What Progressives Can Learn From FDR’s Fight For The Four Freedoms

Isaiah J. Poole

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Harvey Kaye talks to OurFuture.org about the Four Freedoms and their relevance to today’s effort to build a new progressive populist movement.

Historian and author Harvey Kaye believes that the key to progressives taking the offensive and creating a winning political movement is to not let Americans forget their past.

That’s a central theme of Kaye’s latest book, “The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the Four Freedoms – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear – the centerpiece of his 1941 State of the Union address. Kaye believes that the quest to make those principles a reality should inform today’s effort to build an independent progressive movement. In our audio interview, he explains why.

“A. Philip Randolph [the union leader and civil rights activist] said that freedom is never given, it is won, and Roosevelt understood that, too,” Kaye says in the interview. “He said laws in themselves do not bring the new millennium; it requires struggle.”

In this book excerpt, which comes from a chapter reprinted on BillMoyers.com, Kaye spells out the book’s central premise:

We need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the men and women who not only saved the nation from economic ruin and political oblivion, but also turned it into the strongest and most prosperous country on earth.

We need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the men and women who accomplished all of that – in the face of powerful conservative, reactionary and corporate opposition and despite their own faults and failings – by making America freer, more equal and more democratic than ever before.

Now, when all that they fought for is under siege and we too find ourselves confronting crises and forces that threaten the nation and all that it stands for, we need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the most progressive generation in American history. We are the children of the men and women who articulated, fought for and endowed us with the promise of the Four Freedoms.

Kaye wants progressives to continue to point people to the threads of American history that run from Thomas Paine through the abolitionist movement, the worker parties, the women’s rights movement, the socialist movement and the civil rights movements of the past 50 years. He says that progressive leaders should not take the posture of telling Americans what they ought to know but “remind them of what they know and help them to remember that they carry this fight within them. And then we need to bring them out.”

“Our dollars may not be greater,” he said, but “our numbers are greater.” What we can no in the face of the conservative-corporate dominance of our politics is to “create this populist majority that exists in this latent fashion and turn it into a massive voice so that politicians who waver realize they are in danger. We need to bolster their energies so that they don’t waver.”

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