by Robin Miller
To be an American today is to confront an economic system that drains the lifeblood from our people, and promises the same fate to our children.
To be an American today is to be swallowed whole by a political system that benefits the few while denying the aspirations of the many.
To be an American today is to witness a government, intoxicated with the power of the mailed fist, sanctifying the horrors of war.
To be an American today is to be certain of the failure of our political process.
Thirty-three million people--36 percent of them children--live in poverty. The poverty rates for African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans are all triple that for whites. The child poverty rate in the United States exceeds that of all other Western nations except Australia.
Financial inequality, already the most profound since 1929, continues to increase, with the least affluent fifth of the population receiving only 3.5 percent of the total national income. The richest one percent of the population has a combined wealth equal to that of the lower 95 percent.
For over 80 percent of employees, those with non-supervisory jobs, real weekly earnings, at $450, are unchanged since 1964. Employees without a college degree have actually lost ground. Since 1973, the average real wages of high school graduates have declined 12 percent, and those of workers without a high school degree have declined by twice that. The minimum wage has lost 25 percent of its real value since 1970.
CEO pay, on the other hand, has doubled over the last ten years alone and is now over 100 times the average worker's pay.
The U.S. devotes $350 billion a year to its military, six times that of the next-largest national military expenditure, Russia's $60 billion. Our military loosed pure evil on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastated much of southeast Asia beyond recognition or reclamation, and is preparing now to invade a nearly defenseless nation decimated by a decade of cruel economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences reports that our health care system is in "crisis," and the World Health Organization ranks the American health care system as only the 15th best in the world, just ahead of those in Iceland, Andorra, and Monaco. Forty-one million Americans--more than one out of seven--have no health insurance. American life expectancy adjusted for disability lags behind that of 23 other nations.
African-Americans remain locked up in either prison or urban ghettos. Blacks in America are nearly eight times as likely as whites to be incarcerated. Together blacks and Hispanics--25 percent of the national population--constitute 63 percent of the prison population.
The American people have not agreed to this savage distortion of priorities and violation of American ideals.
No rational people would.
But with both political parties and the mainstream media firmly in the control of the wealthy, that sliver of our population is permitted to dictate our country's direction.
This is the reality to which thirty years of post-Vietnam progressive organizing has brought us.
We must form a new national political party, offering a new politics--the politics of justice, compassion, humility, and faith.
We must compete for power in the only avenue through which real change is possible--the electoral system.
We must offer a comprehensive political program that addresses the fundamental injustices in America. Through a detailed plan of action, the American people will know exactly where our party--and our candidates--stand.
We will assemble the best minds to tackle each of American's pressing problems, and identify for each a solution, or at least the beginnings of one, that is both just and practical. We will develop an alternative federal budget.
This program must be based on clearly articulated moral principles to which the American people widely subscribe. Americans do not see themselves as ideological, but they do see themselves as--and are--moral and just.
This party will not seek to replace the capitalistic economic system. Rather, accepting that system as fundamental to American society, we demand that it be humanized, that Americans be treated as human beings of infinite worth, rather than mere grist for their employers' mills.
This party will be based on the participation of the American people. We must organize city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, to convince Americans that real change is possible.
There are 435 Congressional districts in this country. With 1000 volunteers on the ground in each district, we could have an army of 435,000 carrying our message to the American people.
I have to believe they will listen.
This party will compete for power at the national level. Only election to Congress has the potential to affect national policies and provide national media exposure.
Initially, this party will limit itself to candidates for the House of Representatives. Voters are willing to elect political newcomers as federal representatives. Conversely, we will not devote any of our limited resources to quixotic presidential campaigns. (We'll defer until later the question of running senatorial candidates.)
Nor will we initially be involved in state and local elections. There is no national payoff; the party's resources will be limited; and existing progressive organizations are participating in state and local elections in some areas.
In the 2000 presidential election, 56.5 percent of eligible voters participated. Just over 105 million citizens cast a vote for president; 81 million eligible voters did not. These legions of nonvoters are waiting for the alternatives we can provide.
