July 26, 2005

The American Dream Rediscovered

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I grew up in a poor rural area.  Coal mines dominated the landscape and the houses carried a gray tint from tri-axles spewing coal dust throughout the day.  The mines left in the era of Reaganomics and so did the jobs.  My dad was a foreman at a mine when it closed in 1985 making $33,000, he made $5000 the next year selling tires. He now runs a logging equipment company and if he's lucky he MIGHT be back up to $33K after 20 years.  

I went to a small school, graduated 63 people, of which over half went to college.  Parents knew that you HAD to get your kids into college and you HAD to get them out of town.  Not one parent in my town had a college education, not one.  The American Dream is for every child to have a better life than their parents - it's that simple.  In my town that meant getting out and getting educated.  

Many of my friends didn't take the opportunity.  When I go home I see them.  I see them going into bars at lunchtime, I see them driving 30 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart to make $9 an hour, I see them out in the snow patching up broken-down cars.  They are lost and they know it.  No future.  The 1000 mile stare.  


In an urban area they probably would have turned to drugs and gangs, but in the country they turned to McDonald's and cheap beer.  They don't think they are going to end up in jail, but I don't think they plan for a future either.  When you have no future, to what do you turn?  

In our American Society there is always a quest to get ahead, a quest to be more, be better.  There is no satisfaction with today, there is only longing for the better tomorrow.  In part, it is this drive that has made the U.S. so competitive and so successful over the years.  But, the result of this societal drive is that those who feel they have reached their limits are driven to distract themselves from reality.  Lottery tickets, alcohol, drugs, crime - all ways to ignore the future.

My wife was in the Peace Corps in Morocco, where she lived in a throwback town high in the Atlas Mountains.  These people had NO future in the American sense, and yet they were happy.  Why?  Because their thoughts were on the day, on the crops, what needed to be done today to survive through the harsh winter?  There was a real sense of community because they shared everything, their fields, their orchards, their animals, their chores, their love, their sadness, their religion.  Don't scoff at the religion you non-believers!  Ask yourself this, what would America be like if EVERY citizen took five 15-minute breaks throughout the day to silently pray or meditate on the world at large?  Your first thoughts of the day and your last would be of peace and hope - not a bad idea, huh?  They were happy because they were focused on LIFE, real life right there in front of them.  With no future but survival they were content.  Content equals happy.  

Economists today think that we are on the right track - that we are heading in the right direction.  They don't understand the pessimism, because they have never reached the point of having no future.  Wages are growing at their slowest rate in a generation and minimum wage is well below a living wage, so now more people are falling into poverty.  Health care costs are out of control and as such, more people can't take care of their basic health needs.  Jobs are moving overseas or being cut to improve Wall Street expectations, which means more citizens can't rent a movie for their kids, go to the local amusement park this summer, or buy decent back-to-school clothes.  Have you been the kid in the pleather sneakers from Payless?  Who did you take it out on, your friends or your parents?  There is no future for America's workers, and because of this there is no hope in America.

The American Dream is dead and gone.  No longer do citizens dream of a brighter future for their children, instead visions of the Lottery, American Idol, and Survivor fame float through our children's heads.  And, we let it.  Why not, what did the American Dream get us?  Poverty, hunger, strife.  The Republican Party has done a good job convincing people that if you have not achieved the American Dream then you are weak and lazy, morally bankrupt.  Moreover, they have redefined the American Dream for adults, so that it is not about your children, it is about your possessions.  In their Dream everyone can have a new set of fancy-looking steak knives from Wal-Mart and a new lawn mower every few years from Lowe's, everyone can have 300 television channels, and everyone can lease a new car.  In exchange, all they ask is that you give them the American Dream.  Turn over your future and the future of your children in exchange for these magic beans - and pay no mind to the man behind the curtain - even if they are just cheap plastic knock-offs made in Sri Lanka.  You there, textile worker in North Carolina, have another cheap NASCAR shirt made in China, never mind the loss of your job, Wal-Mart has a sale on real, imitation, leather suitcases for when your house is foreclosed.

The role of the Democratic Party that is too avoided or overlooked is to win back the American Dream.  Taking back the ideal that each generation can be better off than the one before.  Isn't that what we are up against?  Do we not face a party that is in search of Aristocracy, a party that wants a wealthy ruling class and an impoverished working class?  Will new members be welcome to the Aristocracy?  Not likely.  You will be smashed out of existence by Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble's, and Starbucks.  The Democratic Party must fight for the American Dream, that is our framing, that is our message, no half-measures.  

Look no further for your message Democrats, whether DNC, DLC, NDN, or NPA, this is what America expects from you.  The lack of any real effort to make our lives better on a day-to-day basis is why no one trusts or cares about government anymore.  If you want to make America better, then do it.  Stop talking about it, stop framing it, do something about it.  Something real.  Reach out to your fellow citizens with real change, reach out to them with a new American Dream that this next generation will have a better life than ANY previous generation.

  • We fight for a living wage for all Americans that work a 40-hour week.  

  • We fight for access to health care for all Americans.  

  • We fight for freedom of small businesses to flourish under the heat of competition.  

  • We fight for the future, we fight for hope, and we fight for the American Dream.


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