. And the progressive candidates — Warren and Sanders — are the ones most likely to inspire that feeling in voters!
My wife is much, much more conservative than I am and every time I bring up (with evidence) even a center-left position she shoots it down following her right wing parents ideal except for abortion (which she’s flaked a couple times on as well recently) and religion (both atheist). Do you have any suggestions how I can get her to stop acting offended every time I offer a different point of view?
I think this is one of the major challenges for progressives. I do believe we can build bridges even with folks who disagree with us, but we need to figure out the right political language (see my answer from earlier about rural folks.) For instance, what if we talk about the environment in the evangelical language of being stewards and shepherds of the earth? I think it’s something we have to experiment with, but it’s vital we figure out how to develop a language that speaks (respectfully) to the worldview of more conservative folks, but doesn’t abandon our core progressive and Democratic principles.
“The progressive wars online are breaking my heart. And it’s definitely doing damage, it’s dividing us at a time when we need to be united.”
How can progressives best espouse and bring others on board with their political values and opinions while not doing so to the exclusion of others who don’t fit the mold exactly? If you don’t believe this is a current issue, what’s the path to ensuring progressive values gain more traction among those left-of-center?
The progressive wars online are breaking my heart. And it’s definitely doing damage, it’s dividing us at a time when we need to be united. I don’t have a good answer, but I know what my answer is — I’ve tried really hard to be nice, online and offline. This sounds small, and it is, but I don’t spread gossip or lies. I assume good intentions. I’ve started and then deleted many, many comments. And I try to be relentlessly positive in my advocacy for Warren and the other candidates we endorse (and we endorse lots besides Warren! We supported 1100 candidates last cycle!) Basically I just try to do my part not to feed the beast of progressives eating our own.
As to the other part of your question — bringing others on board with us — one of our core beliefs is that we ARE a left of center country. When you poll on issue after issue — expanding Social Security, Medicare for All, ending student debt, universal child care, more unions — a majority of voters, even a majority of Republicans, agree with us. So we need to keep talking about these issues, and we need our candidates to keep talking about these issues. That’s how we win.