fresh voices from the front lines of change







This morning Robert Borosage, Melissa Harris-Perry and Van Jones opened the Take Back the American Dream conference, speaking at a plenary titled “Winning in November So We Can Win in December and Beyond.” The opening session was focused on the need to both win the election so Republicans do not have the levers of power, AND re-energize a progressive movement that will make Democrats use the levers of power to benefit regular, working people. As Van Jones put it, “We have to organize to win in November, in the election AND in December, when the economic battles are going to take place.”

Why December?

The political system has, as Van Jones put it, “been kicking the can down the road” for many major economic issues. The Bush tax cuts expire, Pell grants expire, even the debt ceiling deal might expire in December. Meanwhile this will be after election season, but before the people we elect take office, so it is the perfect opportunity for entrenched interests to use their influence. The fear is that the things government does for We, the People will be gutted, to preserve or even increase the special tax breaks that corporations and the very wealthy have enjoyed since the Reagan years. The focus of the conference is not just to help hold ground the election in November to preserve what might be left of democracy, but to mobilize people to fight in December to preserve what is left of the middle class and vulnerable people’s share of the economy.

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Robert Borosage

Robert Borosage welcomed the attendees to the conference. The people here are part of the “independent progressive movement we are building to try to take back the American dream.”

Borosage said (from notes), “They always say this election is most important but the stakes this time are more than just an election. We are in a fierce struggle about what comes after a 30 year failed experiment of a conservative era. We see extreme inequality, a fading middle class, extreme poverty… an assault on workers rights and the right to vote, and the mobilizstion of grassroots efforts to counter that. And now the billionaires are trying to take control of all levels of government”

Borosage said we can’t accept mass unemployment as the new norm,n declining wages and increasing insecurity as inevitable. “If we are going to buikd a new start we have to build an independent progressive movement, prepared to take on big money politics and confront the entrenched interests.”

There Was Not A Healthy Economy To Return To

It has been four years since Wall Street blew up economy, 9 million jobs lost, the middle class lost 40% of their wealth. This recovery is made even more difficult by major factors:
There is no healthy economy to return to, the middle has been losing ground for decades. We have been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, with record trade deficits, finance sector capturing 40% of national profits..

So there is no place to recover TO.

In addition, any reforms faced furious resistance. When Obama pushed even modest reforms the power of entrenched corp interests mobilized legions of lobbyists to protect, they delayed, diluted and defeated reform.

The o economy is coming back, the top 1% captured 93% of income growth from recovery. They are still making big bets, JP Morgan… Trade deficits are over 1 billion and a half a day.

Romney was inevitable because he is of by and for the 1% — big money picked one of their own. He wants to give billionaires a 25% tax cut on top of Bush’s, eliminate corporate taxes offshore and reopen the Wall Street casino. he pays lower tax rate than his chauffeur – and that’s the taxes he chooses to show us, not the ones he is. hiding

We will work to reelect President and take back the House but that is not enough. We can’t go back to the old past.
It’s not the poor, not the elderly who blew up the economy. It isn’t enough to put Obama back in the White House, we have to take on crony capitalism, entrenched interests, big money, corrupt politicians IN BOTH PARTIES.

Now, after deregulation, then the Bush tax cuts, then continued costs of a bloated military and two wars, we have scary long-term projections. But really these are entirely health care costs, Americans pay twice per capita what other ountries pay for worse resultswe have to take on the powerful that profit from these arrangements, not the victims.

The Grand Bargain — Big Heist

We’re about to head into what they call the Grand Bargain. After the election a fiscal train wreck purely made by politicians will be used as excuse for this “grand bargain” that will trade cuts in Social Security and Medicare for tax reform that lowers rates.

This should be known as the Big Heist instead of the grand bargain. It means we accept mass unemployment as normal because we don’t focus on creating jobs. It means the middle class and vulnerable will get stuck with much of the bill that Wall Street left us.

So we must organize now to oppose the big heist and demand the real deal. Focus on what drives our deficits – the big money interests that now are driving our government.

We need to make big money toxic in elections.