Our goal is to trisect the American electorate. If we could earn the votes of one-third of those who didn't vote in the 2000 election, and 15 percent of those who did, we would have a vote total comparable to those of the Democratic and Republican parties. Accomplishing this will require a massive, national voter education and registration drive.
We know who the nonvoters are. They are predominantly young, of color, and less affluent.
There are two existing political parties with goals similar to those proposed here, the Green Party and the coalition of local efforts that operates under the New Party banner. Neither, however, is capable of accomplishing the goals proposed.
The Green Party has participated primarily in local elections and, to the extent the party has participated in congressional elections, its candidates have drawn only minimal electoral support. The Green Party remains split into two competing factions, and, even if that division were to be resolved, the party would remain saddled with a perceived single-issue focus and foreign lineage that simply will not appeal to the American electorate as a whole. Moreover, the Green Party's platform fails to articulate the goals necessary to generate national appeal.
The New Party, while not suffering from these same liabilities, has competed electorally only at the local level. Our party should cooperate with both of these parties in local elections while devoting most of our resources to our chosen field of congressional elections.
The Democratic Party is not an alternative. It is beholden to the same interests as the Republicans; we have seen what each has to offer. The Democratic Party may play good cop to the Republicans' bad cop, but both serve the same masters. While we could of course choose to endorse particular major-party candidates, to rely on the Democratic Party is unthinkable.
We will articulate our basic principles; their moral basis will be apparent. We want to shift the national political debate from notions of efficiency and self-interest to considerations of morality and justice. And we want to appeal directly to the American people on the basis of our shared values.
While the content of our party's guiding principles will of course be determined by the party itself, I offer the following as examples:
Every human life is sacred.
All American public policy, whether foreign or domestic, must flow from the demands of justice, rather than expediency or self-interest.
War or other use of force is morally permissible only in true self-defense, or defense of others.
People who work full-time should be able to support themselves and their families comfortably. Our society will not tolerate poverty.
Society has a responsibility to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves.
Discrimination on any ground in public life is impermissible.
Our government, being one of limited powers, may infringe on personal liberty only when the infringement strongly benefits the common good.
Responsibility accompanies freedom; freedom without responsibility invites anarchy.
Religion and spirituality are important to America and should inform public debate. Religious discrimination, however, is unacceptable, and sectarian religious beliefs in themselves are never a sufficient basis for public policy.
The United States should not interfere with the affairs of other nations, as our intervention violates the right of self-determination that all people possess.
The United States should work with other countries to solve problems that affect our world as a whole.
The United States, like all countries, must adhere to international law.
Our party will acknowledge those in whose steps we follow. We want to reinforce an awareness of the proud tradition of social reform in this country, while claiming that tradition for our party. The foremothers and forefathers we might recognize include:
Martin Luther King, Jr., a hero to all Americans, who fought war and poverty just as surely as he demanded an end to racial discrimination.
Cesar Chavez, who devoted his life to organizing migrant farm workers, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.
Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbusch, and the other preachers of the social gospel, who recognized that it is the Christian's duty to work for social justice in this earthly plane.
Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and all the other women who fought for decades to secure for women the right to vote.
The abolitionists--Americans like Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and William Lloyd Garrison--who demanded that the evil institution of slavery be destroyed.
Union organizers, like Eugene V. Debs and Mother Jones, who devoted their lives to the cause of America's working men and women.
And so many other crusaders for social justice--such as Jane Addams, cofounder of Chicago's Hull-House and winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize--whose contributions helped move America toward its ideals.
Although different paths could be followed for creating this party, one that I can envision has a national and a state-level track proceeding simultaneously. The national track would consist of a council of elders coming together as an interim national leadership charged with adopting the party's declaration of principles and other founding documents. The state-level track would involve organizations and individuals creating a party chapter in each state. The two tracts would then merge with the state chapters accepting the interim national leadership and that leadership accepting the state chapters into the party. Each requires the other. This process would culminate in a founding conference at which representatives from each state chapter would publicly ratify the party and its formation process, and the party would be formally born.
