Bill MoyersPut that in your core curriculum. It’s America 101.Wed Nov 1, 2006 16:31The Power Of Organized People
William Henry Harrison, our ill-fated ninth president and unlikely Whig populist, once said that it’s “true Democratic feeling that all the measures of the Government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer.” I’d say it’s more than a feeling. It’s the God’s honest truth, and we need to see it for what it is – the betrayal of the American Revolution.
The journalist of the revolution, Thomas Paine, described the United States of his day as the Archimedean point of democratic liberty. He quoted the Greek proverb, “Had we a place to stand upon, we might raise the world.” To Paine, that place was the United States of America in 1792. But that promise has been blunted by the counter-revolution of the last 30 years celebrating ostentatious wealth, inequality, and social Darwinism. The egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is mocked in all but name, and the bar of tolerance for inequality is now brought so low that genetic sorting in the human population is once again respectfully debated as a leading cause. The wealthy governing elites in America today – corporate executives, wealthy contributors, and the officials they have bankrolled into office – possess a degree of power and separation befitting a true ruling class. They are the Mayan kings and priests of the 21st century.
We know now that “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” can, indeed, perish. And perish not under fallen battlements and bombs raining down and the sneak attack of some fanatical distant foe, but by the deliberate plunder of an organized minority – for our governing elites do not represent the majority of Americans – that methodically imposes its will on the laws and institutions of a people until the whole foundation has become their very throne.
What these 30 years of redistributing wealth upward have done to America is documented in a growing literature on inequality and its social consequences. But the spiritual costs – lost moral confidence in democracy, failing empathy, growing distrust and division – may be greater.
Yet history tells us that concentrated wealth and political power can be challenged. The Jeffersonian “second revolution” of the 1790s; the populist revolt of the 1890s that led to the Progressive era of reform; the powerful electoral ratification of the New Deal; the equally powerful rejection of race and gender discrimination in the 1960s -- all manifested the ordinary beliefs and values, collectively revived, to confront the domination by wealthy elites that had debased the American Promise inherent in our revolutionary beginnings.
So I have a practical suggestion for those of you who are principals, superintendents, school board members, and teachers: Go home from here and revise your core curriculum. Yes, teach the three Rs; teach the ABCs; make sure your kids learn algebra, biology, and calculus. But teach them about the American Revolution – that it isn’t just about white men in powdered wigs carrying muskets in a time long gone. It’s about slaves who rose up and women who wouldn’t be denied and unwelcome immigrants and exploited workers who against great odds claimed the revolution as their own and breathed life into it.
Teach your kids they don’t have to accept what they have been handed. Teach them they are not only equal citizens under the law, but equal sons and daughters – heirs, everyone – of that revolution, and that it is their right to claim it as their own. Teach them to shake the torpor that has been prescribed for them by calculating elders and ideologues. Teach them there is only one force strong enough to counter the power of organized money today, and that is the power of organized people. They are waiting for this message; the kids in your schools have been made to feel as victims, powerless, ashamed, inferior, and disenfranchised. Tell them it’s a great big lie – despite their poverty, circumstance, and the long odds they’ve been handed, they have the power to make the world over again, in their image.
I was at the Presidio in San Francisco yesterday. That former military enclave beneath the Golden Gate Bridge is now a marvelous and beautiful center of vital commerce and civic purpose – saved from exploitation and despoliation by citizens who rose up on its behalf. On the wall of one of the main buildings I came upon a painting of an enormous deep blue wave with white caps against an equally blue sky. The artist’s inscription beneath the painting reads: “This human wave expresses the concept of people at the bottom rungs of society waking up to using their united strength to claim their universal rights to economic, social, and environmental justice.”
Put that in your core curriculum. It’s America 101.
Bill Moyers is grateful to Lew Daly, Senior Fellow of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, for his contributions to this speech.
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A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
It's hard to imagine how the Democratic leadership in Congress also gets diverted and loses their sense of context, along with the media, but they do. Except for some outspoken members of the House and a couple of senators, the Democratic leadership still enables Bush and makes him appear legitimate, despite the fact that he, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove are a continuing threat to the national security of our nation and to our own personal lives. That is because the Busheviks are hideous failures at virtually everything they undertake, except enriching the already wealthy.
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