(image by AFGE)
Let's be clear: The United States is well on its way to becoming an oligarchic form of society, a nation in which a handful of billionaires control the economic and political life of the country. The very rich get richer, and almost everyone else gets poorer. Billionaires pour unlimited amounts of money into our elections in support of the right-wing candidates of their choice while ordinary Americans give up, in disgust, on the political process.
Today, in America, real unemployment is close to 14%, youth unemployment is over 20% and over 40% of African-American youth are unemployed. In recent years, 95% of all new income went to the top 1% and there has been a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires. Meanwhile, 46.5 million Americans live in poverty -- the highest number ever -- and more and more of our people are going hungry. Tragically, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country -- with one out of four kids living on food stamps.
The economic crisis in this country -- the collapse of the middle class, the increase in poverty and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else -- is easy to see. The political crisis is more complicated. Here's how I see it.
The most important political reality of our time is that, over the last 25 years, the Republican Party has moved further and further to the right. What was once a center-right party has rapidly evolved into a right-wing extremist party. Currently, powerful forces in the Republican Party, under the influence of the Koch brothers, other billionaire families and the Tea Party, are calling for the privatization of Social Security, converting Medicare into a voucher program, massive cuts in Medicaid and food stamps, and the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Education and the Energy Department.
Incredibly, instead of raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, they want to end the concept of the minimum wage -- and create a situation where workers in high-unemployment areas could be forced to work for $3 or $4 an hour.
Not content with the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, they are working hard politically and in cases before the Supreme Court to eliminate all campaign finance regulations so that billionaires can simply, without disclosure, buy and sell the candidates of their choice. State by state, they are also making it harder for lower-income people, college students and seniors to vote.
What about the Democrats? In my view, as an Independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, they have done a reasonably good job in a number of areas. Unfortunately, they have been very weak in other areas.
A major concern of mine is that the national Democratic Party has essentially turned its back on large parts of this country -- leaving them in the hands of right-wing Republican members of Congress, governors and legislatures. Rather than putting resources into the South and other "red states," they are focusing virtually all of their attention on "battle-ground" states. This is a mistake -- from both a public policy and political perspective.
I feel very strongly that if progressives and Democrats are going to take back the House and protect the Senate in 2014, and become a strong national movement into the future, we need to take our progressive message to all corners of the country, including the South and some very red sates.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with progressives in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. At these meetings, which had great turnouts and a lot of enthusiasm, I met with trade unionists, progressive Democrats, Independents and others to talk about the economic issues facing America. We discussed how we create millions of livable wage jobs, stop cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, make sure our kids have access to an affordable college education, and how we build a progressive movement in the South and throughout the country to challenge Wall Street and the Big Money interests. We also discussed how we can convince white working class voters in the South to stop voting against their own self-interests.
There are some very good people in the South who are working hard to take on the right-wing -- the people who dominate the politics in their states -- and it is time that progressives and Democrats give them a hand. That is exactly what I was doing in the South and what I intend to do through my Leadership PAC, Progressive Voters of America (PVA).
We cannot continue to turn our backs on huge parts of this country which are dominated by right-wing governors and legislatures. We should be educating, organizing and supporting good candidates in every state in the country, and at every level, where working people are struggling to survive economically -- including the deep South. As progressives we must do this in 2014 -- and into the future. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and other "red" states will never become "battleground" states unless we work with our allies there -- and give them the support they need.
If progressives want to win in 2014 and beyond, it is imperative that we bring our message to middle-class and working-class voters throughout the country, including the South. There is no shortage of billionaires willing to bankroll extreme right-wing candidates, and we must respond.
I am asking now for your help to expand this effort.
It will take a long-term commitment to bring our message to all corners of the country. Please help me work with Americans in all 50 states to build a strong progressive movement which elects progressive candidates, at every level of government, who are prepared to take on Big Money interests, change our national priorities and fight for working people.
These are tough times for our country. Let's go forward together. Thanks for your continued support.
Senator Bernie Sanders