Social Progress Requires Ongoing Maintenance

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

The celebration of important public policy gains, such as the Build Back Better Act, also must include critical reflection on the sustainability of progress. We must realize that gains on the policy front are easily reversible. Countermoves by opposing forces quickly can reveal cracks in the pillars supporting our social fabric, exposing the fragile nature of progress.

After a significant progressive victory, many of us assume that progress and the prevailing nature of reason will continue to predominate. We think, “If humanity is going to advance, we will lead the charge.” Progress seams unstoppable. Continued progress somehow seems natural—the default state of things. Advocates and students for social progress know otherwise.

It is a mistake to think because we have a social progress victory, others will naturally follow. We must refute the conceit of social progress—the notion that we are continually progressing. Social progress is an ongoing process. It is the result of centuries of work. It is the fruit of hard-fought social gains that continuously must be cultivated and nurtured in our every interaction, every day.

Social progress is not a foregone conclusion. Opponents have other plans. They prefer the rights we have won be lost in greater measure. They want to show us that progress can be stopped. They want us to lose our faith in progress. We must defiantly hold onto our belief in progress and our social work values because they are right. We must hold on and fight for the dignity and worth of the oppressed because we believe in justice. When we win meaningful drug-pricing reform, funding for education and childcare, climate change and clean energy investments, extension of the child tax credits, funding for affordable housing, and investments in health care, these are not just victories in this historical moment. We are glimpsing what is possible, and we gain strength as we realize the progress we once thought impossible can be achieved.

People who make the choice that progress is worth fighting for have powered what we’ve achieved so far. We gain progressive victories because of the insistence of those who believe in justice. Recognizing that progress is fragile, what we must do is fight hard—hard enough to win again and again and again.

The Build Back Better Act is a historic victory for children, families, caregivers, and early childhood educators. This monumental legislation will improve lives and create more opportunities for people across the country. The Senate has a chance to make this a truly historic piece of legislation. After the Build Back Better Act is passed and signed into law, we must embrace the arduous task of maintenance of progress and work tirelessly to keep its goals and proper implementation in full view. Its ultimate impact depends on it.

Contact Angelo McClain at

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