By Neil Ruud
As another self-proclaimed progressive, I’m a bit confused about how to vote this year. Am I supposed to vote to “poison toddlers” or should I be more concerned with the protection of endangered burrowing landowner’s property values? Sarcasm aside, every side of each issue in this town’s impending election is claiming the progressive mantle. But the truth is, we cannot all be progressives in Davis if many of us are on opposite sides of the fundamental policy choices before us.
It seems to me a lot of self-proclaimed progressives want to “Make Davis Great Again.” They refer to their childhood and how great the town was 40-60 years ago, when the population of Davis happened to be largely determined by a history of racist housing policies. Davis had some of the most restrictive Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions in the region. While unenforceable now, the effects of those policies can be felt today: housing opponents argue that, in order to relive this mythical time period where everything in Davis was great for everyone, we have to prevent densification, reject investment in community infrastructure, and sue our way to greatness (by bullying the University into giving up on working with us). That doesn’t sound like progress to me and progressivism is about looking forward, not clinging to the past.
Even more recently, some No on J supporters accused Nishi proponents of pimping out students since they happened to be wearing jean shorts while knocking on doors on a hot day. Don’t the residents of this town know it gets hot? Or that people can make up their own minds about what to wear? Maybe being a progressive is about being ahead of the times until you’re behind them.
But here I am, just another progressive spouting my own beliefs so I turned to a notorious progressive, the self-proclaimed founder of the Progressive movement at the turn of the century in the United States, in search of some ideological guidance:
“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”
–Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
What? Maybe Teddy would also be for and against Measure J/R’s voter-controlled urban boundary—just like some Davis politicians. In all seriousness, there is a deeper truth to what he’s saying here:
“Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.”
At the core of Roosevelt’s progressivism lies a philosophy that we aren’t entitled to all the comforts we’ve garnered in our lives because we earned them together as a society. Sometimes we have to sacrifice a little comfort to provide the same opportunities to others—especially the next generation.
It’s possible that many of us in this community, who were once progressive, have grown into reactionaries by taking a good idea so far it became a bad one. Preventing suburbia turned into pulling up the ladder and ensuring that existing Davis residents were the only people adding to the town’s population. The ironic part is, even their kids cannot find housing in this town anymore.
Either way, a lot of this fight seems to be about housing and I think that there’s nothing progressive about opposing housing folks who love this town. For me, progressivism is about improving the human condition through creativity, hard work, and sacrifice. We talk a lot about preserving neighborhood character, but in our efforts to “Keep Davis Boring” we have priced out working families, entrepreneurs, seniors, and artists alike.
Our fight to preserve the Davis we love is actually changing it: It’s time to stop paying lip service to inclusivity and put our money where our mouths are. Stop demonizing folks experiencing homelessness, treat everybody like people (yes, even students), and make space for the working families who yearn to call Davis home. That’s the progressive thing to do.
Neil Ruud is a local progressive activist and political consultant.