Fulltime for just over two years, I’ve been researching and writing my next book. This multi-year project was inspired by my belief that the American Right is working overtime to redirect a refreshing, progressive political momentum — which miraculously carried our first African-American President and his family into the White House — to suit their anti-democratic aims.
Just as they began to do in the late Thirties — following FDR’s landslide victory in 1936, and continuously ever since — corporate-supported Masters of Distraction have been exploiting reactionary sentiments and freak events to contain our ability to use government to address the serious economic crisis created by Reagan Era policies they had a hand in crafting. They are sapping our nation, bringing us down, and distracting us from the Big Picture at a time when way too many people are really suffering.
Two words might show what I mean: gun control. Everybody, myself included, is all heated up over this issue, after yet another crazy individual committed a horrific act against defenseless innocents. But really, it’s Big Picture forces that are really at work here, and they’re not mainly about guns. The economy has been destroyed by thirty-two years of relentless kowtowing to the rich — big corporations and a tiny minority of individuals and families. A bitter pill was smoothly swallowed when that affable actor Ronald Reagan first appeared on the national scene, and we’ve all made the fool. The economic collapse of 2008 revealed how badly the nation’s wealth had been plundered.
As President Obama prepared to publicly recited his oath today, on this official commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth, I had a dream that he might take a page from Dr. King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here? (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968). I hoped that he might say something like this:
We the People need to put every American to work right away — not by the end of my term, not next year, but as soon as we can make our government take action.
Until we assure everyone in this country of the dignity of earning a living wage, we’ll fall prey to ideologues who cast aspersions on our democracy — setting one American against the other with their blaming, and our nation against the world. Shopkeepers won’t have customers. Healthcare will be postponed because of money. Children will go to sleep hungry. People will seek refuge in drink, drugs and distraction. Frustration will explode in violence against family members, neighbors, and strangers on our streets, in movie theaters and even elementary schools.
Too many of us have fallen into the danger of forgetting Dr. King’s message: that having and sharing a dream that includes every one of us is the highest ideal of our nation — not the protection of profits.
We know how we can solve this problem, as history has shown us. When corporations and businesses stop hiring, and Americans still need work, we can work for each other: in local government, in schools, and in community centers and improvement projects driven not by profit, but by our very certain dreams of how to make life better — truly worth living — in our own local communities. If business doesn’t need everyone’s talent, skills, and honorable work, the rest of us still do — our nation does.
This administration will lead the way by assuring that your government’s resources are redirected into helping everybody find a way to work for the public good — especially since businesses are struggling, and can’t yet afford to hire. Public-service employment will not only allow us to rebuild our communities. It will allow everyone to step back into the mainstream of the nation’s economic life once again, and that will be good for business.
President Obama said quite few things in his speech that are consistent with this dream, but the dots were not connected as clearly as they were in Dr. King’s 45-year-old book. Of course, this was an Inaugural Address: the State of the Union speech on February 12th is traditionally much more programmatic. I hope there will be much more to come.
Dr. King’s final book was subtitled Chaos or Community? Could there be any clearer indication of the woeful misdirection of our political culture than the sorry “Gun Appreciation Day” earlier this weekend? We won’t forget about the gun-control issue, now that so many people has reawakened to it; Slate reported yesterday that 1,104 Americans had died in firearms incidents since the Sandy Hook school massacre. But let’s regain our focus on the Bigger Picture, and concentrate instead on rebuilding community. That’s the only honorable work that can mobilize and harness the efforts of the great numbers of workers who are unemployed and under-employed.
Let’s put ourselves and every other American back to work on this most important national project, starting from the grassroots of every local community in the United States.