The American people have let the wealthy seize control of our political system. We have acquiesced in their plunder. The result has been a government whose domestic policy harms the vast majority of Americans while its foreign policy alienates much of humankind.
The result has been a government that poses a clear and present danger to us all.
The American people know that something is wrong. In every election fewer vote. Only forty percent believe that our country is going in the right direction.
For thirty years we have held demonstrations, written books, cajoled the Democrats, castigated the Republicans, submitted letters to the editor, thought globally while acting locally, created websites, held more demonstrations, written more books, and generally acted as though fundamental change were possible from within the existing political process. It is long past time to abandon that foolish belief.
What Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote over 40 years ago is still true: "Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."
The American people yearn for a new politics. It is up to us to create those politics.
It is our responsibility.
Robin Miller is a writer in New Orleans. Contact her through her website at http://www.robincmiller.com.
Copyright (C) Robin Miller 2002. This commentary may be freely distributed--and I encourage that--so long as it remains intact, including the authorship and copyright statement.
1. U.S. Census Bureau, Money Income in the United States: 2001. The percentages are African-Americans 22.7%, Hispanics 21.4%, and Native Americans 24.5%, compared to nonHispanic whites at 7.8%.
2. P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale (ed.), Escape from Poverty: What Makes a Difference for Children?, Cambridge University Press, 1997. Quotation from publicity materials.
3. Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done about It, New York: New Press, 2002 (revised edition), quotation in publicity materials.
For some of the other recent literature on economic inequality in the U.S., see:
Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity, New York: New Press, 2000
Lisa A. Keister, Wealth in America: Trends in Wealth Inequality, 1962-1995, Cambridge University Press, 2000
Richard B. Freeman, The New Inequality: Creating Solutions for Poor America, Boston: Beacon Press, 1999
Denny Braun, The Rich Get Richer: The Rise of Income Inequality in the United States and the World, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1997 (2nd. ed.)
Sheldon Danziger and Peter Gottschalk, America Unequal, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995
Holly Sklar, Chaos or Community?, Boston: South End Press, 1995
4. Same as footnote 1.
5. Holly Sklar, Chaos or Community?, Boston: South End Press, 1995, pp. 5-6.
6. In 1964, the real average weekly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees was $451.50. For 1999 (the most current year for which data is available in this table), that figure was $456.78. Both figures are in 1999 dollars. See Economic Policy Institute, "Hourly and Weekly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Workers, 1947-99."
7. See Economic Policy Institute, "Real Hourly Wage for all Workers by Education, 1973-99."
8. See Economic Policy Institute, "Real and Current Values of the Minimum Wage, 1960-2001."
9. Lawrence Mishel, et al, The State of Working America, 1998-1999, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1999. See Table 3.51, "Executive Pay Growth, 1989-1998," page 211, and Figure 3P, "Ratio of CEO to Average Worker Pay, 1965-97," page 212.
10. Center for Defense Information, "Last of the Big Time Spenders: U.S. Military Budget Still the World's Largest, and Growing."
11. On the consequences of the atomic bombings, see The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings, New York: Basic Books, 1981.
12. Robert Pear, "Panel, Citing Health Care Crisis, Presses Bush to Act," New York Times, November 20, 2002.
13. World Health Report 2000.
14. See part 1 of "Early Release of Selected Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)."
15. Same as footnote 13.
16. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice, table 6.32.
17. One recent front-page headline in my metropolitan daily newspaper was almost a parody of the bias of the mainstream press: "Bush spits in 'the face of evil,'" referring to Saddam Hussein. This, of course, is portrayed as objective truth: "the news." (The Times-Picayune [New Orleans], November 24, 2002)
There is an extensive literature on media bias; a list of the most important general studies might include the following:
Michael J. Parenti, Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994 (2nd edition; originally published in 1986)
Edward S. Herman, Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda, Boston: South End Press, 1992
Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in the News Media, New York: Lyle Stuart, 1990
Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, Boston: South End Press, 1989
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York: Pantheon Books, 1988
Herbert J. Gans, Deciding What's News; A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time, New York: Pantheon Books, 1979
Gaye Tuchman, Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality, New York: Macmillan, 1978
David L. Altheide, Creating Reality: How TV News Distorts Events, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1974
Herbert I. Schiller, The Mind Managers, Boston: Beacon Press, 1973
18. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in November 2000 there were 186 million American citizens aged 18 and over. There were 203 million residents, citizens or not, of that age. Previously, the bureau calculated voting percentages on the basis of the voting-age population, which includes both citizens and noncitizens. The bureau is now calculating voting percentages on the basis of eligible voters; in other words, only citizens are included. Many other assessments of the 2000 election report a 51% voting rate; this percentage is based on the 203 million voting-age residents, and therefore includes noncitizens.
