In these difficult times, it is easy to fall victim to despair and cynicism. We have no alternative but to stand and fight
It’s no great secret. These are the most difficult and challenging times in modern history.
We’re dealing with the horrific situation in Gaza, Putin’s war in Ukraine, the existential threat of climate change, obscene and growing levels of income and wealth inequality, attacks on our democracy and women’s rights, increasing levels of bigotry and intolerance, unprecedented threats from artificial intelligence, a dysfunctional healthcare system, huge increases in military spending – and much, much more.
And, oh yes, Donald Trump – who is becoming more rightwing and extremist every day and who is ahead in many of the polls to become the next president of the United States. The Donald Trump who recently said migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country”. The Donald Trump who uses language echoing Adolf Hitler when he refers to his political opponents as “vermin” and pledges to “root them out”. The Donald Trump who has referred to the January 6 insurrection as “a beautiful day”.
The same Donald Trump who wants to give massive tax breaks to the very rich, throw millions off the healthcare they have and refuses to even acknowledge the reality of climate change.
So what do we do about all of that? How do we rally the American people to make sure Trump is not elected once again? How do we build for a brighter future?
Well, for a start, let’s do something radical: let’s tell the truth. The American people are tired of tweets, empty political rhetoric and 30-second negative ads. More importantly, they are tired of an establishment-supported status quo which, in many cases, leaves them economically worse off than their parents 50 years ago. They are desperate to understand why we are where we are today and how we can move to a better place.
We’ve got some very serious problems.
So let’s begin there. Where are we today? What is the reality that many Americans are experiencing?
Today, more than 60% of our people are living under enormous financial stress as they try to survive paycheck to paycheck on inadequate incomes. These Americans, the majority of our people, are working hard but going nowhere, and they worry that their kids will end up even further behind than they are.
In the richest country on Earth, we now have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation, and many of the schools serving lower-income kids are poorly staffed or equipped. Not a great way to create a strong and prosperous future.
With housing costs soaring, almost 600,000 Americans are unhoused and millions of working-class families are spending more than they can afford on outrageously high rents. Owning one’s own home is becoming a faraway dream for many, while young people camp out in their parents’ basements.
Half of older workers have no savings or pensions as they worry about what happens to them when they retire into their “golden” years. Will they be able to afford prescription drugs or keep their homes warm in the winter? Will they be able to leave their offspring any inheritance?
Our healthcare is broken. Despite spending far more per capita than any other country, we don’t have enough doctors, nurses or mental health counselors. Our life expectancy is in decline and 60,000 people die each year because they can’t get to a doctor when they should.
Our childcare system, caring for kids in their most formative years, is dysfunctional. Working-class parents can’t find quality slots, tuition is unaffordable and the employees in the industry are grossly underpaid.
Our younger generation is struggling financially. Many work for inadequate incomes, and more than 40 million Americans have left college and graduate school deeply in debt, sometimes spending decades paying their loans off.
In many working-class communities. crime, homelessness, addiction and drug overdoses are growing problems.
But it is not all bad news.
In the last year, we have seen a major revitalization of the trade union movement as working-class Americans fight back against unprecedented levels of corporate greed. As corporate profits soar and CEOs get outlandish compensation packages, workers are demanding their fair share.
Whether it is Teamster and United Auto Worker blue-collar workers, young people at Starbucks, nurses and doctors or graduate students on campuses, Americans are organizing unions at the grassroots level, going out on strikes – and winning major victories.
Further, in the past few years, President Biden and those of us who have worked with him have passed some significant pieces of legislation.
The $1.9tn-dollar American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) helped revive our economy far faster than anyone could have imagined as we dealt with the worst public health crisis and economic downturn in 100 years. We have made record-breaking investments in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, in broadband and in renewable energy. We passed a historic expansion of benefits and services for toxic-exposed veterans. We have finally begun to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. We are rebuilding American manufacturing and have seen the two strongest years of job growth in history.
And let’s not forget, Joe Biden was the first president ever to walk a picket line in support of striking workers and to encourage non-union workers to organize.
Good stuff. But is it enough?
Far more needs to be done. As progressives, it’s important we lay out an agenda the American people would be eager to vote for – not just someone to vote against.
What is that agenda? It is an agenda that acknowledges the pain, stress and despair that the majority of our people are experiencing, and provides a path forward to improve their lives. It is an agenda prepared to take on the greed of the oligarchs and corporate America.
It is an agenda that boldly confronts the wealth and power of the 1%, and demands that the rich start paying their fair share of taxes.
It is an agenda that uses artificial intelligence to benefit all people, not just the owners of large corporations.
It is an agenda that ends starvation wages in America, makes it easier for workers to join unions and provides equal pay for equal work.
It is an agenda that makes healthcare a human right and substantially lowers the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs in this country.
It is an agenda that will make it possible for all working-class young people to gain a college education without going into debt, and will radically improve our dysfunctional childcare system.
It is an agenda that will create millions of good-paying jobs as we lead the world in combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels.
It is an agenda that will take on the systemic racism that prevails throughout our country and fundamentally reform our broken and racist criminal justice system.
It is an agenda that will lead to comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship for the undocumented.
Now, it goes without saying that this is not the agenda of the Democratic establishment and their wealthy campaign funders. You know that. I know that. So, what do we do? As progressives, what should our political strategy be in 2024?
First, we work in coalition with all those who understand that we must do everything possible to defeat Donald Trump and his extreme rightwing Republican party, not just because he is “worse”, but because nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake in this election. Not only do we need to re-elect President Biden, we need to give him decent majorities in the House and Senate.
Second, we aggressively educate and organize at the grassroots level around our progressive agenda. The American people are deeply unhappy with the economic and political status quo. They want change, real change. That means we must roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of reaching new people. That means we must have uncomfortable conversations and invite people to join us, even if they don’t agree with us on everything. We must inspire people to get involved. This will not be easy but it is what our progressive agenda must be about.
Third, we must make it clear to the president and his administration that we expect his second term to be far more progressive than his first. He must, in no uncertain terms, take on the greed of the billionaire class whose actions are causing irreparable damage to our country, and stand up for the needs of the working class. Further, his campaign must reflect those progressive principles.
In these difficult times it is easy to become victim to despair and cynicism. It is easy to become paralyzed into inaction when one realizes that there are no magic solutions to the complex political crises we face, and that every step forward has its drawbacks and critics.
But we truly have no alternative but to stand up and fight for the country we know we can become. This is a struggle not just for our generation, not just for our kids and grandchildren – but for the future of our democracy and our planet. This is not a time to surrender.