The Promise of America: Your Voice Will Be Heard

Authors: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

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The noble promise of America is simple: people should govern themselves. We elect a peer to take our voice to Washington. Consensus is developed; the people consent to the collective decision. Elegant. Equal.

This, of course, is not how it works. Mr. Smith goes to Washington; Mr. Potter comes back.


PHOTO: US Capitol, from the Flickr of Vince Alongi

When we talk about what’s wrong in our country, most Americans say the same thing: no group should concentrate its own power and wealth at the expense of the rest of the country. We worry that we’ve become powerless. Unheard. Bottled.

Like growing pressure in a sealed pipe, our voices leak out of cracks: the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street. The Tea Party railed against Washington. The occupiers rail against Wall Street.

I work in the environmental movement. In our work, we try to stem the increasingly dire impacts of pollution and on our climate by putting people to work in green jobs. We have an opponent, too: big oil and fossil fuel companies.

What we’re learning is that it’s all the same group. The politicians in Washington and the bankers and the big oil interests are all the same pool of people – preserving power and wealth, moving back and forth, switching staff, switching jobs. The fight for job creation, against bailing out banks, against the Keystone pipeline, for debt relief: it’s all the same fight. The 99% against the 1% – or, rather, the 90% against the 1% and the 9% who work for them.

We are in an incredible moment in which that can change. Seeing democracies being born in Egypt and Tunisia has reminded us of what democracy is supposed to look like. Unlike the Middle East, we don’t need a revolution. We just need to speak up. So, from both ends of the political spectrum, people are doing just that - but outside of the political system that isn’t listening. People are making themselves heard in the streets and in the community.

It’s democracy as phoenix. We’re saying: enough. Hear us. No more putting the wealthy first. No more dirty, lousy jobs. No more Citizens United and corporate personhood. We’ll shake the rafters of the powerful with our voices. We’ll pour ourselves into democracy.

The American promise is worth defending. Every American, no matter what gender, race, orientation or income level, can defend it simply: by ensuring that our voices are heard.

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