For some Dellums review, I suggest you read his autobiography, written with H. Lee Halterman:

Lying Down With Lions:  A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power

Book cover. Ronald V. Dellums autobiography

Profound and humane, Lying Down with the Lions ensures Ronald Dellums’s place as one of our most important leaders of the second half of the twentieth century. When Dellums arrived in Washington in 1971 to represent Oakland, California, in the House of Representatives, his radical activism had already earned him a place on Nixon’s enemy list. When he retired in 1998—his radicalism still intact—he left a record of accomplishment that has made an indelible mark on our political landscape. He fought for sensible defense policy, health care reform, and ending apartheid in South Africa, to name just a few of his courageous struggles. From his days as a freshman from California’s 9th Congressional District, to helping to found the Congressional Black Caucus, to being the first African-American to serve on and later chair the House Armed Services Committee, Dellums’s tenure in the House is both a testament to his significant career and a crucible of American politics.

This autobiography by Congressman Ronald V. Dellums addresses the central challenge that faces today’s activists and politicians, namely that of finding a balance between ideals and politics. Dellums takes us to the heart of progressive politics in Washington while maintaining a thoughtful and introspective tone about personal growth in light of a lifelong commitment to public service.


As a man committed to the ideals of social equality, Dellums describes his efforts to promote peace in terms of his time in Congress, and the risks he took in holding steadfastly to his convictions. As an African-American driven to end racist practices domestically and abroad, Dellums recounts how he had “learned a long time ago from my parents, particularly my mother, that you define who you are, you don’t let the other guy define who you are.” This philosophy, coupled with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that “peace is more than the absence of war, it’s the presence of justice” sets the stage for what Dellums considers his greatest moment in office: escorting President Mandela to the stage of the House, marking the end to apartheid in South Africa.

The autobiography is an extension of Dellums’ politics through writing: “Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe the world is constantly moving forward, that the march of life is a progressive march. I call myself a progressive because it means moving forward, constantly rethinking, and constantly reassessing. And with a very tightly drawn ideological perspective, you get caught up in time warps, you get caught up in a narrow focus. From my perspective there are values that transcend time.”

Dellums’ philosophical outlook of positive social change through open communication was tested when in 1977 Dellums and his family opened their home to an African exchange student. Expecting to meet a person of color, they were surprised when a white South African girl stepped off the plane, but no more so than the girl, a product of the apartheid system who viewed black people as second-class citizens. This true story, dramatized in the Disney film “The Color of Friendship” is a testament to the challenges Dellums’ faced in his own life with race and politics, as well as a fresh perspective to the problem of racism and the will to fight it.

Brother Ron was my idea of both a radical politician and what we now call “progressive.”

Was he perfect? No. Did he have flaws? Sure. 

Given that we are in the midst of another presidential primary season, we see labels and tags attached to candidates and observe adherents who are quick to target all those who aren’t meeting their standards and definitions with unflattering buzzwords.  

The “progressive” word gets used around here quite a bit. Somehow, it has become attached to what stance is taken on health care or climate, but not necessarily on racism, sexism, or xenophobia: These tend to get lumped into the ‘identity politics’ grab-bag.

I find it is often used to characterize candidate rhetoric and campaign promises, with little or no relationship to actual achievements (what I grew up calling “practice”). In an internet world of blogs and Twitter and Facebook, keyboard warriors abound, often trying to ‘out-progressive’ each other. Based on what, I’m not always sure.

So I am curious. 

I know what and who I would call “progressive.” I know how I see myself. 

What I’m interested in hearing is how you see yourselves, what that word means to you, and how you use it to label others. If you don’t use it, what do you use?

I’m not sure we will all be on the same page—but I’m willing to listen.



USA News


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