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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

If We Did Not Share in the Prosperity, Why Should We Have to Share in the Sacrifice?

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When the great recession of 2008 struck, it hit some of us harder than others. Middle class families, the poor, people of color and the workers of America suffered the most, while those that caused the crisis were largely unscathed -- many even increased their wealth. Today, when we are in danger of going over the notorious fiscal cliff, some repeatedly speak of 'shared sacrifice.' But when the top 2 percent were enjoying their tax breaks and stockpiling their prosperity, there was no sharing with the masses. And instead, these individuals and groups now have the audacity to ask seniors, minorities, folks whose children fought in our wars, the disenfranchised and the most vulnerable among us to sacrifice some more. Does that seem fair to you?

On Monday, I was in the nation's capital with Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, and Melanie Campbell, the Executive Director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation as we convened a meeting on the 'Agenda for Black America.' We gathered a group of African American and civil rights leaders representing 62 organizations as we collaborated on national priorities for the coming Presidential term. We will be laying out the specifics of this agenda (addressing everything from economic disparity to the criminal justice system) to Congress and the White House in the next several weeks. But the very first thing that all of us who care about the future of our nation must agree on is that middle class tax cuts must be reissued and tax breaks for the top 2 percent must expire.

About two weeks before our 'Agenda for Black America' coalition, progressive leaders (including myself), met with President Obama to advocate on behalf of our respective communities. Representing a diverse group of organizations -- White, Black, Latino, gay/lesbian and female -- we highlighted ways in which we can collectively continue moving forward. As we expressed to the President in that meeting, it's abundantly clear that Republicans simply do not understand the new electorate.

Back in 1988, George H.W. Bush won approximately 61 percent of the White vote and was swept into office. In 2012, Mitt Romney won about the same percentage of White voters and lost. The demographics of the country have undeniably changed. There's a new America and a new electorate. And those who do not comprehend this notion will continue losing support and continue losing elections. Any further negotiations regarding the looming fiscal cliff must also keep this new America in mind.

The new majority of Americans -- Blacks, Whites, Latinos, gays/lesbians, seniors -- cannot pay the bill of the elite 2 percent by having 'entitlement programs' that they disproportionately depend on eliminated or cut, while we continue to give tax breaks to those that have benefitted the most from those tax loopholes. In a recent speech in Atlanta, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke even stated that communities of color must be included on the road to recovery and that they have suffered extensively during these tough economic times, especially with regards to home ownership.

With limited time remaining for talks about the fiscal cliff, the degrading language and the blame game will likely fire up. They will try to paint the new America, the majority of us, as somehow lazy or jealous of their wealth. But it is the majority that played by the rules, paid into Medicare, into Social Security and into other essential programs, and yet still suffered the most while the ones who caused the financial crisis continued to enjoy their tax breaks and amass their riches.

Simply put: if we did not share in the prosperity, then we should not be asked to share in the sacrifice. Period. The New America spoke on Election Day and we want the 2 percent to make sure they hear us now.