Any presidential candidate faces broad challenges in illuminating the harsh injustices of our country and endorsing specific policies to fix them. Yet this is precisely what our leaders must do to create a nation of justice and opportunity.
We live in a nation of two- (or more tiers) of experience: drinking bottled versus toxic tap water, eating organic vs. dangerous food, speeding by on privatized roads vs. sitting in traffic, accessing good vs. failing schools, and escaping or falling prey to a web of banking fraud and predatory corporate practices. Yet the ensconced economic elite makes or influences the rules.
The wealthy take for granted -- as we all should -- that they are relatively protected from global shocks, that their bodily sanctity will be protected, and that traditional government services like infrastructure and education will help their families thrive.
Below are some of major challenges ahead that any presidential candidate (or large nonprofit) should be highlighting. The following issues have a disproportionate impact on poor and middle class Americans but affect us all. These areas serve as a basis to evaluate the campaigns of leading Democratic candidates:
Global issues have a huge impact on the stability of our country, and the opportunities of all. What is often done in the name of "national security" destroys individual security of Americans and others worldwide, contributing to radicalization globally over a fight for resources.
A Stable Non-Predatory Financial System -- Six years after our worldwide recession, JP Morgan, who has paid $34 billion in corporate crimes and settlements over 4 years, and others are working to revoke banking regulations and reform the monetary system through the TPP, even while trashing those who "don't understand banking." The recent recession led to a doubling of the wealth gap between minorities and whites, with whites owning about 20 times more, and took trillions out of our economy. The next bank-fueled recession could be worse. It is critical to know where candidates stand on what could be a major solutions: the reimplementation of Glass-Steagall and implementing of existing banking reforms.
Limiting Climate Change -- The agreement in Copenhagen six years ago was recently reaffirmed at the G7 meeting -- limiting the world to 2-degree Celsius temperature rise. Pope Francis is scheduled to release his encyclical on climate impact on world's poor this week, even as institutions worldwide divest from fossil fuels. The 2-degree target could be reached by changing our food choices (alone) and agricultural system. Building a wholly renewable energy infrastructure and ending extreme energy extraction, like the Alberta tar sands that would go through the Keystone XL Pipeline, are also key, as is the widely touted carbon tax.
Trans-Pacific Partnership -- The secret TPP has been exposed as grab bag to expand of corporate rights. It has little to do with trade. The investor state dispute clause allows for companies to hold countries responsible in new international courts for profits lost due to environmental laws, to include those taken to support international climate change agreements -- reason enough to reject it. Claims it will boost American jobs are dubious also. Additionally it could worsen food safety, roll back reforms on Wall Street, make medical drugs more expensive, and outlaw "Buy American" policies that could boost renewable energy adoption. Where do candidates stand on this terrible treaty?
A Rethinking of War and Peace -- Since 1945, the United States has backed drug lords, terrorists, and fascists. In Iraq alone, Western nations supported crippling sanctions that killed 1.7 million people, half which were children. The recent invasion resulted in the death of 1 million more. Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS, and al Shabab became viable forces as a result of our interventions, and American-supplied weapons are being used against us. Candidates need to deeply rethink commitment war and what peace means on an individual and national level.
Individual rights speak to the very sanctity of one's body. The lack of safety, food, shelter, and health care are the gravest threat to our collective security.
Gender safety and reproductive rights -- 1 in 6 women experience rape or attempted rape. A similar number experience campus sexual assault. This epidemic of gender based violence must be ended, to include addressing individual, bystander, and societal behavior in which violence against women is "entertainment."
Freedom from gun violence -- We live in a country with over 32,000 gun deaths per year from suicide and homicide. Weekly we read of tragic family gun violence, and mass shootings relating to domestic violence. Sky-high stats should not be tolerated, especially as countries like Australia have dramatically reduced gun violence through legislation.
(Accountability) for and an end to police/jail brutality -- There are no reliable statistics of the estimated 5600 people killed by police officers since 2000 by an overmilitarized police departments, deputized individuals, and private police. Yet police in New England and Wales did not fatally shoot anyone for two years. Keeping the peace can be done peacefully.
Accessible, affordable health care -- Seven years ago, Michael Moore's "Sicko" firmly landed the plight of the insured on our national radar. While the Affordable Care Act has widened coverage; health care related bankruptcies, unjustifiable and excessive pricing, and insurance errors continue to undermine affordability and access. A single payer solution could provide universal affordable health care available in all other developed countries.
A fair minimum wage and life with dignity -- The reality is the minimum wage is rarely a living wage. While it is important advocate for a significant boost, it is equally important to push for basic standard of living for those who are unemployed. So too will be a crackdown on predatory practices (in part through well funded legal services for the poor). The new reality of work with stripped down benefits has created what Jacob Hacker calls "The Great Risk Shift" onto workers or what Caroline Fredrickson refers to as working women being thrown "Under the Bus."