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As we approach the celebration of our country's Declaration of Independence, it seems fitting to reflect on our origins 236 years ago. America's not a perfect country, not then, not now. It was a disappointment to our founding fathers. Who would know better than Jefferson himself who said, "I tremble for my country!" [because the question of slavery was not addressed].
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Our great shining hope has always been our desire to right the wrongs, to align our practices with our ideals, our policies with our deepest values. Our freedoms have always come from an engaged citizenry. We created a strong middle class on the shoulders of our labor movement, our civil rights movement and our women's movement--each of which has allowed us to express our better selves and build the strong, vibrant economy that became the beacon for the world.
However, for the past 30 years, we've struggled with the experiment of "trickle down" economics. Someone has described this like throwing gasoline on the roof of your car and hoping it will reach the motor. The results speak for themselves. The typical family lost 40% of its wealth when the housing bubble burst. Public employees (our teachers, police, librarians, firefighters) are not a threat. They've always been there for us. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker's pay in the USA is now 1:538 (compared to Japan's 1:4 or the European Union's 1:30). Even millionaires are asking to be taxed their fair share. Something's wrong when a janitor who works at GE pays more taxes than the corporation itself. GE not only paid zero taxes, it actually got a huge refund from the IRS. We've forgotten that when people are unemployed and underemployed, they can't become customers for our nation's goods and services.
There's no such thing as a free market. Every game has its rules (ask any kid!). The question is, "Who do the rules empower? Are the rules applied fairly to all?" Currently the biggest welfare recipients are our largest corporations and the top 1%. Our military spending (Dept. of Defense, War, Veterans Affairs, and Nuclear Weapons programs) takes 60% of our nation's discretionary budget. Health and human services get 6%. Education gets 6%. Allocations to the states, 5%. Other programs, 4.5%. The Dept. of Homeland Security, 4%. Housing and urban development, 3%. Agriculture, 2%. Justice, NASA, Energy each get 1.5%. Labor, Treasury, Interior, Environmental Protection and Transportation get approximately 1%. (source: AFSC)
There are some who maintain that America is broke. We're not broke. We can take care of our veterans and feed hungry children. We can increase the ceiling on Social Security deductions and create a surplus in the Social Security trust fund. We can divert money from weapons systems that even the military doesn't want and reduce the national deficit (our military expenditures absorb $2.2 million every minute). We can raise taxes on those who earn over $250,000 a year and repair our infrastructure.
Recently, three of us attended the Rebuild the Dream/Campaign for America's Future conference in Washington, DC. Here in NJ, we're working to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. We've collected over 13,000 petitions in the last three weeks.
We know corporations are not "people." Clearly it's about priorities. Are we a country that's about every man for himself? Or is our country a place where we're equally committed to someone else's children--that they grown up safe, healthy, and able to dream? Democracy is not an app--it's a participatory sport where every vote counts. The real patriots are the ones who support liberty and justice for all.
Marguerite Chandler, Susannah Newman, Claire Nagel
American Dream Movement of Cape May County