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‘Progressive’ turns 100, Rothschild speaks

BY JENNA SCHEIRMAN | APRIL 21, 2009 7:30 AM

Throughout The Progressive’s 100-year history, the magazine has emphasized the rights of all individuals and has remained true to its forward-thinking values.

“The Progressive has always believed in the right of every American,” said Progressive Editor Matthew Rothschild.

He will read from Democracy in Print, The Best of The Progressive Magazine 1909-2009, a collection he edited that features essays published in the magazine, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

“‘It has one of the best reputations for truthful, investigative reporting,” said UI Associate Professor of music T.M. Scruggs, who helped organize the book tour. “It has a hidden history that doesn’t make the mainstream media.”

Robert La Follette founded The Progressive in 1909. His goal was to give people more power, and he fought against corporate monopolies that had too much power. The magazine’s views have remained consistent throughout the century.

“[Democracy in Print] is a chance to see central issues of the progressive movement continue decade in and decade out,” Rothschild said. “It is a real American political tradition and has had a huge positive impact. It was the progressive movement that championed abolition, child labor [reforms], women’s rights, the eight-hour work day, unemployment insurance, Social Security. A lot that we take advantage of today we have because of the progressive movement.”

The book is organized by subject matter with section headings including “Civil Rights,” “Renouncing Empire,” and “Gay Liberation.”

“I am hoping someone will grasp the full dimension of what it means to be progressive,” Rothschild said. “Some people banter so much about the word ‘progressive’ that it loses its meaning. This book gives the meaning back.”

Readers can obtain Democracy in Print through the University of Wisconsin Press, but it won’t be in bookstores until May 1.

“We wanted to collect the best writings in a presentable form for readers concerned with politics or anyone interested in U.S. history,” Rothschild said. “Anyone who picks up the book will not only learn what The Progressive magazine is about but about the progressive movement. We want people to join up with the progressive movement’s important values and make the country a better place.”

Being financially independent makes it challenging for the magazine to remain open. Not only does The Progressive rely on sales to fund its production, the magazine also looks for donations.

It has little advertising and no benefactor to bail it out if necessary. Yet this independence allows the staff to write freely about issues without fear of financial repercussions.

“Independent media play a crucial role,” Rothschild said. “Five to six multinational corporations own all the major TV networks. The newspapers are owned by a couple. With the news media dominated by corporations, it is in their vested interest in protecting the systems that enrich them. They are less likely to have a wide debate. Independent voice challenges those in power and brings in a perspective that is often missing in the mainstream media.”

Rothschild is looking forward to meeting Iowa City’s activists and telling the Progressive’s story.

“It is vital to reconnect to political traditions,” he said. “Corporations still have too much power — our government is still acting as an empire overseas, the environment needs protection. There is still plenty that needs to be done.”


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