A Gallup poll out this week demonstrates that many Americans have no idea what it means to be a “progressive.” Fewer than half of Americans polled can say whether “progressive” does (12%) or does not (31%) describe their own views. Fully 54% are unsure.

At a time when political movements are developing clever names like the Tea Party to camp under, confusing language is nothing to scoff at. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported on efforts by a coalition of 170 “liberal and civil rights groups” to energize the progressive grassroots and counter the Tea Party movement.

spockThe name they chose? One Nation. Google it: The first few references are to an Islamic American organization and a far-right nationalistic party in Australia. One liberal friend said it sounds like something from Star Trek.

Will the name come to define progressive grassroots activities in time? Maybe…if the 12% of Americans who identify that way find the coalition.

Words matter. Leaders of political parties and grassroots movements must take care to continually define and repeat the words they use to define themselves. It doesn’t matter why, historically, the words liberal and progressive diverged. The key today is to define them so people who are naturally drawn to those points of view are willing to assume them as badges of honor.

The Coffee Party is a cautionary tale for our time. Have you heard about its activities lately? No? A similar fate awaits the moniker “progressive” unless we proudly claim it, define it, and elevate it to its rightful place at the forefront of American politics.

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