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Monika Mitchell Headshot

America the Beautiful: What's in It For Me?

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All hell broke loose in New York last week when Occupy Wall Street protestors took to the streets to demand their piece of the pie. Rage, conflict and high emotions marked the mood for protestors who were forced in the early morning hours to remove their tent city from Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Square. The visible heart of the movement was outraged and stormed the New York Stock Exchange, the most visible symbol of Wall Street power. The earnest protestors garnered sympathy around the nation and hoped to interrupt the economic action on a workday morning.

How could they possibly know that the New York Stock Exchange represents what's good about Wall Street? That this ageless institution is a model for integrity and transparency that other parts of the industry could emulate. The police put up barricades to keep protestors out of the way of the Street. The economic engine had to tick on. New York had to go about its business. It was left to our protectors to keep it going.

Ever since September 11, New Yorkers have had a deeper connection to our blue collar peers. When the World Trade Center was attacked, our protectors jumped in to save us. On that day, there was no separation between us -- no 99% or 1%. We fell in love with our firefighters and our police, if we weren't already in love with them before. Union iron, construction, and rescue workers dedicated themselves to helping white collar professionals rebuild a city wounded to its core. New York's blue collar protectors inspired all of us to find a courage we didn't know we had -- a resilience that had never before been tested. There was only one way out of this tragic conundrum: a unified response to the shared suffering we all felt. We were bound together to battle a common enemy. In that unity, we found strength to overcome what had seemed to be insurmountable odds.

Ten years and two months later, we face another common enemy. This time it's a tougher foe, because it comes from within. The enemy is us -- our collective greed, sense of entitlement, self-centeredness and the desire to avoid hardship at all costs. Despite the beauty that exists in America and its people, we have reached this sad moment in our history through the lesser parts of ourselves. The part of ourselves that asks what our country can do for us, not what we can do for it. The part of us that is unwilling to give or forgive. The question asked by both Wall Street and Main Street, and Republicans and Democrats is the same: What's in it for me?

The truth is our hearts are broken in so many ways similar to a decade ago. Then we experienced a devastating attack on our city, our nation and freedom. In the wake of the economic 9/11 of 2008, we found ourselves at a place of despair and confusion once again. We experienced a devastating attack on our financial system, this time through our own people. As a result, we are not bonding together, but ripping each other apart.

The super failing Super Committee, Super Duper Failed Congress, and failing federal government has led us down this road to endless bickering, battling, and blaming. No one takes responsibility for the state of our affairs, because let's face it's not our fault that we stand at this moment of crisis - it's theirs.

And who are "they?" They are the 1% if I am the 99. They are the have nots, if I am a have. Democrats blame Republicans and Republicans claim that it is all the Dems' fault. Occupy blames Wall Street and Wall Street holds Main Street responsible. Everyone seems to believe it is someone else's fault, but their own. Them, not us. The other guy or gal, not me.

And so we have come to an impasse: a moment in our history that can only be called a tipping point - a pivotal moment in our lives when we are poised for social destruction or intellectual evolution. Do we continue to spiral down the path of more conflict, blame and rage? Or do we use this heart-breaking crisis in our collective consciousness to remake ourselves into something better? There is a saying that it is darkest before the dawn. Perhaps this is true of us now. Perhaps we face a new dawn.

Life really is all in the way you look at it. There is much shared suffering in America and the world right now, with many problems that need fixing and many holes that need to be filled. But we can let these challenges separate us or bring us together. If we learn from the past, the clear method to solving our problems lies in unity, not belligerence. That doesn't mean we don't disagree. It simply means there is a willingness to work together to compromise, cooperate and collaborate to resolve our differences.

The mood right now in America is one of intentional conflict. Several weeks ago, I heard President Clinton offer solutions at the World Business Forum on how to repair our broken economy, create jobs and get the financial engine started up again in America's middle class. He spoke about the necessity of unilateral cooperation to overcome our urgent economic challenges. Nearly one third of the 5,000 business people present got up and walked out - a mass exodus that stunned me and my colleagues. It chilled me to the bone...because if the concept of cooperation is an anathema among the American public, then how can we ever get our politicians to act responsibly or effectively? We have failed, like our Super Committee, before we have even begun.

So what is in it for you and me? Very simply: a country we can be proud of, a government that truly is of, by and for the people - all the people, not one group over another. No one is more valuable than anyone else - not rich, not poor, not politician or plebe. This is America - land of the free, home of the Dream.

Ten short Septembers ago, we came together to overcome overwhelming obstacles. Through courage, conviction and cooperation, we accomplished what had seemed to be impossible. We are asked to do that again. We are asked to put our fears and anger aside and see each other as entirely human - not as the enemy, but as fellow Americans, however flawed we may be.

The Dream is really what we can envision. Americans are not limited by the confines of thousands of years of history and tradition. We invent ourselves as we go along and reinvent ourselves over and over again. The time has come for us to move beyond self-interest and toward a more inclusive view. We can remake ourselves in our own image and become America the beautiful once more. Ten years after nearly 3,000 people gave their lives for a crime they never committed, it's the least we can do.