If there was one message that united the various speeches that launched the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, it was perhaps summed up by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who gave a post-lunch talk that was as potent as a can of Red Bull.
What’s worse than the conservative penchant for the Big Lie, he said, is the right’s ability to make the public demoralized and cynical about the government that is supposed to be their instrument for change. “The worst thing is when people say that nothing can be done,” he said. “Then we know the other side has won.”
But, in fact, something can be done.
That something could be as simple as a group of frustrated people who are standing at the intersection of defeatism and determination who decided to turn in the direction of reclaiming democracy and economic justice rather than surrendering it. That group, of course, is Occupy Wall Street, which in its own bottom-up way has captured the spirit of a segment of America that has decided it will no longer stand aside and accept an America where all of the wealth flows upward while “sacrifice” rolls downhill.
The representatives from Occupy Wall Street and The New Bottom Line, a financial reform group, who opened the Take Back the American Dream conference and Reich, who spoke at the early afternoon plenary, functioned as bookends to the core message that Van Jones, the driving force behind the Rebuild the Dream movement, delivered in his morning speech.
“We had the wrong theory about the presidency,” Jones said in reference to the election of Barack Obama. The people who elected him behaved as if their work was done when he took the oath of the presidency. But, as Jones has repeatedly said, the motto of Obama’s 2008 campaign was not, “yes HE can,” but “yes WE can” — with, without or in spite of Obama, Jones could have added.
In the crowded hallways of the Washington Hilton hotel where the Take Back the American Dream conference is being held, there is a buzz that suggests that progressives do not have to choose between selling out or checking out; that there is a fight to be fought and the beginnings of a strategy to win it. And a lot of credit goes to the inspiration coming from the hundreds of people who have camped out in Manhattan’s financial district.
“These demonstrators are the small tip of an iceberg,” Reich said. “They are an iceberg of discontent, and I say demonstrate like mad. That wakes others up to the possibility of change.”