A new social movement is rising up in our country out of years of outrage, heartbreak, pain and anger at trying to make ends meet while CEOs and billionaires whistle all the way to the bank.
The extreme wealth gap has locked young people out of the promise of the American Dream for a good education and a decent job in a sustainable future, and consigned children to poverty.
"We are the 99%" "Tax the Rich" and "Jobs Not Cuts" are rallying cries that can be heard from Wall Street to K Street and in public squares from coast to coast.
At the Take Back the American Dream conference held in Washington, D.C. this month, a multi-racial gathering of grass roots folks from Wisconsin and Ohio, Montana and Oklahoma, Arizona and Alabama and all parts of the country hammered out their priorities, embraced Occupy Wall Street and wove together the largest social movement in recent times to Rebuild the Dream.
The impact of this movement on the 2012 elections can determine the future direction of our country. Will decades of corporate-driven policies aimed at limiting the role of government and leaving people "on your own" be rejected? Or will extreme, reactionary anti-union, racist, dog-eat-dog policies have their day?
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., echoed many others at the conference when she said, "Our country is at a crossroads, and we are at the frontline of a battle for our future. Our agenda is patriotic, true and practical. It is supported by the majority in the country. We need to inspire participation everywhere".
The newly born American Dream Movement includes MoveOn with five million members, the AFL-CIO with 12.2 million members, SEIU with 2.1 million members, U.S. Student Association representing over four million students at 400 campuses, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights including over 200 organizations, and many long-standing women's, immigrant rights, LGBT, peace, environment and pro-democracy groups.
This movement emerges out of the epic battles in Wisconsin and Ohio to preserve union rights and collective bargaining for workers. It emerges out of an intensive summer of organizing and pressure on members of Congress for jobs not cuts, including the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus jobs hearings and listening tours, and the roll out of the Contract for the American Dream.
A dramatic new dimension was added in September when anger at the bailouts of financial institutions who then foreclosed home mortgages and laid off workers erupted into Occupy Wall Street spreading to many hundreds of cities and towns.
"These are challenging and controversial times," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., " The Tea Party in Congress is playing with democracy. Our movement is about taking back democracy."
Instead of being intimidated by the charge of "class warfare" the new movement understands that it is vicious corporate class warfare that the people of the country are up against.
"Bring it on," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to a roar of applause. "We are facing pain, loss and reversal of progress. We the people are angry," he said placing the challenge, "Where will the anger go? Extremism? Or to build a future?"
Trumka called for "a massive movement for jobs to turn the country right side up," saying, "What unites us is so much greater than anything that divides us."
The Contract for the American Dream reflects what a majority of people in the country support according to polls: large scale job creation to put people to work and meet community needs, funded by taxing the rich, ending the wars and bringing the money back to aid municipalities.
"These are majority opinions," declared Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., "Get into every nook and cranny of the countryside and organize."
While alienation from the entire political system is often expressed by the Occupy participants, that alienation is more specifically a rejection of the influence of money in politics and the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United establishing "corporate personhood."
Sitting out the elections would be completely self-defeating. Without bringing the power of the movement to bear on the elections, and inspiring millions to overcome voter suppression, the vicious corporate class warfare taking place now will only get worse.
It is clear that the Republican leadership, in their quest to defeat President Barack Obama, is determined to block job creation and any other social legislation that is on the side of working people.
The American Dream Movement describes itself as "people powered independent politics for hope and change." The conference set a goal of recruiting 2,012 American Dream candidates in the 2012 election cycle, and recruiting one million people to take on leadership responsibilities to build the movement.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who chairs the Red to Blue Caucus expressed optimism that with a lot of hard work and sticking together, 25 seats in the House can be won and control of that body can be changed.
"Take off your high heels," she said. "We have work to do. The bankers walked away with everything...No district must be left untouched to flip the script of the Tea Party controlling 20 percent of Congress. What's at stake is the generation in front of us."
The mass street action of the movement is interconnected with the elections. Each needs the other to meet the goals of standing up for the 99% against the economic divide and record inequality.
There will surely be attempts to split and divide. But sticking together, youth protesting for their right to a future, joined with the labor movement, civil rights, peace and social justice, can rescue democracy in our country. This new social movement has the capacity to take us beyond what has been possible and open the door for new dreams toward equality and people before profits.