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Give Credit to the Activists': 'The Nation' Lists the 20th Century's 50 Most Influential Progressives


"We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers..."

Saul Alinsky

The Nation has just compiled a list of the "Fifty Most Influential Progressives of the Twentieth Century."

They introduce the list, which excludes elected officials, by saying:

A hundred years ago, any soapbox orator who called for women's suffrage, laws protecting the environment, an end to lynching, workers' right to form unions, a progressive income tax, a federal minimum wage, old-age insurance, the eight-hour workday and government-subsidized healthcare would be considered an impractical utopian dreamer or a dangerous socialist. Now we take these ideas for granted. The radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next. When that happens, give credit to the activists and movements that fought to take those ideas from the margins to the mainstream. We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers who challenged the status quo of their day.

The list recognizes known progressives from Margaret Sanger to Saul Alinsky, but also includes men like Martin Luther King.

The Nation describes Margaret Sanger as "a nurse among poor women on New York City’s Lower East Side and [an] advocate for women’s health. In 1912 she gave up nursing and dedicated herself to the distribution of information about birth control (a term she’s credited with inventing), risking imprisonment for violating the Comstock Act, which forbade distribution of birth control devices or information..."

Sanger's description does not include the fact that she believed in eugenics and wanted to eliminate "undesirables" from society.  However, The Nation precipitated such objections, and wrote in the list's introduction, "They made mistakes, which may be understandable in historical context, but which should be acknowledged as part of their lives and times."

Other recognizable names on the list included W.E.B. Du Bois, Upton Sinclair, Eleanor Roosevelt, Woody Guthrie, Ella Baker, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Malcom X, and Michael Moore.

At the end of the slide show, The Nation asked for readers to select eleven figures whom they believed made the biggest difference in the twentieth century.  The results showed Howard Zinn to be number one, followed by Naom Chomsky.

See the first slide show here, and the second, here.

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