We need to begin non violent demonstrations and confrontations.

We’ve been in this situation before. Robber Barons, labor unions outlawed, but populist movements and progressive reformers and labor uprisings challenged that. It ttook decades of struggle but we eventually won.

Now we are back to the same levels of inequality, the same robber baron politics. It is exciting that we have seen Wisc, Occupy, spread across country. We wll keep on building an independent movement to take back the American dream.

We know it can be done.

Melissa Harris-Perry

Also from notes: Try to understand analytically where we are and how we got here. The historical context – a robber baron moment, shorter context, the past decade.

Think about the choices that we ordinary citizens make. The era we are in now begins Sept 11, 2001. The election of Bush was a choice American People made, handed by Supreme Court. We made this choice in part because we understood ourselves to be in a time of peace, economic growth, and Bush seemed like the kind of guy to keep the party going.

We did not know then that just a few months it would no longer be good times, econjomic expansion, but a new era would begin when Americans finally came to where the rest of world had been — terrorism.

We reacted like Americans, with nationalist fervor justified as patriotism, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Americans in part decide who we are through our notion of whiteness, and racial enemies of non-whites, an imagined other because muslim, arab, something else.

Patriot Act was not a Republican President acting alone, it was bipartisan, not bought and paid for by corporations, but by our fear. Our collective angst gave permission to Dems to rally behind Republicans. We chose to let them begin this everlasting war.

A few years later, we were thinking about what kind of Democrat Republicans will vote for. John Kerry in 2004 showed up at convention and said “Reporting For Duty,” a soldier under the banner that he could do better at war machine.

Then on August 29, 2005 the levees failed in New Orleans. Search and rescue operations were suspended to focus on law and order, we went after our racial enemies.

The Shaming Of America

But the media showed that actual people, old people, women and children were suffering and dying in city center. We realized that we were allowing American citizens to suffer and dehydrate in that stadium, and Democrats started to get a little bit of spine.

In 2006 Democrats won back the House because Dems articulated a difference with Republicans for first time in 5 years. And we wanted the wars stopped.

In response to Americans saying we want out, the Surge, White House sent more soldiers into the war. Bush White House in 2006 said we don’t care.

Obama emerged because of the war, and Katrina. 2008 was great fun because of the freelancing that went on outside of the campaign.’s remix of Obama’s Yes We Can speech, it became viral. Regular people got sick of Bush and all we were doing, it gave us the willingness to think about a white woman and a black guy. A willingness to do things differently.

So the right reacted with anti-muslim response, and anti-immigrant panic.

Then 2010. There is no reason to lose hope, we are just not a perfect people. Kind of like an adolescent country. It’s hard. You randomly feel bad and get afraid and for a country that became so dominant so quickly, understood itself as standing on a shining hill — we are in our adolescence and we are making a bit of a mess of it.

That said, there is no reason to lose hope. The fear that has activated the last decade cannot be countered with more fear of what is coming.

Is there money in the political system? yes. is the supreme court friendly? no. Are there people willing to actually damage the core of our democratic principles just to win an election? Yes.

Struggle doesn’t worry me in the sense of being struggle. My enslaved grandmother who was sold on a street corner in Richmond VA. But she believed in God, never expected anything but slavery for all the people in the future, no empirical evidence that any being cared about her circumstances, no evidence of a loving God, But that didn’t seem to lower her faith.

I’m not asking you to believe in God, but to think about the faith that is not rooted in the realities you see around you in the moment,. There is faith that just requires us not to be afraid of each other.

It is our fear of each other that makes us exceptionally easy to divide. I’m angry with the Bushes, I disagree with them, but I am not afraid of any person with whom we are struggling.

(Standing ovation.)

Van Jones

Borosage: Van Jones graduated Yale Law School but rose above it.

I want to talk about the voice that’s been missing. Rodney King passed away, it has been 20 years… A regular guy, said “Can we all just get along” Somehow be pulled from the mess, be pulled from the wreckage of America, “Can we all get along.”

His question still resounds. Can we all get along?

