Time to Reclaim the American Dream
In the past 24 months, those of us who longed for positive change have gone from hope to heartbreak. But hope is returning to America—at last—thanks largely to the courageous stand of the heroes and heroines of Wisconsin.
Reinvigorated by the idealism and fighting spirit on display right now in America's heartland, the movement for "hope and change" has a rare, second chance. It can renew itself and become again a national force with which to be reckoned.
Over the next hours and days, all who love this country need to do everything possible to spread the "spirit of Madison" to all 50 states. This does not mean we need to occupy 50 state capitol buildings; things elsewhere are not yet that dire. But this weekend, the best of America should rally on the steps of every statehouse in the union.
Moveon.org and others have issued just this kind of call to action; everyone should prioritize responding and turning out in large numbers.
On Saturday, the powers-that-be (in both parties) should see a rainbow force coming together: organized workers, business leaders, veterans, students and youth, faith leaders, civil rights fighters, women's rights champions, immigrant rights defenders, LGBTQ stalwarts, environmentalists, academics, artists, celebrities, community activists, elected officials and more—all standing up for what's right.
Defending—and Defining—the American Dream
And we should announce that our renewed movement is more than just a mobilization to back unions or oppose illegitimate power grabs (as important as those agenda items are). Something more vital is at stake: our country needs a national movement to defend the American Dream itself. And the fight in Wisconsin creates the opportunity to build one.
After all, it is the American Dream that the GOP's "slash and burn" agenda is killing off. We need a movement dedicated to renewing the idea that hard work pays in our country; that you can make it if you try; that America remains a land committed to dignity, justice and opportunity for all. Right now, this very idea is on the GOP chopping block. And we must rescue it now—or risk losing it forever.
America will not make it through this crisis healthy and whole if—at the first sign of trouble—we are willing to throw away millions of our everyday heroes. Our teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses and others make our communities and country strong. Their daily work is essential to the smooth functioning and long-term success of our nation. An attack on them is an attack on the backbone of America.
Nobody objects to politicians cutting budgetary fat. But the GOP program everywhere is so reckless that it would actually cut muscle, bone, and marrow, too. This approach is both shortsighted and immoral. We should rise up against it—in our millions.
Both parties should be taking steps to solve the country's problems in a balanced, fair and rational way. If deficits are truly the issue, then raising taxes and cutting spending both should be on the table, as tools. But Wisconsin's governor recently handed out massive corporate tax breaks, reducing the state's revenues. That move greatly added to the problem he now wants to fix by attacking essential services with a meat axe. A slew of GOP governors in places like Ohio are gearing up to take similar approaches.
If a foreign power conspired to inflict this much damage on America's first responders and essential infrastructure, we would see it as an act of war.
And if a foreign dictator unilaterally announced that his nation's workers no longer had a seat at the bargaining table in their own country, the U.S. establishment would rightfully go bananas.
If Republicans would oppose that kind of thuggery abroad, how can they champion it here at home?
How can they accept for the American people what they would denounce for the people of any other nation on Earth?
GOP governors in multiple states are advancing schemes to erase the long-standing rights of American employees to choose a union and bargain collectively. We need to call these outrageous plots what they are: un-American and unacceptable. They are not just assaults on workers; they are assaults on the American Way itself.
This Is Our 'Tea Party' Moment
It is time to draw a line in the sand—nationally. Someone has to stand up for common sense and fairness. It is time to use all nonviolent means to defend the American people and our American principles from these abuses.
If we take a bold and courageous stand, over time, we can win. Make no mistake about it: this is our "Tea Party" moment—in a positive sense.
In fact, we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right. Don't forget: even after the Republican's epic electoral defeat in 2008, a right-wing uprising was still able to smash public support for "new New Deal" economics. Along the way, it revived the political fortunes of the GOP.
A popular outcry from the left could just as easily shatter the prevailing bipartisan consensus that America is suddenly a poor country that cannot possibly help its people meet our basic needs.
The truth is that we don't live Bangladesh or Malawi. America is not a poor country. The public has just been hypnotized into believing that the richest and most creative nation on Earth has only two choices in this crisis: massive austerity (as championed by the Tea Party/Republicans) or semi-massive austerity (as meekly offered by too many DC Democrats). It is ridiculous.
Fortunately, the people in Wisconsin know that. So they are fighting courageously. Their efforts could blossom into a compelling, national force for the good—offering a powerful alternative to those false choices.
And while our re-born movement needs to be as clear and bold as the Tea Parties, we must base our efforts on a deeper set of American values.
The Tea Party attached itself to only a single American principle. And it identifies itself with only one moment in our distant past: the Boston Tea Party, symbolizing "no taxation without representation."
"American Dream" Movement Rooted in a Deeper Patriotism
That is an important moment and concept. But the notion of "negative liberty" ("don't tread on me!") is only one principle among many that make our country great. Other equally vital American values and ideals (like justice, opportunity, fairness, and democracy) have gone largely undefended and unheralded, in this recent crisis. That ends—now. Our rising movement should stand for the full suite of American values and principles.
And the American ideal most in need of defense is our most essential one: the American Dream.
The steps needed to renew and redeem the American Dream are straightforward and simple:
- Increase revenue for America's government sensibly by making Wall Street and the super-rich pay their fair share.
- Reduce spending responsibly by cutting the real fat—like corporate welfare for military contractors, big agriculture, and big oil.
- Simultaneously protect the heart and soul of America—our teachers, nurses, and first responders.
- Guarantee the health, safety and success of our children and communities by leaving the muscle and bone of America's communities intact.
- Maintain the American Way by treating employees with dignity and respecting their right to a seat at the bargaining table.
- Rebuild the middle class—and pathways into it—by fighting for a "made in America" innovation and manufacturing agenda, including trade and currency policies that honor American workers and entrepreneurs.
- Stand for the idea that, in a crisis, Americans turn TO each other—and not ON each other.
A Return to the Moral Center
These are not radical notions. They are the common sense ideas that form the core of who we are as a nation. We can rally Americans, once again, to stand up for these values. We can make America, once again, a land where it is safe for everyday people to dream
We will prevail because—in truth—we are not in a right-wing period of American history, nor are we in a left-wing period. We are simply in a volatile period.
Signs of the Times
Some of the best signs and slogans from the Wisconsin protests.
And during times like these, we can take comfort in knowing that a great nation will ultimately pull its answers—not from its ideological extremes—but from its deep, moral center.
By standing up for dignity, equal opportunity and fair play, the Wisconsin workers have found their way to America's great moral center. They have shown us all, at last, the way back home. By standing with them, we reclaim what is best in our country.
April 15, 2009, marked the beginning of the national movement to remember the Tea Party and pull America to the ideological right.
Let Saturday, February 26, 2011, mark the beginning of the national movement to renew the American Dream and return us to the moral center—where everybody counts, and everybody matters.
Van Jones is a former contributing editor to YES! Magazine and the founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy and pull people out of poverty. This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
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