fresh voices from the front lines of change







The Take Back The American Dream conference opened Tuesday by discussing the Contract for the American Dream. Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change began by saying that “there is a movement in America today and it’s not the Tea Party, it is the American Dream Movement. People are working to build a huge movement that can meet this huge moment.”

Bhargava said our political system is captured by powerful interests and angry voices. The American Dream movement is an effort to knit together the grassroots organizing that is already going on around the country, and spark and inspire more. They are reaching out to thousands of people through house parties and other events.

Justin Rubin of MoveOn talked about what the movement stands for. Dozens of organizations, MoveOn and the Dream Movement, the Center for Community Change and many others, asked people what should be in a contract. We put the call out, got 24,617 ideas for how to fix the economy. Ideas were submitted by folks from all walks of life.

Then we debated, We received 6,141,909 ratings online. We had 1500 local gatherings to debate these ideas, and talk about what would make sense in people’s local realities.

All of this boiled down to this contract. The ideas are simple and important. These are ideas to create good jobs and make the American Dream real.

We can afford these things. America is not broke. Crucially, those who do well in America must do well by America. But the economy has been hijacked by the wealthy 1%.

Those are the basic ideas in the contract.

This contract is a tribute to the 130,000 people who wrote it. It is your contract, you wrote it, like any other tool it has no value of you don’t keep using it.

Now we have to organize around it. Millions of people in America understand that something is wrong and are hungry for these ideas. We can change what is happening in Washington by organizing around this Contract. We can make it a household word and the touchstone for organizing the movement we need to build.

Click here to read the Contract For The American Dream.

Next, Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers talked about creating Good Jobs Now. Gerard said that like an alcoholic we have to agree that we have a problem. We need to convince our intellectual elite in the country that manufacturing matters. We have lost 58000 factories, 10 million industrial workers have lost their jobs. All those factories paid taxes, each of those workers generated 5 or 6 other support jobs.

America has had record trade deficits. 7 to 8 trillion of that accumulated trade deficit is transferred wealth to other countries. The only way you create real wealth in a society is by taking raw materials, energy, intellect, ingenuity, and transforming that into things of value.

There is no way out of this economic mess unless we start creating things again and creating economic wealth. We have to push our politicians at every level, we need a manufacturing strategy in this country.

The reality is that of 20 leading industrial democracies, 19 have manufacturing/industrial strategies, and we do not.

This mess started 25 years ago, and we have to start now to set things right. We need to revive manufacturing to crate good jobs now. (Standing ovation.)

Leo Hindrey of the New America Foundation talked about how America is not broke if we all pay our fair share. We have the highest level of inequality since 1228. But 90% of workers have had no real wage increase in a decade. 237,000 households in America make more than $1 million a year, and many of these are gross abusers of the tax system.

The tax system is so manipulable that people find a way around it. We need to have people with a passion in the Congress to demand an overall progressive tax system. We need a top-down, bottom-up review of our tax system. We need job equity but also as a direct sister tax equity.

We have to address this manipulation of the system on behalf of speculation. A simple speculation tax like the one in Europe can address this.

But the greatest ill of the country is campaign finance. We need to march in the streets for campaign finance equity. This is the sister of job equity and tax equity.

We are not broke, the system has the wherewithal to do what needs to be done, but we don’t have the political motivation.

Rep Jan Shakowsky (D-IL) talked about how she grew up in a different America. But the America she remembers is now fading. We are falling behind in so many ways. We don’t want to return to the days of dirty smokestacks and unsafe workplaces. But we cannot accept as a “new normal” this America in which all the growth and wealth has gone to the top. So the Contract for the American Dream is our blueprint. It is a patriotic vision of an America that is yet to come.

This economic situation is man-made and we can solve our problems. We can put people to work fixing our public schools, hiring well-paid teachers. We can pass the Dream Act. For health care we can start with the Affordable Care Act as a beginning. But we need at the end of the day Medicare For All (standing ovation.)

Entitlements are earned benefits. People paid for them and they deserve them. We can solve our deficit problem, our retirement problem, without cutting benefits. She offered her proposal to lower the deficit while creating jobs

Shakowsky said she believes our country is truly at a crossroads and we are the front line. This vision of the Contract is patriotic and practical and supported by the vast majority of Ameicans. We need only to inspire all of those people, our people, that we can, indeed take back the American dream.

Where Rep. Shakowsky spoke of the America she remembers, Erica Williams of the Citizen Empowerment Laboratory spoke to those of us who grew up in the America that we have now. Now people aspire to college but maybe could not afford it. Young people who could afford school come out now and can’t find jobs. People know something is wrong.

When you talk about saving democracy you are asking what is the hope for those of us who grew up in this America. We are in the moment where we have to rescue our democracy. States are passing legislation that suppresses votes. Voter ID laws are not about ID they are suppression. There are some people who are consistently at the short end of every stick. Young people, people of color, working people.

Saying corporations are people is threatening our democracy. Campaign finance reform is the stuff that makes all of that possible and that threatens all of our work. We have to get out in the streets, we have to make our voices heard. This threatens our way of life, people are trying to take away our power. We need campaign finance reform as an underlying social contract to every contract we discuss this morning.

Click here to read the Contract For The American Dream.


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