We have this extraordinary moment now, who are we in this country, in this mess, in this catastrophe, are we going to turn to each other or away from each other. It’s not just about the corporations it’s about us here in this room

Now people seem to be backing off, people who stood up, Watching that movement that inspired the world, that stunned the world, in the moment of maximum peril now, they sit down.

There are people in this country drowning on dry land. They need a movement that is willing to stand with them. And yet there is this reluctance.

We saw in Wisconsin what happens when we put our minimum against their maximum. Help was not on the way, they had to fight againt 13 billionaires, a whole squad of them, only one lived in Wisconsin.

The question that falls upon this conference, are we going to let the Tea Party govern America? Can we find some lesson that will let us move forward together? Determined and committed, so innocent people won’t have to fight alone.

Those of us suffering economically will not be further harmed by the two fights, in November politically and in December economically on the budget.

My first grade teacher used to say “put your thinking caps on.” And we would put them on and we would think and someone would come up with the answer.

Let’s put our thinking caps on and reason together. What can we learn from 2008? From 2010 that will let us win not just polirtically in December but economically in December?

What happened? We didn’t know enough, we thought something that was not true, we thought that the House and the Senate and the Presisdent was enough to govern in America. Turned out not true, we only had 1/3, we needed two other things: A movement in the streets, and we abandoned the street. A media establishment like they have.

So we were checkmated by a fearful right wing funded by billionaires. We did not have what we needed to be able to government from below. So the streets were filled with people carrying signs saying the President compared to Hitler, spitting on Congresspeople calling them the N word, they took to the streets and stopped our movement.

In 2010 we turned out a lot fewer people than in 2008. People say it doesn’t matter who is elected. Ask people in Wisconsin if it matters.

Many in this room, and those watching, are opinion leaders. People look to you to figure out what is right and wrong, it is a dangerous time to be reckless and irresponsible, we are in danger of immobilizing people.

To quit now is to disrespect the shoulders of the people that we are standing on. The people in my father’s generation, knew what it meant to fight for change, they had dogs sicked on them, they were beaten, fighting for change, jailed, some were murdered.

We will quit over a really mean tweet.

We have a quandary, if we just support the Dems we don’t get what we want but if we don’t our opponents will get power and decimate us. They destroy the unions.

We say, we now have power, we will be bipartisan, can we compromise… That’s not what they do, they get power they decimate us. They are wiping out the EPA.

When they get power they use it to destroy us, but the existing Democrats disappoint us.

What we need to do is, the lesson of the past decade is very clear. If you have the wrong president it doesn’t matter how strong your movement is, we couldn’t stop Iraq with millions in the streets. We have the right movement but the wrong president.

We have the right President with Obama, but the people in the streets were the wrong movement, the Tea Party, they were able to nmake austerity the watchword when every economist said it was the wrong thing to do

The key is to have the right President and the right movement at the same time. We have to re-elect the President AND we have to reenergize the movement. You have to have a moveable president and a movement to move that president.

The Two Fights November AND December

Learn the lesson and win in November and December.

Look what happened before, they created a super committee to do super damage to the American people, and some young people went with sleeping bags and tents to the scene of the crime and occupied Wall Street and turned the country around. Suddenly you can talk about economic inequality, even with Super Committee.

They bought us a year to put our thinking caps on. We have to be as brave and determined.

There is hope on the horizon if we aim for it. We have to do three things going forward.

We have to also win in December.

You can win in November and lose in December, because of the lame duck session. This is what we have to rally for, in December the Bush tax cuts expire, Pell Grants run out, every can kicked down the road in the last two years
In December a wrecking ball will possibly land on our heads. We have to stand and fight.

The other side is not playing tic tac toe, they’re not playing chess, they are playing 3D Vulcan chess, they are not stupid.

We have to make the President vow to veto the intent of the Republicans to take this country over – veto any bill that lets the rich walk away with tax cuts. It is time for the wealthy people – if you do well IN America you are supposed to do well BY America. We call on the President to issue a veto threat to that end.

(Standing ovation.)

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