10 Great Things To Be Thankful For in 2011

Thanksgiving's traditional harvest festival in the United States is about much more than doping up on tryptophan. It's a time to reflect on the bounty of our singular planet and its diverse people, especially when it comes to earnest progressives, who are out there fighting hard for the best interests of both. Here are their shining examples from across the spectrum:

Occupy Worldwide: A defiant populist uprising that has shone a searching light on both America's compromised political system and the powers-that-be that bought it for a song, the global Occupy movement is the greatest thing that has happened to progressives in this still-new century. That's not really setting the bar high, given the rapacious resource wars and financial scams that have more or less destroyed the light-speed American cultural and political evolution which astounded the world last century. But Occupy's true impact has yet to be measured, although it has quickly seized the planet's imagination and attention, after being calculatedly ignored until thuggish cops in New York, Oakland and UC Davis made that impossible. Today, Occupy Wall Street's dogged activism has done more than its part to pull the emperor's clothes off of the world's morally bankrupt FIRE economy -- the aptly named acronym for the finance, insurance and real estate markets -- than activists from any other traditional party or organization. 

And unlike the armchair warmongers who are wrecking Roosevelt's New Deal with a fascist, consumerist panopticon that has exploded the gap between the rich and the poor, the Occupy movement has actually taken bullets for this country's impressive past and uncertain future. Climate change's intensified winter could threaten its short-term existence in the months ahead, but only useful idiots think that the Occupy movement will go away just in time for the 2012 elections. Rarely in history has such a stunning opportunity armed with true believers promised to reshape the world, and chances are it will go one of two ways.

Its walk-the-walk progressives tired of Wall Street's corporate personhood and hostile takeover of American governance could either triumph, and help reinstitute the regulatory regimes that saved the U.S. from the Great Depression in the first. Or they could be brutally put down by the same powers-that-be which mostly killed off the similarly optimistic movements of the '60s and greatly contributed to our current dystopia. But no matter may come, Occupy's place in progressive history is secure. 

Elizabeth Warren: Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul recently called her a "socialist," politely truncating the heckling jackass who called her a "socialist whore" during her recent speech in Massachusetts. But despite the empty insults, one thing is utterly clear: Elizabeth Warren is a sincere progressive threat to the status quo on Wall Street and in the Senate.

As of this writing, she's unbeatable by former nude model Scott Brown, who traded wisecracks with Warren about disrobing for money to make economic ends meet. Considering that she helped create the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and watched as the 2008 bank bailouts missed their economic goals, Warren is light-years ahead of Brown when it comes to turning the nation's economy around -- especially because she probably knows where all the banksters' bodies are buried. Watch Warren's politically progressive instincts hit the ground shortly after she wins the 2012 state election in Massachusetts, with or without a strategic alignment with Occupy Wall Street

Bernie Sanders: Unlike Warren, Bernie Sanders actually is a self-described democratic socialist, although he's formally registered as an independent. But regardless of the political pigeonhole, he's a stalwart progressive champion for Vermont and the nation. He bravely closed out 2010 by delivering an eight-hour filibuster blistering the Obama administration's preservation of Bush-era tax cuts, publishing it in March 2011 under the title The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. This summer, he outed 10 corporate tax cheats, from Bank of America to Valero Energy that have blatantly avoided paying their fair share.

Most recently, Sanders spearheaded an inquiry into the corporate influence of the State Department's handling of the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, a fossil fools' errand whose implementation would essentially mean game over for Earth's hospitable climate, according to NASA's outspoken atmospheric physicist James Hansen. That triumphant stall kicked Keystone's toxic can down the road to 2012, where it can fully become the hot-button election issue it should be. For reasons like these, Sanders remains America's finest progressive of any political persuasion.

Judges Tom Nelson and Aleta Trauger: Nashville hasn't had much great news since the White Stripes' Jack White opened his own label Third Man Records there in 2009. But once the Occupy movement took hold in late October, progressive-minded judges started cropping up like pop hits. First, there was Night Court Judge Thomas Nelson, who refused to sign criminal trespassing warrants for Occupy Nashville protesters that called bullshit on a sneaky curfew instituted by Republican governor Bill Haslam, taking pains to note that it "is of particular consternation that the rules and curfew were enacted after a protest movement and occupation of Legislative Plaza had been tolerated for just over three weeks, with no notice that the group members were involved in criminal activity."

After that comparatively brave bit of correct legal interpretation, United States district judge Aleta Trauger granted the protestors' ACLU-backed temporary restraining order against Haslam and his officials, which rightly asserted that both the arrests and curfew violated their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. The ruling could be a progressive legal precedent that sparks a nationwide rethink of the Occupy movement's political and legal freedoms. 

Governor John Kitzhaber: Progressives understand more than everyone that citizen deliberation is an inextricable component of a fully functioning democracy. But few politicians besides Oregon governor John Kitzhaber have actually put that principle into practice, probably because most of them fear citizen deliberation more than they fear loss of office. Yet in July, Kitzhbaber signed into law a bill that institutionalizes the Citizens Initiative Review, which puts randomly chosen voters into a public hearing where they analyze ballot measures and submit their findings to the public as election-day aids.

