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Progressive Values Stories: Gavin Newsom on Inclusivity and Noah's Ark


We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

I interviewed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about what he personally feels are the most important progressive values. He mentioned several progressive values, such as, Interdependence, Stewardship, Empathy and Tolerance, but focused on Inclusivity as the most important. He cautions progressives not to 'eat their young' and implode internally from all their differences. When asked to create a metaphor for inclusivity, he came up with the image of Noah's Ark.

Gavin Newsom: Well, I'm thinking inclusivity, the notion that we're all in this together, and interdependence, that celebrate our differences, but unite around our common humanity. And the opportunity to live their lives out loud and to be fully expressive is a core value, it's a value that provides an opportunity to create wealth and opportunity and keeps us competitive, a spirit of pride and entrepreneurialism that transcends the movement, the willingness to agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

The willingness to come together and try new things, and innovate and focus on a precautionary principle, that is decisions we make today have an impact tomorrow, and being thoughtful about making an investment not only in terms of solving today's problems, but in the long term.

And I think these values are uniting values and transcending values from one generation to the next, and I think they are truly American values. And they're family values, as we're talking today about family values – if you believe in family values, you need to value the family with a living wage and sick leave or family medical leave.

You need to create jobs and opportunity, create opportunities for health care and get your kids into college, to be able to afford college, or work-training programs. Be prepared for the new evolution in terms of green-collar jobs and realities of global interdependence, and the fact that we can't put a wall up, and that we have to deal with the changing economy and climate, literally and figuratively in the global climate itself.

So I think it's a much more impactful and impassioned stewardship, and certainly one that is in stark contrast to a decade of conservatism that has been thrust upon us.

Progressive Values: Gavin Newsom on Inclusivity and Interdependence

Edwin: What progressive values are personally most important to you?

Gavin Newsom: Well, I think the most important is to be other-people oriented, that we all are in this together, and that decisions I make have an impact on the lives of other people. And my personal decisions, my purchasing habits. I mean, if I go out and am driving in a big gas-guzzler, I go out and buy a lot of water bottles and throw those water bottles in the waste stream, you know, it has an impact on what's going on in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast. It has an impact on what goes into our air, and what people are breathing.

I think those are the things that enlighten me as being a progressive, is that the progressive movement focuses our attention on things, again that precautionary principle that it's better to be safe than sorry in terms of the decision that we make.

And I think that's a growing consciousness within our community. And I think you've seen that with globalization. There's that construct in the literal sense in terms of the geography of the world and the connection that we have in terms of what's going on in the Middle East, that we're breathing the same air that's being produced in China.

I think independence, the fundamental notion – I mean, Dr. King talked about that web of mutuality. That interesting, you know, I guess this is my Jesuit upbringing. It comes from the Bible where there are many parts, but one body, where when one suffers, we all suffer. I mean it's a fundamental, a very human value. It's a spiritual one, it's also a secular one and I think a progressive one nonetheless.

Edwin: And how did you learn that?

Gavin: My years of being raised by nuns, and abused by nuns – in the nicest way of the term – meaning getting discipline.Edwin: Was there a moment when you learned insight into interdependence with those nuns?

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Gavin: Yeah, I mean I think in nuanced ways throughout my life, I think you learn that growing up and the impact that you have if kids are making fun of other kids, and the impact that has on the other child, and the impact that has on his friends and family. I think that's something you just inherently learn, and of course, you get into elected office and you understand it more richly and more deeply.

Edwin: Can you remember moments when that happened?

Gavin: Oh, gosh, a lot of moments. As a witness to people being made fun of, including myself. Look, I'm a pretty severe dyslexic. I could barely read and write, and I remember sitting there in sixth grade in Mr. Moore's class, and everyone laughed as I got up there and started reading out loud, and the impact that has. And people don't realize that impact, that their decision and commentary has an impact on other people's lives.

And I'm sure that I've neglected to be as sensitive to other people throughout my life. I think that's an incredibly important value, to reflect and look at our decision-making, the impact of the way we interact with other people.

Even with people that we disagree with in the conservative movement politically, and the way we talk about them – "I hate that person". Well, I don't really know that person. I hate what they're saying and what they're doing politically, but there has got to be an understanding of the human element.

And so I think again, for the progressive movement to be everything it can be, for it to be the right movement, we need to be sensitive to that. We can be hard-headed and pragmatic. It doesn't mean we're weak. But to have empathy, and to extrapolate that empathy in the context of being tolerant, even to other people's points of view. Not just their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, whether they're rich or poor, whether they live in this part of the country or that part of the world, etc. But also to their points of view. It's incredibly important.

Edwin: And a metaphor for progressive values?

Gavin: I don't know what the metaphor is. It's certainly a little less quixotic. We are a little more chaotic. There's still a lot of chaos within the progressive movement. But there is a little more order.

I think the challenge for the progressive movement is not to eat our young, so to speak, and implode internally from all our differences, but to learn lessons from the conservative movement. And I think the opportunity from us is also to learn from the history of Congress and the Republican President and not make the same mistakes in the next few years.

We cannot be arrogant. We've always got to maintain an openness and a willingness to reflect on where we are today in the context of new realities tomorrow.

And again, ideologies are important, but we've seen the ideological right destroy so many parts of this country and the fabric of what makes America important. Let us not make the mistake of the ideological left being as reticent to being openmindness.

So the challenge for the progressives is again, to learn from the mistakes of the conservatives and maintain and openness and a willingness to consider other points of view. Even conservative points of view when they're right. And that is something that we haven't seen in the conservative movement. They have been completely devoid of considerations of the progressive movements points of view.

Progressive Values Metaphor: Gavin Newsom - Noah's Ark

Edwin: What kind of animal would that be.
Gavin: I haven't gotten an animal yet. A Tasmanian devil [for conservatives] is pretty damning, isn't it? I don't know what kind that would be. But I've got to give that one some more thought. I want to come up with something cute and metaphorical in the context of being inclusive, more an animal that can bring people together, other animal species together. Sort of the Noah's Ark version. Not the David and Goliath version. A more inclusive version.
Edwin: Maybe a shepherd?
Gavin: Yeah, there you go. But that's a different animal. That's the human species. Not necessarily, but I'll give that some thought.


by Edwin Rutsch

Originally published here with video. Republished with permission.