The Nation: The Progressive Honor Roll of 2011

By John Nichols, The Nation, December 21, 2011

What a difference a year makes! Last year The Nation’s Honor Roll recognized courageous, if often lonely, battlers against an austerity agenda, an ascendant Tea Party and a Republican electoral wave that had put Democrats, working folks and the unions that represent them on the defensive nationwide. This year we celebrate the remarkable movements that have arisen not just to stem the conservative tide but to build a new vision of progressivism for the twenty-first century. How much has changed? As 2011 finished, even Barack Obama was sounding populist themes. And progressives were organizing, fighting and winning critical battles on the streets, in the polling places and in the media. The events of 2011 did not transform America. But they did confirm that millions of Americans are ready to fight for the 99 percent....


A good case can be made that the most extreme of the new crop of radical right-wing Republican governors is Maine’s Paul LePage. An equally good case can be made that no one has caused LePage more frustration than Portland Democrat Russell. With deep roots in Maine and a record of agitating for progressive causes, Russell battled to block a right-wing move to eliminate Maine’s election-day-registration law. After Republicans rammed the change through, she became a leading advocate for the referendum that restored the law. Active with the Progressive States Network, Russell joined the protests in Wisconsin and returned to Maine with a renewed determination to pass pro-worker legislation. She succeeded with her work-sharing bill, which allows employers to avoid layoffs by making the state unemployment insurance program more flexible. Even Tea Party Republicans backed it.