Weeks ago, I wondered if the spirit that had transported Egypt would catch on in America, where, for many reasons, it is equally urgently needed. And we are so blessed that that looks to be happening. I’ll admit that earlier, at the time, I would have thought that given the crisis our country’s youth faces (from unemployment, climate change, health insecurity, deportation, incarceration, debt), and the energy with which we delivered Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, the spark would be lit by my generation again. But if the fire that’s spreading across the world has any single lesson it’s that you won’t be able to guess where it catches on next. So thank God for Wisconsin, for Madison, for Egyptian pizza-benefactors, and for the public employees unions out there. You find yourselves in excellent company.
For a number of reasons, we actually shouldn’t be surprised that the organized, institutionalized backlash against the conservative movement’s own bold backlash should come from the last stronghold of the seemingly-fragmented, alienated labor movement- the public sector employees. As Kevin Drum lays out pretty damn perfectly, the decline of a class-conscious, broad-left coalition (and thus any kind of power base that could push the Democratic party consistently in the right direction) is due in no small part to 1) the labor movement’s own failures to adapt to changing times and the explosive energy surrounding the civil rights movement, peace movement, feminist movement, and environmental movement (farmworkers were a bit anomalous), which caused deep fissures in the left that have not yet been satisfactorily healed (though they’re moving warily in the right direction as evidenced by positive coalitions like the Blue Green Alliance and emphatic support of undocumented immigrants), 2) the extraordinary organization of business interests, and their alignment going forward from the 70s on with other religious-racial-conservative elements that were perfectly geared towards taking advantage of those cultural and generational divisions and 3) the consequent major decline of union membership in the private sector, which was accompanied by declines of power, resources, goodwill, more power, and general narrative disarray and a lack of connection to the interests of much of the rest of the left, which became further fragmented where they should have been united. The labor movement’s weakness, and inability to provide a unifying, anti-plutocracy/oligarchy (though not anti-business or anti-capitalist) frame has left the left ill-equipped to adequately push, in the Obama era, for the kind of change we need- at this point, pretty revolutionary change.
It is for all those reasons; that the labor movement is finally back in a position to regain some allies and reconnect with the rest of the left; that they have begun to identify the forces that are being rallied against all of us; and have spawned the kind of broad, distributed supporting actions and connections of themes across the country and across issues, that I have to agree about a million percent with Van Jones, who writes convincingly on Huffington Post that this is pretty much our Gandalf-coming-over-the hill-to-save-the-bejeezus-out-of-our-beleagured-Rohirrim-asses-at-Helm’s-Deep moment:
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…
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…
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.
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.
Or, as he so eloquently put it at Power Shift ’09 (by the way, you wanna get amped? Power Shift ’11 is coming up), it’s deeper than a solar panel:
I’ve disagreed with Van Jones frequently over the last couple years. But here there is no distance between us. This is the ‘drop what you’re doing if you can and join the fight, ANY way that you can’ moment. This is the moment in which we have the almost unbelievable opportunity to revive and reunite the movement that has lain, not dormant, but frustrated and at times despondent, over the last couple years. The movement that inspired and redeemed me, in moments of great darkness and despair, and that led me to exactly where I am, sitting in my dining room in Cleveland, Ohio, taking a brief break from the most fulfilling work I could hope to engage in, day and night (and other nights). There are literally thousands of ways of tapping into and supporting that movement. It encompasses so many communities of kindness and justice, so many communities that are, frankly, under attack (I’ll talk in my next post about some of the opportunities for engagement, and the essential communities that need support). Anything we can do to help that movement survive, grow, and continue to struggle on for human dignity and kindness, and faith in the future, we owe it to ourselves to do.
Or, you know: