By Van Jones, President of RebuildtheDream.com
Last month, I joined with MoveOn.org and launched the Rebuild the Dream campaign to help give a voice to the millions of Americans who aren’t being heard in Washington. This past weekend, we organized nearly 1,600 house meetings across the country — nearly double the number of protests the Tea Party held when they launched in April of 2009. The American Dream Meetings gave more than 27,000 people, from all across the country, an opportunity to come together and discuss what the American Dream means to them and their families. They talked about how the jobless crisis and foreclosure mess is impacting their communities. They put forth creative ideas for the Contract for the American Dream — a bold progressive vision to help fix the broken economy and rebuild our communities. The Contract has already received nearly 26,000 ideas submitted online alone and over 6 million ratings.
While I’m beyond inspired by the enormous outpour of ideas we’ve received thus far, it doesn’t surprise me that the American people are yearning to come up with practical solutions to our economic crisis. While so many Americans struggle with joblessness and rampant foreclosures, we keep hearing from Washington that we need to reduce the deficit, even if it means slashing Medicare or gutting vital programs families depend on. Washington appears to be operating on an entirely different planet than the rest of America.
There’s an important story that’s not being told in Washington. It’s the story of the mother or father getting the dreaded call into the office where their boss informs them that they’ve been laid off. They were already underwater on their house, and now without a steady paycheck, they start to get behind on their mortgage payments. Then comes the big bad bank. They do everything they can to keep their house but it’s no use. The bank posts that horrifying foreclosure notice on their door, and takes their home. They sell most of their belongings and move their entire family into a one-bedroom apartment. Or if they’re lucky, they move in with grandma. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s happening every single day in America. It’s the new American nightmare.
Our brave men and women in uniform are coming from a war battlefield only to return home to an economic battlefield with little hope of finding a job. Young Americans are graduating off a cliff, and sleeping on their parent’s couches waiting for an opportunity to come along.
In Washington, it’s almost as if these problems don’t exist. It’s fair to say that Washington has become obsessed with deficit politics, even though poll after poll shows that the number one concern of Americans is the economy and jobs. So, how did Washington get so off track with the rest of America? How did the debate change from being focused on job creation during the stimulus debate, to becoming focused mostly on cutting spending and tightening our belt? There was a movement with a message, and it has helped drive this deficit obsession in Washington – the Tea Party.
In April of 2009, Americans who identified themselves as Tea Partiers took to the streets to protest against what they perceived to be a “big government takeover”. With the help and funding of lobbyist-run think tanks such as Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, 800 Tea Party protests were organized across the country to speak out against “big government”, taxation, and more specifically, President Obama.
The media started to take notice. Who were these people? Why were they so angry? Should they be taken seriously? Like bees to honey, right-wing candidates began to flock to the Tea Party and adopt their platform as their own. The Tea Party organized protests at town halls around health care reform — successfully heckling members of Congress and making sure the TV cameras were there to spread the story. From that point on, anything and everything the Tea Party did, the media paid attention to. And, anyone on the left who didn’t take them seriously had pie in their faces when Tea Party-backed candidates propelled to power in Congress in the 2010 Election.
The Tea Party didn’t just make waves in Washington, DC, they also helped elect extreme right-wingers to State Houses and began occupying Governor’s mansions across the country. These newly elected Tea Party candidates weren’t afraid to take risks, and they weren’t shy about putting their right-wing ideology before the economic well being of their constituents. They immediately began an all out assault on public workers, women’s rights, and began doling out tax breaks for millionaires and corporations. They threw everything at the wall in the hopes it would stick. And to the detriment of working families, some of it did. But it wasn’t without consequence for their movement or the candidates they helped elect.
Fast forward to February of 2011, Madison, Wisconsin. Just after Governor Walker doled out $140 million in tax breaks to corporations, he proposed the Budget Repair Bill, which restricted the collective bargaining rights of workers. Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites filled the Capitol and surrounded the grounds, protesting the attack on workers’ rights. The protests reached a magnitude of 150,000 people in Madison — larger than the rally put on by Glenn Beck and the Tea Party in Washington, DC. The protests in Wisconsin helped ignite and inspire other protests around the country. In an effort to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin, “Rallies to Save the American Dream” were held in all 50 states. From Ohio to Montana to New York, protests against right-wing attacks and unfair budget cuts began breaking out across America.
The Tea Party has their message and their movement, and it continues to impact the debate in Washington. But the movement to save the American Dream is bigger. There is a silent majority of Americans who are fighting back, and many of them have been fighting alone. They’ve been fighting to find a job and provide for their families. They’ve been fighting against the banks that are trying to take their homes. They’re fighting against unfair budget cuts that will disproportionately hurt the middle class and poor. They’re fighting for the American Dream. But, as we saw in Wisconsin, and we’re now beginning to see around the country, millions of Americans are starting to fight back together. And, it’s only a matter of time before the American Dream Movement comes to Washington.
Van Jones is President of the Rebuild the Dream
Photo by Eclectek