June 2011, Week 4


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Fri, 24 Jun 2011 23:19:13 -0400
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Taking Back The American Dream: Us, Not The Politicians

By Robert Borosage
June 24, 2011

It was an accident of scheduling, but call it fate.  As
President Obama was meeting with 600 major donors from
the gay and lesbian community in New York to raise money
for his re-election campaign, three blocks away, Van
Jones and the driving beat of the The Roots electrified
an overflowing Town Hall meeting of citizen activists
intent on reviving the movement of hope and change - the
American Dream Movement - that helped put the president
in the White House in the first place.

The place was rocking, and Jones was as hot as the band.
"We voted for peace and prosperity," he stated, "not war
and austerity.  We've got to challenge both parties in
Washington once more."

The American Dream?

It's about the dream, Jones argued, not the fantasy. The
American fantasy - that we're all going to get rich,
that buying things will make you happy, he preached,
isn't the dream; "it's a fantasy that turned into a
nightmare."  No the basic American dream is the dream
Dr. King invoked in his speech on the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial over 50 years ago:  " I have a dream,"
he said, "it is a dream deeply rooted in the American

And that dream is the basic promise-if you are willing
to work hard, you've got the opportunity for a job with
dignity, one that can support a family, provide for a
home, health care and a measure of retirement security
and give your kids an education and a shot at a better
life than you had.  That very American dream of "liberty
and justice for all" is the dream Dr. King fought to
make available to all.  And it is that dream - open to
more and more Americans as the "great generation" built
the first broad middle class in the history of the world
- that is now being crushed.

Ask most Americans what the American dream means in
their family and you will hear a tale of heroism-of
grandfathers and grandmothers who came over on the boat
to create a new life; of fathers and mothers who
survived the Depression and World War II and either made
the leap to the new suburbs or found their path blocked
and built movements to open the door for African
Americans or women or more recent immigrants.

It is a story of hard work, sacrifice and grit.  But it
is also the story of citizens demanding equal
opportunity after a Great Depression and a Great War in
which all had sacrificed.  The middle class wasn't
inherited; it was built, step by step, with hard work
and a government accountable to all.

Remember, the U.S. came out of World War II with a debt
burden twice the size of what we have today in relation
to the economy.  We emerged fearful that we'd plunge
back into the Great Depression.  Some argued we had to
tighten our belts, pay down the debt, and get rid of the
New Deal shackles on finance.  Instead, returning GIs
demanded jobs and opportunity for their sacrifice.

So under citizen pressure, Congress passed a GI Bill
that offered a generation a chance to go to college or
advanced training. It set up financing to help families
buy homes, and that built the suburbs.  It adopted a
conscious industrial policy, subsidizing the conversion
of wartime factories to civilian production, opening
markets abroad by rebuilding Europe and setting up
global economic rules.

The top tax rate-a wartime 90%-was sustained at that
level by Eisenhower, the Republican president who put a
lid on military spending and built the interstate
highways. The debt continued to rise in dollars-but the
economy grew faster, a broad middle class was built, and
by 1980, the debt was down to nearly 30% of GDP and not
a problem.  Most important, we all grew together-the
wealthiest Americans, the growing middle and working
class.  Labor unions represented nearly one in three
workers and drove wage and benefits increases for union
and non-union employees alike.

The Turn

Starting in the 1970s, culminating in the election of
Ronald Reagan, we went a different way.  Corporations
went global; finance was deregulated; government was
said to be the problem, not the solution.  Companies
launched open warfare against labor.  CEO pay was linked
to short-term stock performance, not long-term corporate
success.  Reagan doubled the military budget in
peacetime-a 50% hike in real terms-while shorting
investment in education, clean energy, and areas vital
to our future.

Now three decades later, we emerge from a Great
Recession caused by the excesses of Wall Street and the
failures of regulators.  But the economy wasn't working
for most Americans before the recession.  Most
households were losing ground in the Bush recovery, the
first time ever.  America has grown apart -with the
wealthiest 1% capturing fully two-thirds of the income
growth of the society, while most families took on debt
simply to stay afloat.  Labor is now down to less than
one in 10 workers in the private economy.  Bankers,
deemed too big to fail, were bailed out and are back
paying themselves record bonuses.  Companies are reaping
record profits, moving good jobs abroad. Twenty-four
million people are in need of fulltime work, and
Washington is focused not on reviving the economy and
rebuilding the middle class but on austerity, on what to
cut.  And Republicans are threatening to blow up the
entire economy to protect tax breaks for millionaires
and tax havens and subsidies for corporations.

Just as good policy and the hard work of our forbearers
built the middle class, bad policies have helped to
crush the American dream, despite the hard work of
Americans who are the most productive workers in the
world, and work the longest hours of any advanced
industrial nation.

The Lies

Jones debunked the lies that now befuddle Americans.
The biggest single lie is the lie that the richest
nation in the world is somehow so "broke," that we can't
afford to educate our children or provide health care to
our citizens.  "We're not broke," said Jones, "we've
been robbed."

And the second biggest lie is that there is nothing we
can do about it.  Those who denigrate government, who
say that it is hopeless, are peddling nonsense - often
in the service of the big money and special interests
that are using government to line their own pockets.

The Movement

Citizen movements drive American politics, not
politicians. Forget the disappointments about Obama's
first term. "The slogan," Jones reminded us, "wasn't
'Yes, HE can;' it was 'Yes, WE can.'

The movement of hope and change was inspired by Barack
Obama, but it is important to remember, we inspired him
first.  That movement had mobilized more people to
oppose the war in Iraq before it started, than were
mobilized in the Vietnam demonstrations.  That movement
had put clean energy on the agenda.  That movement had
put Democrats in charge of the Congress and elected the
first woman Speaker of the House in history.

And now it is time to revive that independent movement
for hope and change, to rebuild the American dream.

That American Dream Movement was launched last night.
Many organizations are propelling it - Moveon.org, the
Center for Community Change, and our own Campaign for
America's Future.  Labor, led by the AFL-CIO and SEIU,
is engaged.

This movement is just beginning and only preliminary
plans have been made, but already people are in motion.

In July, plans are for 1,000 house parties in every
congressional district in the country, focused on what
should be done to put people back to work. From those,
Rebuild the Dream will create a Contract for the
American Dream, an agenda crafted by citizens to
challenge the limited debate in Washington.
Progressivecongress.org and the Congressional
Progressive Caucus are doing a jobs tour across a dozen
cities. Recall elections will challenge the dream
busters in Wisconsin who have voted to revoke basic
worker rights, to slash education while cutting taxes on
corporations.   In August, the summer of accountability
will take that message into congressional town halls.
In October, the Take Back the American Dream conference,
sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future, will
gather activists to chart the course forward.

This won't be easy. To set the country back on course,
the American Dream Movement has to clean out the stables
in Washington, challenging the money politics and the
corporate lobbies that dominate our politics. Aroused
citizens will have to debunk the lies and demand
policies that work for working people once more.

But the American dream has inspired millions of people
here and across the world.  We aren't going to allow it
to be crushed without a fight.  Last night in New York,
the president raised significant funds for his campaign,
but movements change the nation's course, not
politicians.  And last night, three blocks away, the
movement that could once more rouse Americans to take
back the American dream was launched.  To help build it,
go to RebuildtheDream.org.


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