Local Meeting to Discuss "Rebuilding the American Dream"
Indiana Community Deliberates About Rebuilding the American
by Harry Targ
Submitted to Portside by the author
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Seventeen community activists met Tuesday August 16, 2011 to
view Van Jones' speech initiating his "American Dream
Movement."_ The 70 minute video was followed by 45 minutes
of discussion on how progressives in Central Indiana should
respond to the national, state, and local economic and
political crises of 2011.
Participants included activists from various local
organizations: the local labor council and building trades,
the peace movement, Planned Parenthood, the independent
Obama campaign organization, the American Civil Liberties
Union, and the local alternative newspaper, the Lafayette
Jones gave his inspirational speech hoping to initiate a
national progressive movement at Town Hall, in New York on
June 23, 2011.
Jones, a former advisor to the Obama administration on green
jobs, resigned from office after being attacked for
radicalism by Fox News. The specious attack on Jones
preceded similar attacks on the community organization,
ACORN, and Department of Agriculture expert Shirley Sherrod.
In none of these cases did the Obama administration defend
the targets of lies and slander.
In his speech, which was designed to inspire progressives to
organize house parties and other public meetings in every
city and town in America, Jones identified four lies that
have come to shape our political discourse.
The first lie, plastered across the screens and print media,
is that America is broke. Presenting data and analysis,
Jones showed that the US economy was not broke. In fact, the
United States remained the richest country in the world, but
the wealth and income was shifting ever more dramatically
from the vast majority of the population to banks and
The second lie, he claimed, which has become part of common
wisdom, though untrue, is that if the rich are taxed more
equitably, the economy will be hurt. He presented evidence
from periods of America's greatest growth, from the 1940s to
the 1970s, that wages, profits, taxes, and productivity
increased together. But since 1980, wealth has increased
while taxes declined along with jobs and wages. In other
words, radical tax cuts have made the rich richer but the
population at large poorer.
The third lie is that the problem with today's economy is
the existence of an active, involved government. As
President Reagan put it: "Government is the problem, not the
solution."_ Jones spent much of his speech pointing out that
capitalism as an economic system would not have developed,
nor individual corporations profited, nor communities
survived without government. Roads, schools, health care
delivery systems, protections from fire and crime, and basic
environmental standards all result from government programs.
The American people pay taxes to provide the supports for
corporations and banks that accumulate the wealth produced
The fourth lie, and for Jones the most damaging, is that the
people are helpless to reshape the course of American
economic and political life. As so many learned from weary
parents: "You can't fight city hall."_ For Jones that
proposition contradicts all of American history. Movements
to end slavery, for civil rights, for worker rights, for
moving toward equality for women, for environmental justice,
all occurred because of peoples' movements.
So Jones in his June speech called for local meetings around
the country. He urged these meetings to generate ideas for
building a new national movement out of local activism.
Since the speech some 1,500 house parties were held,
generating 25,000 ideas for the development of a "Contract
for the American Dream."_ 125,000 people rated the ideas.
In early August a ten-point "Contract for the American
Dream"_ was posted on a website
The ten points included:
1.Invest in America's infrastructure.
2.Create 21st Century energy jobs.
3.Invest in public education.
4.Offer medicare for all.
5.Make work pay.
6.Secure social security
7.Return to fairer tax rates.
8.End the wars and invest at home.
9.Tax Wall Street speculation.
In the discussion following the video, the Indiana activists
reflected on what if anything a coalition of progressives
represented at the video showing could and should do in the
community. Most attendees agreed that the crisis in our
community and the state and nation was severe; that we
needed to begin organizing. But we asked: how, who, and for
what goals? Questions were raised about whether a
progressive coalition should engage in electoral work,
participate in the local Democratic Party or not.
Some participants suggested distributing progressive
literature on jobs, health care, the threat to reproductive
rights, and ending wars at the local Labor sponsored
September 3 picnic, Labor's Family Day in the Park. Others
talked about organizing a series of panels presenting the
major issues our groups are concerned about.
While the problems of organizing seemed enormous, everyone
agreed that attendees and friends should be invited to
another meeting to continue the dialogue. It was felt that
with further discussion we could adapt the Contract for the
American Dream to our local needs and capabilities.
See my blog at www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com
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