Folks are fighting for it in the streets. Believe it or not, they’re fighting for it in Washington. A few brave souls even still fight for it on Capitol Hill.
So when progressives came together in a Washington hotel this week for a conference called, “Take Back the American Dream,” it seemed appropriate that some would actually define just what this “dream” is that we’re all longing for — and what it means to be without it.
Although thousands are out on Wall Street, and increasingly, nationwide protesting against corporate excess and greed, this movement is not about merely coveting the fat cats’ money, or wishing we all could own the fancy cars they drive.
The fight, says activist Van Jones, is not at all about advocating for rampant consumerism or commercialism.
The American Dream isn’t that “everybody’s going to get rich” and just buy more things to make themselves happy, he says. It’s not about getting “a big enough flat-screen TV to cover up the holes in your life.”
“That’s the American fantasy, which led to the American nightmare. We’re opposed to that,” Jones says emphatically.
Jones, who’s trying to spearhead a broad movement on the left to renew the American Dream, says it is “much deeper and much more fundamental.”
The dream, he says, simply is “the idea that we’re supposed that we’re all supposed to count, we’re all supposed to matter.”
The American Dream isn’t even about having it easy. It’s actually about merely having an opportunity to work hard — and get somewhere from the work.
“No matter what’s your color or your race, or your religion, or your sexuality, or your gender, you’re supposed to be able to work hard and get somewhere,” Jones says. “You’re supposed to be able to have the dignity of work and opportunity so that you can look at those children in your household and know that they might – if they work hard, too – get farther than you did. That’s supposed to be who we are. … It shouldn’t be thrown under the bus just corporations don’t have to pay tax.”
That inter-generational commitment is key.
Rep. Donna Edwards, a progressive Maryland Democrat, says that both of her parents were born during the Great Depression.
“But even in that time, neither of my parents believed that their children would grow up worse off than they had. That’s where we are today,” she says. “I thought about that American Dream, and it made me think about the 48 million people last year who didn’t work one single week. And I thought about the American Dream, and I thought about the 16.4 million children in this country who live in poverty. And I thought about the American Dream, and I thought about the 46.2 million Americans who live in poverty – the highest that it’s been in my entire lifetime. I’m 53 years old.”
Edwards says today parents like her actively question whether their children will be better off the way the parents of past generations just assumed their kids would be after a lifetime of hard work.
“We have to answer that question in the affirmative.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.