THE BLOG
08/29/2016 12:11 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2017

Working With CGI To Fix America, Build The Future

After World War II, Americans rose from the ashes of the Great Depression together. We grew a thriving middle class and a strong labor movement. We expanded our infrastructure, connected communities and gave our vets a chance to go to college and our young people access to public education. We expanded civil rights and opened doors to opportunity. For decades, we embraced our shared responsibility to lift each other up.

Since the late 1970s, the "trickle-down" model has taken over, a dog-eat-dog proposition where individuals are encouraged to battle each other for increasingly scarce spoils. It's a brutal system exemplified by a simple statistic: In 2015, the top 25 hedge fund managers made more money--$24 billion between them -- than every kindergarten teacher in America combined.

The lucky and fortunate have elbowed their way to the top. But if you don't make it, they say you only have yourself to blame.

Now, working Americans are angry. Most haven't seen a real raise in years, while the wealthiest take home an ever-greater share of the pie. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Demagogues stoke racial and ethnic fears to divide us in the service of their broken ideology.

It's easy to see that today's system just isn't working for most people. But fixing it takes more than talk -- it takes action. And when obstructionists block government action, it means finding innovative ways to leverage our resources to serve the greater good.

AFT members -- and union members across the country - -hold billions in assets in our pension funds. In the trickle down model, we'd shovel that money to big Wall Street banks and hedge funds -- firms that charge millions in fees, leaving pennies for workers' retirements.

Engaging with the Clinton Global Initiative, we're forging a new path. Instead of sitting around bemoaning the obstacles, CGI has, time and again, found innovative ways to connect partners with projects that lift up not just the parties involved, but entire communities.

That is the theory behind CGI's "commitment" process that mandates each initiative be new, specific and measurable. In 2011, the American labor movement made one of the earliest commitments to raise $10 billion over five years for infrastructure. Now, $16 billion has been allocated and we've already created at least 100,000 jobs.

To take just one example, at LaGuardia Airport, a $3.6 billion CGI commitment driven by the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is overhauling the dilapidated central terminal building. Together, we're turning a rundown eyesore into something more befitting a modern metropolis.

And last year, the AFT, alongside Amalgamated Bank and others, announced the creation of a separate $100 million early childhood CGI commitment. The fund will renovate 350 classrooms in seven cities and build an additional 250 new classroom facilities in three more. About 36,000 children in early childhood education programs will benefit.

​The infrastructure investments we've leveraged through CGI are a powerful example of what solution-driven thinking can achieve. We're determined to use workers' capital -- our capital -- in a fiducially responsible manner to reshape the economy, while exerting moral and political pressure on the Wall Street billionaires who refuse to come along with us.

Our members -- educators, nurses and public sector workers, who benefit the most from these bold initiatives -- wake up every day determined to build a better life for the middle class. But their frontline efforts are being undermined by billionaires working behind the scenes to rig the system and "starve the beast" -- to put government out of business by slashing taxes and then claiming we can't afford to pay. We're shoving a stick in the spokes of that wheel and spinning it in the other direction, ending the vicious cycle and creating, once again, a virtuous circle.

The eulogy for trickle-down economics was written years ago. But we can only bury it by taking the concrete steps necessary to rebuild wealth for working people, to fix the system so it again serves the common good. That started with our important work with CGI, but the core idea of shared prosperity will endure for as long as the American dream remains out of reach for so many.

America is at a crossroads, and we have a choice to make. Will we recommit ourselves to the idea that we have a responsibility to lift each other up, or will we continue down the "everyone for themselves" path of so-called individual accountability?

That's the question, not just in this election or in the halls of government, but for all of us. And it's one the Clinton Global Initiative has answered clearly.