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Progressive Values Stories: Ahjamu Makalani on Justice

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 Ahjamu Makalani is Vice Chair for the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. I asked him about the whole  progressive values discussion and how he compares progressive and conservative values. For Ahjamu, justice is personally the most important progressive value.
"If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us."
 Francis Bacon

Progressive Values Stories: Ahjamu Makalani on Justice

I’m the Vice Chair for the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus and also the Vice Chair for the California Democratic Party San Bernardino Central Committee, and also an executive member of the Upland Progressive Democratic Club as well.

This is what I say progressive values are.  Progressivism in itself has a long historically evolution in this country, as well.  In its fundamental core, Progressivism is to ameliorate the class divide.  When we look historically at Progressivism, Progressivism dealt with social and economic reform, but particularly in the area of social and economic justice.

We have reforms in government with the Teddy Roosevelt Administration, later with Roosevelt, we had real social reforms that allow working people to lift themselves out of poverty and have access to education and to improve and better their lives.

That’s what we mean by progressives.  In terms of what we believe in, beliefs come out of those historical developments.  When we believe that people should live decent, so therefore we call for single payer health care program.  We also do not believe in preemptive war.  We also believe in support of the first four amendment and all the amendments in the Constitution.

Most of my personal and social consciousness as a young adolescent when I studied the civil rights movement of Dr. King.  I later began to listen to Malcolm X.  Then I began to have a deeper understanding of the social and economic structures of our country, how it’s structured.  Who benefits?  And so on. 

Then when I became a college student I began to understand a study of how our country and the world is structured.  At that point I began to have a deeper understanding of my relationship to the rest of humanity.  And then my sense of what is called social justice began to evolve.

I would say an epiphany for me is when I was a student at community college, and one of my professors really set me down.  One night we were on our way home, and he was engaged in real deep conversation with me about self awareness, about consciousness of who you are.  And he was able to point to my hair – at the time I did have hair.  I realized that the impression of black people can be seen through how we wear our hair, and we had this long conversation.

When I got home, I went to the bathroom, and I saw myself in the mirror.  At that point I realized that I’m oppressed.  As long as I wear my hair in this manner, I’m signifying and agreeing to my oppression.  So at that point I took a pair of scissors and got my hair.  And I said from this day forward there are certain things I would never do to my hair again. 

Once I took that step, a type of self-awareness began to take shape.  I began to read more, to take history and literature more seriously.  I began to look at social events politically.  Who has more resources?  Why we don’t have resources.  Why certain people are rich and certain people are not.  That was the epiphany  that sparked me to really take a look the world around me.

"Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right."
Isaac Asimov

Progressive Values? Ahjamu Makalani - On Values

Lakeoff does make the interesting point in terms of how you may want to structure or discuss progressivism.  The reality is that most people tend to think and feel and react based upon your feelings.  Not so much your being cerebral, but for the most part, that part of your brain that’s emotional.

So you have to be able to construct a dialogue in a language and platform that will speak to that emotional side.  For the most part we appeal to emotions.  That’s part of our genetics.  So, when we talk about values, we must talk about them from a standpoint of belief, of conviction, but how that feels in terms of – when a man and woman know they get up in the morning – how does that make you feel when you know that if you’re sick, you can go to the doctor, that you don’t have to worry about that.  How does that make you feel to know that you go to a job, get paid what for you earn?  Does that make you feel that you have an investment in your community?

We have to talk in terms of values.  Values must connect to one’s sense of feelings.  Because it’s real.  And that’s what sometimes progressives tend to forget.  What’s interesting is that Dr. King, and even Rev. Jesse Jackson as well, too, have been able to talk about progressive values and politics from a standpoint of emotions through religion.  Because religion tends to move you.

Edwin:  What do progressive values feel like for you.

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