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Are Progressives Depressed or Too Privileged to Produce Social Change? Or Are We Just Failing to Organize Effectively?

Real change seems almost impossible. What are we doing wrong?

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After all, most of us who have jobs in the nonprofit sector, in progressive media and philanthropy are well paid, or at least decently paid. Almost all of us have health care, and very likely dental and vision, and even extra goodies. With some notable exceptions there has not been widespread job loss in the nonprofit sector. People with college degrees in general are doing much better than the population at large.

AlterNet writer Adele Stan tackled this class disparity in " Shocking: High School Grads Twice As Likely To Be Jobless Than College Grads – and Right-Wingers are Profiting From Their Pain," underscoring the fact that college graduates in general fare much better in economic downturns and are therefore often unaware of the pain suffered by those without degrees.

It could be argued that many of us in the idea, media and funding industries live, operate and succeed in a bubble. We mostly interact with peers who are also well educated -- many at the best colleges -- and often have graduate degrees. Many of us boomers are incredibly privileged, even in comparison to our younger, well-educated brethren, because the cost of being educated and credentialed was so much cheaper 30 years ago. And of course many in our sector come from upper-middle-class families to begin with.

I know this scenario doesn't apply across the board, not even close. There are many people working in the trenches, battling tough issues, working with the poor, who are not privileged by any stretch of the imagination. But there is a major class gap in the nonprofit, media, philanthropic sector, and it may be having a significant impact when we wonder why change is so difficult. What is the solution to this possible dilemma? There is no easy answer. But thinking about it and reflecting on our lifestyles, our privilege, and how we spend and redistribute our hard-earned cash is certainly a place to start.

The three pieces by Levine and Leopold follow in order of the most recent -- Levine's response to Leopold's critique of Levine's original article. If this is a new discussion for you, and you want to start from the beginning, scroll down until you get to Levine's original piece. Assuming this back and forth provokes comments and varying opinions, we will produce a followup article with the thoughts and ideas from readers.

Don Hazen 

BRUCE E. LEVINE: 'A Response to Les Leopold: Comforting the Afflicted, Afflicting the Comfortable '

A friend in the clergy once told me, “I see my job as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” It is my experience that among progressives, there are both the afflicted and the comfortable. At different times in my life, I have been in each group and have found that my level of affliction and comfort affects my exhortations.

The afflicted know they are being screwed but feel that they have no voice, no platform, and that they are powerless to change their powerlessness. They may work at alienating, mindless jobs in order to hold on to their health insurance for the sake of a sick spouse or kid; or they may be hustling three poorly paying jobs to pay college loans, rent and a car payment, and have no time for activism; or they may be unable to find even a poorly paying, mindless, alienating job, and are helplessly watching the tsunamis of foreclosure and bankruptcy close in on them. Afflicted progressives include young people, older people, good people and smart people -- all feeling voiceless and helpless to end their helplessness.

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