What Progressives Can Learn from Digital Equity

October 16, 2017

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Why This Mattersa new series from Roosevelt staff connecting our individual work—from papers to reports and everything in between—to our broader vision of creating a new, more equitable economic and political system. This series will give readers the top takeaways from our latest writing and thinking, with a focus on why they matter as we redefine the rules that guide our social and economic realities.

In our new paper on New York City’s efforts to build digital equity, we trace the history that has led to today’s digital divide, and, in doing so, we outline the ways progressive policymakers should think, talk, and act on policy overall. Since the election, there has been an ongoing and often contentious debate about whether progressives should focus on economic equality or racial justice. With Wired, Roosevelt’s Rakeen Mabud and Marybeth Seitz-Brown show that a strong progressive agenda—one that can truly reshape how our economy and society function—must tackle both.

The causes and consequences of our nation’s inequality—from broadband access to voting rights to equal pay—are complicated and interlaced. To show everyday Americans that a new economic, social, and political system is possible, the platform we stand on must offer solutions that match the weight of our country’s most pressing issues.

As Rakeen and Marybeth show, the digital disparities we see in America only make sense when told as a story about corporate power and racial injustice. Addressing corporate concentration will only go so far in helping neighborhoods of color that have borne decades of residential segregation, and addressing racial discrimination will not lessen the outsized power telecommunications companies hold in our economy. To achieve digital equity, policymakers must address both, and they can do so through stronger antitrust regulation. The “targeted universalism” approach my colleagues outline in the piece—one that addresses the needs of historically disadvantaged communities while implementing universal policies that can help us all—can be applied to policy challenges well beyond digital equity.

“Until the rules work for everyone, they’re not working,” is a statement that guides how we work at the Roosevelt Institute and our vision for what’s ahead. True progress is not possible if we only work to address economic inequality without accounting for racial injustice—and vice versa—because both issues are deeply connected to one another. In the end, the rules will never work for all of us if progressive leaders don’t spearhead a conversation on the many fronts we must fight in order to rebuild the structures and systems that define who wins and who loses in our country.