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We Have to Fight the Plutocrats to Build an Economy that Works

Americans have an opportunity to go on the offensive to transform the economy and politics of our country and create shared prosperity for all.

This can be our moment. A new activism is emerging in the United States and abroad, where people, in unexpected places, are standing up to challenge the rich and powerful. From recent uprisings in Egypt, to young people and workers in Europe marching and striking against shortsighted austerity plans, to the battle of nurses, teachers, firefighters and community members in Wisconsin, and the sit-ins and occupations of banks starting around the country, a movement is starting to grow.

After being battered and on the defensive, we have an opportunity in the United States to go on the offensive to transform the economy and politics of our country and create shared prosperity for all. Corporations have $1.6 trillion in cash reserves and are making record profits. The CEOs of Wall Street and the big banks paid themselves record compensation and bonuses of $135 billion in 2010 ($7 billion more than in 2009). After trillions in bailouts, they are even bigger and more dominant than before the economic crash. Now can be our moment to build a movement that both captures the popular imagination and has a strategy to engage millions of people to improve their lives by harnessing:

•The potential power of government to force banks to pay their fair share of taxes and renegotiate toxic interest rates that are sucking billions out of city and states budgets.

•The potential power of homeowners and students to renegotiate unfair mortgages and loans, keeping millions in their homes and putting billions into the economy to create jobs.

•The potential power of public employee unions to bargain and demand that government implements concrete proposals that would save billions by holding Wall Street and banks accountable.

•The potential power of private sector unions to organize and bargain not just for existing union members but also to fix broken industries, and to alter business practices that exploit communities and pollute the environment.

To do this, we need to understand how our country and our economy got in the mess they are in, the opportunities we have missed over the last two years and the critical role we can all start playing to fix it.

In an ironic twist of history, the same people responsible for the global financial and economic meltdown are using a crisis of their own making to amass wealth and power in concentrations not seen since the beginning of the 20th century. We are experiencing a corporate counter-revolution—the goal of which is to reverse the arc of the last 100 years—to undo the historic gains that built up the middle class and secured greater equality, freedom and economic, racial and social justice.

It is not a surprise that corporate CEOs would organize and fight ferociously to defend their interests and expand their privileges. What is shocking is how we progressives blew an opportunity in 2008, when the moral bankruptcy of the super-rich and the failure of the “free market” ideology were exposed, to challenge growing economic inequality and the power of Wall Street elites. Seduced by our new “access” to the White House, we were trapped in an inside-the-beltway political game at the very moment we should have been organizing, marching, sitting-in and confronting the corporations that crashed the economy. While millions lost their jobs, homes and the savings accumulated during a lifetime of work—with communities of color and immigrants particularly hard hit—we crowed about newfound political power and influence. And now we complain about inaction by politicians, the devastating losses in the 2010 elections, and why we can’t seem to connect with the American people on issues we should be winning on.

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