calculated the 56.5 percent voting rate on the basis of the total number of
votes counted in the presidential election. The Census Bureau, which relies on
voters' and nonvoters' self-reporting, estimates a 60 percent participation
rate by eligible voters. See "Voting
and Registration in the Election of 2000," released in February
19. One-third of the 86 million nonvoters is 28.7 million votes. Fifteen percent of the 101 million voters is another 15.2 million votes, for a total of just about 44 million. If each major party lost 15 percent, each would receive about 43 million votes. Under this scenario, voting participation would climb to 70 percent.
20. Sixty-two percent of white non-Hispanic eligible voters cast ballots. The voting percentages for other races were 57 percent for blacks, 45 percent for Hispanics, and 43 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Breaking down the statistics by age range, the voting rates were 36 percent for 18-24 years, 50.5 percent for 25-34, and 60.5 for 35-44. Voting percentages rise for each decade of age until the 75+ year-old range is reached.
Examining the breakdown by income level, only some 40 percent of voters whose annual family income was under $15,000 participated. For $15,000-$25,000 the voting percentage was 51 percent; 58 percent for $25,000-$35,000; and 62% for $35,000-$50,000. More affluent voters participated at even greater rates.
All of these figures are based on self-reporting and come from the U.S. Census Bureau report cited in footnote 18.
21. There are two factions of the Green Party in the U.S. The Green Party of the United States is the primary faction. The smaller faction is Greens/Green Party USA. Another useful site is the Green Parties of North America.
22. The New Party is online at http://www.newparty.org/. In the same mold are the Vermont Progressive Party and the Labor Party. For excellent information on American political parties, see politics1.
23. For Green Party candidate results, see the Green Party's election results page and the House of Representatives' election information page
24. The platform for the Green Party of the United States is online.
me to stress that I admire the work that the Green Party is doing. My criticism
is offered simply to demonstrate why I believe it is not the proper vehicle for
this suggested electoral strategy.
25. A good place to begin is the King Center.
26. For information on Cesar Chavez, see:
Viva Cesar E. Chavez!
Si Se Puede! Cesar E. Chavez and His Legacy
United Farm Workers
27. For background on the social gospel, see:
Walter Rauschenbusch: The Social Gospel, 1908
Social Gospel Movement
The social gospel movement is generally dated from the mid-1880's to about 1920, although a second wave of adherents carried on through the 1950's. Congregational minister Washington Gladden is considered the earliest spokesman for the movement, and his 1886 book, Applied Christianity: Moral Aspects of Social Problems, its first formal expression. His later books on the social question included Tools and the Man (1893), Social Facts and Forces (1897), Social Salvation (1902), The New Idolatry (1905), and Christianity and Socialism (1905). He published his Recollections in 1909. Jacob Dorn's Washington Gladden: Prophet of the Social Gospel (Ohio State University Press, 1966) is an excellent study.
The task of formalizing the social gospel fell to Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist minister who later joined the staff at the Rochester Theological Seminary. It is his name that is centrally identified today with the social gospel. His books include For God and the People: Prayers for the Social Awakening (1910), Christianity and the Social Crisis (1910), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), Unto Me (1912), Dare We Be Christians? (1914), A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), and The Social Principles of Jesus (1917). Martin Luther King, Jr. later cited Rauschenbusch as one of his inspirations.
