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Charlotte Hill Headshot

A Formal Call for a Politics of Dignity

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We live in triumphant times and terrible times.

As we witness the celebrations of freedom that jubilantly ring throughout the world, as we stand transfixed by this fundamental expression of a right so enshrined in our nation's foundation yet callously converted into a catchphrase by those very individuals who would exploit that right, we are reminded of the heartwrenching realization that so many of us have independently come to during these past difficult years: America, our beloved nation, that one-time bastion of freedom, is under siege.

This foe comes not from outside our borders. Contrary to what some may have us think, our current predicament is not born from a jealous or spiteful outsider.

No, our economic and moral crisis, a loss that resonates within each fiber of our tired bodies, stems, like a cancer, from within these fifty states.

Our disease is inequality -- not an inequality of income, which is simply the symptom of this disease, but an inequality of persons. Born equals in worth, we have shunned the opportunity to recognize and respect one another's dignity and instead followed an immediately easier, but infinitely more destructive, path.

Like children watching magic tricks and mistaking them for reality, we have allowed ourselves to become enchanted by the guise of the meritocracy. We have fallen into a deep stupor, sure in our belief that an individual's wealth and power are a reflection on her character. We have mistakenly associated the size of a person's bank account with the content of his character.

And so, while others have celebrated freedom, we have celebrated money. While others, living under dictatorship, have celebrated choice, we have celebrated celebrity.

Where has this idolatry gotten us? Families across this once-great nation have been devastated by financial turmoil wrecked by those privileged few who, because they were thought to be infallable, reaped the benefits of an ill-regulated economy run amuck. Marriages have disintegrated under the incessant beating of a debt collector's knock. The poorest among us, seemingly always forgotten due to a persistent lack of political clout, have gathered their scant belongings once again, moving from shoddy, shared apartment to shoddy, shared public shelter, from shelter to street, from street to jail.

This endless cycle of praise for the rich and loss by the rich, facilitated by a false belief in a meritocratic system, has been our downfall. It is only by casting off our past assumptions and embracing a politics of dignity that we can re-form America into a true land of opportunity, of freedom to fulfill our shared dream of shared prosperity.

This politics of dignity requires our full acknowledgment that each person, regardless of social standing or rank, is worthy of recognition. It requires that as we shape our nation's political and financial agenda in the years to come, we proportionally include those who would be affected by a given decision in the decision-making process. Perhaps most immediately, it demands we divorce political power from financial power, fulfilling our forefathers' wish that America be a land for the people and governed by the people, regardless of aristocratic background.

In short, it requires that we refuse to privilege the wealthy for their wealth and instead extend the full benefits of political participation to the masses, who, because of their inherent dignity, fully deserve this inclusion.

This transformation of our decrepit system of governance will not be easy, nor will it be accomplished in the next year or perhaps dozen years. But it must happen, or we will see the great loss of the past four years repeated again in the near future, or perhaps we will never even truly recover from our present misery.

The time is ripe for dignity and inclusion. Let us seize this time and create an America that is truly worthy of celebration.