The Progressive Era

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What tactics did Progressives use to cause social change? Explain each in detail.

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The Progressives employed two major tactics when it came to effecting substantive social change. The first thing they sought to do was to shine a light on the social problems of the day. They had their own newspaper publications, such as McClure's, and investigative reporters, known as muckrakers, went into disenfranchised communities to research and write about what they discovered. Photojournalists, like Jacob Riis, took his camera into the tenements to show the public the human side of poverty. Like the journalists, authors, such as Upton Sinclair, wrote popular books aimed at exposing the horrid conditions of working-class Americans and the ineptitude and callousness of the politicians that allowed for such squalid conditions. With these images and descriptions, it became impossible for the public to ignore the conditions of the poor in the United States.

The next step was to lobby politicians for new Progressive laws. Coalitions of activists put pressure on politicians, usually at the municipal level, to put laws in place that would protect the most vulnerable of citizens and to hinder the efforts of corrupt politicians. They were able to get child labor, food safety, and sanitation laws passed in many places. Governmental bureaus and organizations were established on the local and national levels to enforce these. As a result of these efforts, the Progressives were able to institute sweeping changes in many communities around the country.

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Progressives were especially active in United States politics in the early 20th century, but their roots were well-established in the previous century. As the Progressive movement encompassed all areas of society, the tactics used were also a full range, and they varied according to the goal. Some of the main objectives can be roughly grouped into social justice, democratic processes, and organized political action.

Social justice objectives were to provide for the common welfare. Establishing settlement houses; waging successful pro-labor campaigns, such as for the eight-hour workday and against child labor; and increasing the participation of women in areas such as public health were all related ways of working toward social justice.

Democratic processes overlap a great deal, as they included new organizations and campaigns they ran that worked toward achieving social justice objectives. For example, the National Women’s Trade Union League, established in 1903, worked toward better conditions in female-dominated industries such as textile manufacturing. Tactics ranged from strikes to establishing and running neighborhood centers.

In formal politics, emphasizing electoral aspects of democracy, Progressives cast a wide net. Some of the leaders are closely associated with the Upper Midwest, such as Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, who heavily promoted a state-level approach to reform, as contrasted to national initiatives. Tactics included reorganized municipal and county governments to remove the “boss” figure and broaden popular access.

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Progressives used several tactics to bring about social change. One tactic they used was to expose the injustices in our society. Writers like Upton Sinclair, John Spargo, and Lincoln Steffens exposed issues with our food and drug industries, our use of child labor in factories, and our political system. When people read about these practices, they demanded changes be made. This movement included influential people such as journalists, teachers, and politicians.

Another tactic the Progressives used was to pass laws to bring about change. The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act were laws passed that affected consumers in a positive way. The Federal Reserve Act was made to deal with the banking industry. The Adamson Act created an eight-hour day for railroad workers. Many laws were passed to help the average person.

The Progressives also pushed for constitutional amendments to bring about change. It is much more difficult to change the Constitution than to change a law. As a result of the Progressive movement, the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th amendments were passed. This included women gaining the right to vote and having people directly elect United States Senators.

The Progressives worked to bring about policy changes, especially in the area of politics. The initiative, referendum, and recall gave average citizens more opportunities to be involved in political matters.

As a result of various tactics and techniques, the Progressives brought about many changes in our society.

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