This statement was written by members of a workshop at the Autumn Convergence held in Boston, November 24, 2013.
Now, in the early 21st century, inequality marks every major sphere of the country’s economic and social life. It is the major driver of a range of injustices: hollowed out democracy, rampant militarism, climate catastrophe and other forms of environmental degradation. Together, those problems constitute a multi-faceted crisis that impacts every resident of this country.
The “American Dream” is in serious trouble. Its defining vision of upward mobility and limitless opportunity wherein each succeeding generation increases its material and spiritual assets over the preceding generation is in tatters. At this moment in the country’s history, the attainment of better and more secure lives has seriously foundered.
The nation’s economic and political institutions can no longer assure growth, security and the pursuit of happiness and have become fetters on those aspirations.
Inequality has been marked by unimaginable wealth for less than one percent while the vast majority faces stagnating wages, shrinking resources and disappearing dreams. That rampant inequality is now widely recognized as the great moral issue of our time.
Today, the top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of the country – over 150 million people. Today, 46.5 million live in poverty in the United States. At 21.8 percent, the United States has the highest rate of child poverty in the world.
That vast concentration of wealth has fed unprecedented political corruption. Tens of millions of dollars have flowed into an already flawed electoral process to threaten democratic choice and democracy itself. Under concentrated corporate control, the media abets and deepens inequality by diluting political discussion, trivializing important issues, distorting facts and telling outright lies.
A major portion of that wealth commands tens of billions in unnecessary, wasteful military spending that is the highest in the world. Billions are spent on new weapons while funds are denied to replace rotting infrastructure, to assist millions facing severe privation though no fault of their own, to combat greenhouse gases and to develop sustainable clean energy.
Despite progress in reducing Russian and United States nuclear arsenals, the promised elimination of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction remains unfulfilled. Nuclear carnage, whether by design, miscalculation or accident, remains an existential threat that can obliterate all life on our planet while the military-industrial-government complex demands that the public and its elected representatives abdicate the right to discuss – let alone implement – nuclear disarmament.
We are all challenged to grasp and convey the festering insecurity of long-term unemployment and under-employment where millions work harder for less compensation; the dread of hunger, child poverty, and illness; the insecurity of millions unable to pay mortgages or already cast into homelessness; the frustration of students who are unable to pay exorbitant student loans and can no long afford a college education.
At its root, the pervasive inequality that afflicts out society breeds oppression and pain that is inherently unjust. The strangling impact of institutional racism that is worsened by economic decline falling heaviest on racial and national minorities, especially among African American youth who are jailed unjustly in far greater numbers than those attending college.
Inequality is not just a difference in economic or cultural status. It is a power relationship based upon ownership of sources of wealth, education, culture and other material and spiritual goods that society has accumulated – and relative deprivation for those without that ownership and its benefits. That relationship produces the ills enumerated above, spawning in society discrimination based on race, class, gender and sexuality – and perpetuating alienation of the powerless.
To end that powerlessness, to end material and spiritual deprivation, to build new relationships based on justice, democracy, equality and full realization of our shared human potential. That is the foundation of our vision.
In the midst of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in advancing a “Second Bill of Rights” declared: “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” That was to be universally achieved through the right to a useful and remunerative job that earned enough for adequate food, clothing and recreation; the right to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and good health; the right to protection from the fears of old age, sickness and unemployment; the right to a good education.
After seventy years, those goals remain a basis for the vision of a just society. Seventy years later, changing conditions also require the need to save the environment and to reverse a militarized economy and a foreign policy based largely upon military force.
The task of building a just society requires acting upon a human capacity to reject unfair treatment of one by another. The struggle for a society rooted in democracy, fairness and equality is a many-sided task. It requires collective organizing to claim power from those institutions that propagate oppression and violence.
At the same time, the movement for a just country and a just world must of necessity embrace the individual need to be purified of violence. Our common humanity demands that; our love for fellow human beings constitutes the basis for our commitment to create a better world.
Our national experience has reflected a tension between individualism and the yearning for community. As the country began its journey to become a great power, the myth of the unfettered individual – the maker of one’s own advance through one’s own competitiveness – collided with desires to build a society in which there is a secure place for everyone based upon cooperative efforts whereby the individual advances economically and culturally on the strength of the community.
We envision a society where each individual assumes personal responsibility to care for each other and to work together for the survival of the planet – a society that prioritizes stewardship of the environment in accord with sustainability, that cherishes nature, that prioritizes people before profit; that prioritizes diplomacy and global cooperation over war.
We envision a society that weaves a strong social fabric that holds us together instead of tearing us apart. We envision a society, and a world that respects diversity – whereby dissent and difference are respected.
We envision a society built on solidarity, whereby mutual aid and human sympathy flourish. We envision a society that places individual and communal welfare before corporate profit.
We envision a country that is true to its own tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees.
We envision a social order that provides pathways to growth and attainment for all, for the realization of what is best in all, rather than spiritually crippling competitiveness and “meritocracy.”
We need to locate and overcome the obstacles to the realization of that vision of solidarity, cooperation, justice and a truly democratic society. Those obstacles are economic inequality, the existential threat posed by impending environmental catastrophe, endless wars and endless spending for wars to enforce a model of global order resistant to progressive change.
We need to erase prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age. We envision a society that recognizes the tenacity of such currents and works vigorously to fight all forms of discrimination.
We know that all those objectives must be addressed as inseparable, giving each sphere priority rather than privileging one over the rest. Some among us may disagree with specific policies. But we strongly agree on the broad progressive values promoted by the policies and values enumerated in this document.
We acknowledge the need for structural change in our economic and political system. We may not as yet agree on the nature and content of that change, but understand that the path to transforming society will be illuminated in the course of working on the pressing needs that currently confront the country and the world. We note that there has been a growth in community-based cooperative enterprises that offer alternatives to corporate domination. There are also efforts to directly confront and diminish corporate power through electoral and other political means. Both those efforts – and more – will ultimately clarify the nature and the road to a bright future.
Our national experience has repeatedly and amply demonstrated that great leaps in social progress come largely from grass roots social movements – from abolitionists, to the progressives of the early 20th century, to the great upsurge in the industrial labor movement of the thirties, to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the sixties, to the women’s movement and to many other local and regional battles waged by the grass roots to bring about change.
At this critical juncture marked by complex challenges, there is a great need for mutual support and cooperation among many diverse movements. It is also increasingly clear that movements for economic justice, for a non-violent and constructive foreign policy, for prevention of an environmental catastrophe, for ending racism, sexism, homophobia – are all interconnected and inseparable.
We pledge to build that cooperation based upon our shared values and mutual respect for divergent ideas. Above all, we share a strong sense of moral urgency and pledge to work for policies that reclaim the moral high ground that has been usurped by reactionary forces in the recent past.
The compelling need of the moment is to forge an effective majority for change. There is no greater task.
Third revision, completed August 1, 2014. Please send critical comments, suggestions, etc., to: email@example.com.