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Political progressives focus on the future

As the first snow of the season fell outside the Student Center, political progressives gathered together in the Mezzanine Lounge on Nov. 12 to find the proverbial silver lining following the Presidential election.

The forum, organized by Rev. Amy McCreath, MIT's Episcopal Chaplain; Suzanne Nguyen, a graduate student in biology; and Professor Hugh Gusterson of anthropology, was planned to focus efforts on the next few years. The Technology and Culture Forum sponsored the event, which was publicized as "an open forum on positive next steps for all those who were disappointed by the election results."

McCreath said she decided to hold the forum after hearing from many disappointed students. "I had a lot of conversations with students over the last week who have a lot of concerns," said McCreath, who urged speakers to focus on the positive. "What kind of bridges and strategies can we build?" she asked.

Gusterson encouraged the political left to choose battles more carefully and also enter into a dialogue about moral values with people of faith in this country. "There is space for us to enter into a conversation about that," he said.

Rev. McCreath was troubled by an e-mail that circulated after the election depicting the "blue" states--whose electoral votes went to Kerry--as "The United States of Canada," and the "red" states--whose electoral votes went to George Bush--as "Jesusland."

"As a progressive Christian, I find myself nowhere on that map," said McCreath. "Where are the millions of liberal people of faith on that map?"

The political left, McCreath said, has a tendency to "preach to the choir." She recalled an ad taken out by a number of religious groups denouncing the morality of war in Iraq in a Cambridge newspaper. "They have been talking to themselves," she said.

The shifting of political power throughout the decades "will go on for more than four years," said Professor Emeritus Aron Bernstein of physics. "It has been going on my whole life."

For Professor David Thorburn of literature, the silver lining is found in the fact that the Bush administration will be accountable for its mistakes. Thorburn also said the left is larger than it ever has been.

"We are in a much better position now than the anti-Vietnam War movement ever was," said Thorburn. With half the country reporting dissatisfaction, he believes protests are not far off.

Nguyen looked no farther than herself to find optimism. Just eight years ago, she was as right as she is now left. It took a trip to Vietnam and a broader worldview to open her eyes.

"We think of conservative America as untouchable; it really is not," she said. "We are not as geographically divided as it may seem."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 17, 2004 (download PDF).

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