It's a level of public service that the nation has mostly forgotten, lost as it has been in the civically bankrupt ideology of privatization. The National Science Foundation conducted an academic evaluation of the CIR, and found that its significant local popularity and sound politics was no fluke. Progressive activists looking for an instantly applicable and rewarding program for civic cooperation and analysis need look no further. 

The Ohio Electorate: To be fair, they don't get points for sleeping at the wheel as a shock doctrinist like Republican governor John Kasich took power in 2010. But better late than never, Ohio seemed to say in early November, as it overturned Kasich's ridiculous law that restricted collective bargaining rights for hundreds of thousands of public employees. It was an outright progressive victory that should have never happened, because Kasich should never have become governor in the first place.

Hopefully, Ohio learned an important civics lesson after thinking that it could nominate a years-long Fox News host and expect anything less than doomed austerity measures. Given that Kasich's current approval rating hovers in the low 30s, and that Ohioans who would vote for a different governor given the chance register in the mid-50s, it seems that Ohio's Kasich -- like Tennessee's Haslam (yeah, him again) -- is living on borrowed time in a state that might be ripe for a progressive takeover. Stay tuned. 

Mass Mediators! Long before more widely distributed media champs like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow gave it significant air time, the Occupy movement, and every other news story that really matters, boasted extensive independent coverage from Democracy Now!, whose co-host and executive producer Amy Goodman remains America's most progressive investigative journalist. But eventually Olbermann, Maddow, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher joined the charge, further relegating the paid political advertisers at Fox and CNN to the dustbin of media history. Thanks to the nation's increasingly conscientious populism, those compromised dinosaurs are now being left behind as American viewers boast a growing bounty of talking heads who make for smart, mandatory viewing.

Whether they are straightforward analysts like Goodman and Maddow, or hyperreal pranksters like Colbert -- who in 2011 created his own SuperPAC to meticulously strip our labyrinthian political machinery's financial influence to the bone -- they've all saved television news from itself. If you're watching CNN or Fox for any reason at all -- and that includes dissecting its parrots for sport (you know who you are), you're wasting valuable progressive time, especially when there are so many other televisual voices worth your hard-earned hours. 

Equal-Opprtunity Economists! The bad news is that you mostly can't throw a rock at a university economics department without hitting a steady stream of Wall Street sellouts. But the good news is that there are progressive geniuses out there, whose purposeful dissections of available and hidden data are pervasively disseminated in hopes of elevating our debased economic discourse. Chief among these champs is UC Berkeley's Robert Reich, whose prescient analyses of our Great Depression rerun -- as well as his proximity to its birth while serving in President Bill Clinton's deregulation-addicted administration -- are indispensably spread across mainstream and social media. He's followed by Columbia University's Joseph Stiglitz and the Nobel-winning Paul Krugman. All three have regular Twitter feeds, if you want consistent updates on their formidable counterattacks to the disaster capitalism that has enraptured the Obama administration, the mainstream media and the multinationals seemingly hell-bent on bleeding the global village to its last drop. Inscrutable economic strategists, and their stratagems, are now thankfully a thing of the past. 

Nissan Leaf: True-school progressives ride bikes whenever possible. But until further notice, it's a serious pipe dream to picture a future where personal automobiles are extinct, even in our peak oil dystopia. The best progressives can hope for now is the electric car, currently best exemplified by the Nissan Leaf, which debuted late last year and, as of October of this year, has been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as the most efficient vehicle of all time.

It's also notorious for threatening the nation's gas-tax hierarchy, if you ask Indiana governor Bill Haslam. (Why can't we shake this guy?) But despite that excellent offense, New York City is still using the Leaf to launch an electric taxi pilot program, Nissan is rolling out a charging network in Europe and the Leaf continues to dominate the electric car market, and the progressive imagination, in its first full year. While emissions figures remain murky on Toyota's more glamorous but less worthy hybrid Prius, there is no such confusion when it comes to the Leaf. From its zero tailpipe emissions to its all-electric vision, the Leaf is the automotive future until our bike-powered utopia arrives.

Ann Wright: The 99 percent could use more allies like retired Colonel Ann Wright, currently on trial for disrupting, along with 37 other protesters, the New York Air National Guard base, which routinely delivers death-from-above to Afghanistan via MQ-9 Reaper drones controlled by U.S.-based videogamers in the armed services. "Citizens have a responsibility to take actions when they see crimes committed," Wright unapologetically explained in early November. And she's lived that code with serious discipline, from filing a resignation with Colin Powell after the 2003 Iraq occupation and disrupting congressional hearings hosting Condoleezza Rice and David Petraeus to mercilessly setting Bill O'Reilly straight until he cut her mic.  

Wright is a progressive paragon, which might seem weird, given her extensive military resume. But she puts the lie to the lore that progressives can't hail from all walks of life: Just because they served in Somalia and Afghanistan doesn't mean they're jingoists who won't board a Gaza flotilla or trespass at nuclear sites to change the world. In fact, it's usually the opposite: When military veterans like 2010's progressive champion Bradley Manning and Occupy Oakland's Scott Olsen respectively take on indefinite incarceration or tear gas canisters to the face for their beliefs, their causes become exponentially galvanized and patriotism is rightly redefined for the sane. Toast them all roundly on Thanksgiving, and then take some time to support all of the aforementioned progressives as they fight the good fight alongside us. Without them, we'd be much deeper in dystopia.

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