Yesterday evening, something historic happened in the homes, campuses, and community centers of America. From Biloxi, Mississippi to Monrovia, California, more than 4,000 people attended 375 teach-ins -- all volunteer-driven -- to learn "How the 1% Crashed the Economy, and What We Can Do About It."
The Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a chord with millions of Americans. It has given direction to our outrage and inspired curiosity about certain fundamental questions. How could the richest country in the history of the world find itself in such a grave economic crisis? How could the wealthiest in our society score record-breaking profits, while millions of Americans struggle?
People are searching for both answers and solutions. So Rebuild The Dream Innovation Fund (an organization I co-founded) and our partners created a special curriculum -- a teach-in toolkit to help people make sense of what's happening in America.
The teach-ins are based on an evocative slide presentation that describes the state of our economy, how we got here, and what we as progressives must do to restore the economy and reclaim our democracy. November 9th was just a start. The materials and information are available online for anyone to host a teach-in, tailored to our own communities.
In addition to powerful facts, the presentation weaves a powerful story. Ryan Senser, who created the story and the presentation, breaks down the narrative as follows: "We all have dreams, and freedom means being able to pursue them. But right now, the vast majority of people can't move forward because we're hitting a wall. It's a wall of extreme inequality, of debt, of joblessness, of social division. It's the largest barrier to opportunity we've seen since the 1920s, and it's holding our country back. We know who built this wall - Wall Street. Wall Street big corporations and the 1% built it, paid off our politicians to help them do it. And these are Wall Street's results: extreme inequality, which always leads to economic disaster for rest of us. We must elect politicians who will help us pave the path to shared prosperity, and not build walls that keep us from it."
Another major contributor to the teach-in curriculum was Heather McGhee, an economic policy expert at progressive think tank Demos, which works to create a more robust democracy and fair economy. Heather explained why the precursors of our crisis are key to understanding how we move forward as a nation.
"The economy is not like the weather," she said. "It's not something that goes up and goes down and that we have no control over as human beings. It's actually a very human-made structure in our political system that is guided by the decisions we make together as a people in a well-functioning democracy."
Our society today, which grants everything to the 1% at the expense of the rest of us, puts greed over common good, justice for some over justice for all, and next quarter over next generation. This is not an accident.
As Heather said, "The personal, individual problems that keep us up at night -- student debt, foreclosures, mortgages, credit cards, why rent is up and housing prices are down, why work isn't paying how it used to, why both parents have to work and there's no support for child care -- all of these private questions are part of our story. And the story says there are public causes and public solutions that have evolved over the last 3 decades."
In the 1930s, America emerged from the Great Depression with a vengeance. Ordinary American wrested the unjust concentration of political and economic power from the hands of the 1% to build the first and biggest middle class the world had ever seen. Our great-grandparents and grandparents deliberately paved a road to shared prosperity. But starting in the 1970s, the 1% again began to tear away at the accomplishments of our predecessors and they built the wall again.
We overcame once and we will overcome again. The Occupy movement has set off a wave of energy and enthusiasm that is determined to tear down the wall built by the 1% and create an economy that works for all. November 17th will be a day of mass action for the 99% to begin tearing down that wall. And possible solutions have already been outlined in the Contract for the American Dream created by 131,000 Americans and signed by over 300,000.
We will continue taking to the streets, starting with the mass mobilization on November 17th. Across the country, there will be hundreds of events at the very places that can put America back to work: our crumbling bridges, understaffed schools, and other sites that represent a failed economy. And next year we will occupy voting booths and ballots all over the country.
We must continue growing the extraordinary momentum of the 99%. The story we weave about ourselves, our economy, and the political power we hold will shape how we move forward from this unprecedented moment. We will tear down this wall.