Works on Walter Rauschenbusch include:
Dores Robinson Sharpe, Walter Rauschenbusch, New York: Macmillan, 1942
Vernon Parker Bodein, The Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and its Relation to Religious Education, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1944
Klaus Jurgen Jaehn, Rauschenbusch: The Formative Years, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1976
Paul M. Minus, Walter Rauschenbusch, American Reformer, New York: Macmillan, 1988
Donovan E. Smucker, The Origins of Walter Rauschenbusch's Social Ethics, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994
Other prominent voices for the social gospel during this period were Congregational pastor Lyman Abbott, Congregational minister George Herron, Shailer Mathews (a professor at the University of Chicago and later the dean of its divinity school), Harvard University professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, Charles Stelzle (Superintendent of the Presbyterian Department of Church and Labor), and Josiah Strong, yet another Congregational minister.
Pastors and writers who carried the ideals of the social gospel forward after the Great War included William Adams Brown, prolific religious writer Sherwood Eddy, University of Missouri sociology professor Charles A. Ellwood, Union Theological Seminary professor Harry Emerson Fosdick, F. Ernest Johnson, Yale Divinity School Professor Halford Luccock, Methodist bishop Francis J. McConnell, Christian writer and avowed pacifist Kirby Page, and Union Theological Seminary professor Harry F. Ward.
Although the social gospel was a Protestant phenomenon, some prominent Catholics advanced similar ideas. John A Ryan, who held several academic positions, is the most famous. His books included A Living Wage: Its Ethical & Economic Aspects (1908), Alleged Socialism of the Church Fathers (1913), Distributive Justice: The Right and Wrong of Our Present Distribution of Wealth (1916), The Church and Socialism (1919), Social Reconstruction (1920), Declining Liberty and Other Papers (1927), and his autobiography, Social Doctrine in Action, in 1941.
Another prominent Catholic writer on social justice was Joseph Husslein. His works included The Catholic's Work in the World (1917), The World Problem: Capital, Labor, and the Church (1918), Democratic Industry: A Practical Study in Social History (1920), and The Christian Social Manifesto (1931).
Ryan and Husslein collaborated on the 1920 book The Church and Labor.
For a useful historical overview of Catholic social action, see Aaron I. Abell's American Catholicism and Social Action: A Search for Social Justice, 1865-1950, University of Notre Dame Press, 1963. See also his edited collection of Catholic social justice documents, American Catholic Thought on Social Questions, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1968.
Finally, on Jewish contributions to this era's quest for social justice, see Isidor Singer's edited collection, A Religion of Truth, Justice and Peace, New York: The Amos Society, 1924.
28. Resources on Susan B. Anthony:
Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, N.Y.
The Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester
The Susan B. Anthony List (supports pro-life female congressional candidates; apparently a response to Emily's List)
Stanton and Anthony Papers Project
Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Resources on Carrie Chapman Catt:
Carrie Chapman Catt Childhood Home
Carrie Chapman Catt, Suffragist and Peace Advocate
Women's History: Carrie Chapman Catt
Resources on Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
Stanton and Anthony Papers Project
Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Women's History: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
29. Resources on Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglass: "Abolitionist/Editor"
The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center
Resources on Sojourner Truth:
Sojourner Truth Institute
Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Project
Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Resources on William Lloyd Garrison:
William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879
William Lloyd Garrison
Garrison the Non-Resistant, by Ernest Crosby
30. Resources on Eugene V. Debs:
Eugene V. Debs Foundation
Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive
The Eugene Victor Debs Collection at Pittsburg State University in Kansas
Resources on Mother Jones:
The Autobiography of Mother Jones
Mother Jones: The Miners' Angel
Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones)
31. Resources on Jane Addams:
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
Jane Addams biography at The Nobel Foundation
Jane Addams Hull House Association
32. "Mr. Bush's Long Shadow" (CBS News, November 2, 2002). Fifty-two percent of Americans now think the country is on the wrong track, while 41 percent think it is going in the right direction. Apparently the other seven percent are unsure.
33. James M. Washington, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., HarperCollins Publishers, 1986, p. 632 (reprinted from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967).