Will this progressive movement die?
by Matt Stoller, Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 07:39:55 AM EST
You may have noticed a bit of blog chatter last week about a woman named Maria Leavey, who died suddenly of a heart problem. While you may not have known her, you do know of someone like her, because Maria was the person who just made stuff work. Go read Cenk at the Huffington Post to get a sense of her warmth and generosity of spirit. What I want to do is try to explain why her death is important to the progressive movement, and to all of you. Here's her obit in the Washington Post.
Maria Leavey, a behind-the-scenes media force for liberal causes who had an uncanny ability to bring opinion makers together with Washington's political elite, died of heart disease Dec. 31 at her apartment in Arlington. On Jan. 1 she would have turned 53.
Ms. Leavey arrived in Washington in 1993 but, unlike other well-placed media figures, she never held a staff position with a major newspaper, television or radio outlet. Nonetheless, while working out of a small apartment in Crystal City with an outmoded computer, she managed to build contacts at the highest ranks of Washington's political circles...
It wasn't always clear how Ms. Leavey became so well connected, since she worked independently and had no money to spread around. Lacking a full-time job, she had no health insurance.
"If I needed to talk to somebody in the Senate, she could put me in touch," said Joe Conason, a columnist with the New York Observer. "She actually knew these guys very well."
"I knew Maria Leavey as my friend," Reid said in a statement. "With her total selflessness and her humble commitment to the common good, Maria's life stands as an example for us all."
Maria didn't seek attention or credit, she was in politics because she was a liberal and believed in our movement. She did favors for anyone who asked, and talked to liberal activists and Senators with an equal amount of respect. That's how she became immensely well-connected, by treating all people well and working selflessly to help advance liberal ideas. She knew and 'got' radio and blogs in a way that few insiders did - her death has hit the liberal radio circuit very hard. Few organizations and groups paid Maria, and she didn't have health insurance. For instance, the Democracy Alliance, that group of wealthy progressives, sought her help and advice constantly, and she got almost nothing back in return.
That lack of health insurance is probably why she died, suddenly, at age 53. Her family had a prior history of heart problems, but I assume she couldn't get the regular check-ups that are necessary in such a situation. Maria wasn't the type of person who would demand something for herself; she just sacrificed rather than put her allies in an uncomfortable situation. This was the case even with health insurance. She had many invaluable skills, but getting progressives to value her wasn't one of them.
It is the disrespect towards people like Maria, a willingness to toss our best allies aside like unnecessary conveniences, that is our biggest moral flaw. I don't know if the new progressive movement matters, or if we're going to succeed. But what is very clear is that what we are doing is built on the willingness of people to sacrifice their lives and their time to work for change.
In looking at the left in the 1960s, the biggest strategic flaw was that the movement never created a way to take of its people. In the early 1970s, lots of them just went away to start their 'real careers'. With Maria, it's pretty obvious why that is. Despite immense influence and importance, despite the leverage and love she created for progressives, she lived alone in an apartment with a crappy computer and no health insurance. She literally died because progressive elites decided they needn't bother to value her.
Our priorities are really messed up. When our organizations and groups allow people like Maria to die for their lack of health care, while at the same time funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into TV commercials, it's really bad. If it continues, we will fail. It's that simple.
Maria Leavey was a wonderful person who not only treated the movement well, but treated the people within it with immense respect and love. I don't usually do the new year's resolution thing, but in this case, I hope we can all resolve to treat our movement people as people. I hope that we can begin to move beyond the star system we have, and get some credit and funding to those who work behind the scenes, filling in the gaps, and baking cookies for those who need a boost of extra confidence.
I'm going to miss you, Maria. And I'm really sorry that we didn't do right by you.