The New American Dream
It’s yet to be seen what this new presidency will do to the American Dream. The dramatic turn made me wonder what today’s American Dream is. Many agree at its core, it’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As I prepared for this column, I read a lot of articles, papers and timelines on the American Dream that became very academic.
The snapshot history is this:?Europeans began escaping on ships from monarchy governments who established official religions. Fearing for their lives, they dreamed of a New World where they could believe and worship as they chose, where the government would let them exercise their choice.
But let’s back up. Ferdinand and Elizabeth of Spain sent Christopher Columbus across the ocean blue in 1492 to find a better trade route with India, and instead he found the western Hemisphere. He started the foreign dream of profiting from the resources of this New India. But that was profiteering, not building a life.
The Founding Fathers discovered liberty would never happen while Americans were colonists of the British and ruled by a king. In the Declaration of Independence, they asserted the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”?
Fast forward through the 1800s when Manifest Destiny brought us most of the rest of our United States, and the cities and towns where we live today. Much of this was also built on profit:?fertile land in the Midwest, rumors of gold in California, raw materials in nearly every area, and the growth of manufacturing those materials into goods.
Meanwhile, the First Nation tribes are moved out of the way to the literal margins of areas mostly in the middle third of the country, areas unwanted for growth and industry.
In the 1900s, the dream was of owning a home, a property, family life, contentment. Many workers found that dream unattainable at the wages and conditions in which they worked, but the freedom of the market encouraged entrepreneurship. Small ideas became products sold worldwide. Tiny stores became chains that linked one place to another.
Along comes a man who’s won and lost a dozen fortunes in business, but has never been in the military or government, and now that he is president-elect, is reported to be having more than the usual meetings with the incumbent president to learn the scope of the position. In later days he looks stunned, filled with more than a little fear, and is far more subdued than the brash proclaimer at the campaign podium.
Putting aside our feelings of the election outcome, I’m not the first one to say that a message of making America Great Again could resonate with people who have clung to the downward raft as the divide between the upper class and the rest of us has cracked wide open and there’s an ocean between us.
It used to be that one full time income at a professional career or a decent manufacturing or sales job could handily provide a home in a decent neighborhood, a late model automobile, plenty of food, the utility bills, insurance for it all, and a vacation or two per year, along with toys for the kids, furnishings, and the occasional treat or gadget, sports leagues, music lessons and the rest of it. Oh, and don’t forget savings, reserves, and at least modest investments for the future. There would be enough for a few charitable donations, And probably a college education at a state university for a few thousand a year, split between parents and the offspring’s summer job.
We’ve illustrated in this paper, the fact that it’s tough out there. According to the Iowa Policy Project, one in five Iowans doesn’t earn enough to subsist, to pay the bills. The Great Recession supposedly has ended.
At least in Emmet County, we have the hope of the large investment by the RedRock project in our wind energy industry, of the growth of entrepreneurship, of the encouragement of new technology and other endeavors coming to the market.
This week I?received my winter issue of YES!?Magazine. This, its 20th Anniversary Special Issue offered 50 state-by-state solutions as well as an illustrated story on not to buy stuff you don’t really need.
In Iowa, the magazine touted the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, and a program in Marshalltown called EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center). Five percent of Marshalltown’s population is made up of refugees from Myanmar. In 2007, the Burmese became the largest group to be resettled in Iowa.
EMBARC?equips refugees with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve addressed in earlier columns the myth that refugees are a net economic burden to the communities in which they settle. On the contrary, when given tools to overcome their barriers of language, culture and locally-marketable skill, they bring a net financial gain.
EMBARC?has trained refugees as Navigators to reach the estimated 7,000 Burmese across the State. Henny Ohr, a refugee advocate, says, “We want the power to come from the community.”?
Some of the other projects across the Midwest include Illinois’ effort to improve bicycling infrastructure, Kansas’ success in establishing grocery stores in rural areas.
In Missouri, two churches teamed up to create The Center for Social Empowerment, in hopes it would be an incubator for social empowerment in embattled Ferguson. The center holds monthly conversations that are open to the community and partners with organizations and schools to bring the conversatoins to them.
Nicki Reinhardt-Swierk, a coordinator of the program, says, “When we can get people to realize tha tthe world as they undrestand it is not hte world as experienced by other people, that’s how you start seeding change and sprouting action.”?
They focus on micro-interactions, like recognizing the racist connotations in a word like “thug,”?or changing the way an elderly woman interacts with a cashier.
In New Hampshire, mobile home residents saved their park, by buying it.
In Connecticut, they started a repair cafe, where locals can bring broken household items like vaccuums, bicycles, and clothes for repair. It helps people get to know each other, too.
In our neighbor, Minnesota, neighbors teamed up to buy vacant buildings and formed a commercial real estate co-op.
Nebraskans created “Made in the Neb, which creates a network of local farms and businesses., including ranches to small shops selling skateboards or artisanal soaps.
Troubled Oakland, California has played the long game. In 2003 when the city of Oakland announced plans to redevelop the Oakland Army Base, shuttered in 1999, residents, who had seen unemployment rates soar to 16.7 percent, demanded good jobs for local people, not the low-paying, temporary jobs such developments usually create.
It took a decade, but in 2013, the project set a living wage standard required preference to local residents.
I believe we’re in an unprecedented age, which will require new ways of being, and indeed, surviving.