Did you ever or do you currently own a cat? Was/is it an indoor or an outdoor cat? You know what I mean? An indoor cat is restricted in what they can do, somewhat tamer, often has to play nice with other cats, sometimes gets fat and lazy, is always looked after; but, to go anywhere, it has to remain in a box. It is, always, part of a family. An outdoor cat gets let out, goes where it pleases (maybe disappears for days at time), is more wild, has to fend for itself, often is in fights with other cats, and occasionally meets an untimely end.
Sometimes an indoor cat escapes and maybe lives the life of an outdoor cat. Sometimes an outdoor cat is taken in and ends its days as an indoor cat.
As it goes with cats, so it goes with progressives in Rhode Island. Indulge me in suggesting that there are two types of progressive in this state: indoor progressives and outdoor progressives.
The Indoor Progressive is behind closed doors, quieter, generally supports the Democratic Party, plays nice with leadership and those to their right. They still have claws, and can hiss and scratch and bite, but they mostly do that only when someone messes with them. They would much prefer to sit in warm light, get fed often, and receive constant stroking.
The Outdoor Progressive is in the streets, louder, sometimes is only attached to the Democratic Party out of convenience or necessity, doesn’t play nice with leadership, those to their right, and often doesn’t play well with other progressives. They still like everything that Indoor Progressives like, but they make do without, and they get fed far less regularly. They’re a lot less safer.
Sometimes Indoor Progressives go outside, either by choice or because they’re forced out. Sometimes Outdoor Progressives come inside and find it’s to their liking. Sometimes a Progressive goes in and out or out and in a few times, depending on who’s running the house they find themselves in; or maybe they’re just indecisive.
Look, I know this a somewhat sardonic metaphor, but I do it to illustrate the point I’m making. For as long as I have been commenting on politics, I’ve seen various people (including myself) attempt to define the bounds of what progressivism in Rhode Island is. Often, it focuses on a specific standing with General Assembly leadership, as I’ve seen people do this past week. They define anyone working leadership as not progressive, and anyone who defies leadership as truly progressive.
I do not think this is a helpful way of approaching the problem. I’m using this metaphor to say that both of these are valid ways of being, not to cast judgement. Both outdoor and indoor strategies are important. In fact, the inside strategy often depends on the outside strategy to demonstrate support, and the outside strategy often needs to the work of insiders to ensure its priorities get through.
When I started thinking about this post, my first instinct was to say that the last few days have seen the triumph of the Indoor Progressives. It is hard, as someone who has helped push for progressive legislation at the State House and seen it unceremoniously shot down, to not read the statements coming out of the House and especially Senate leadership and not feel like it is a big win. Especially as those statements are put out by politicians who have shot down the aforementioned legislation. Despite the defeat of a contingent of progressive politicians I admire very deeply, I really can only read these this way. They are saying the right thing, and that’s a start.
But the reality is that without those Outdoor Progressives (both politicians and activists), we probably wouldn’t have this start. And just because it is a start, and just because the Outdoor Progressives have lost right now, does not mean we need them to disappear.
We need Outdoor Progressives to whine and moan and scare the crap out of those who run the State House. We need Indoor Progressives to roll onto their backs and purr and set these same people at ease. It is with both strategies, working together, that we succeed.
Progressives in RI are a finicky bunch, this will not happen without the inherent tensions between these two groups. In the end, getting progressives on the same page is a bit like herding cats.