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Melissa Harris-Perry: Fear Is Driving America's Politics, But Hope Is the Only Antidote

In her speech Monday in Washington, D.C., at Take Back the American Dream, Perry explained that racism, anti-immigrant panic and the war on women all drive our politics.

Photo Credit: A.M. Stan


Editor's Note: This is a transcript of a speech delivered yesterday at the Take Back the American Dream conference, produced by the Campaign for America's Future in Washington, DC. Links were added by AlterNet.

Good morning. This is the start of what is going to be an ideologically diverse day for me. I'm going to run off the stage today when I am done with my address, because I am running off to Chicago, where I will join the Bush family for a conversation about volunteerism in America, so that'll be fun. By the end of the day, I will have no idea what's going on in the world. But I am very happy to start my day with you -- and particularly because what I find my [place] within the public sphere is not to be an activist or an organizer per se; I am married to an activist and an organizer, so it's very clear to me which one of us does real work and which one of us talks about the real work that needs to get done in the world, and so that is probably not my comparative advantage. I hope to do a little bit today about what I think my comparative advantage is, which is to try to understand analytically where we are, and how we got here.

So, I'm appreciative of the framework of thinking about this within a historical context -- a kind of robber baron moment. And want to take up a much shorter historical moment -- really just the past decade. And [not] focusing primarily on what the elites have been up to, to think a little bit about how where we are now has been made possible by the choices that we, as ordinary Americans and citizens, made. We were not fully disempowered in these moments: We made choices.

The legacy of September 11

So, I want to start with the moment that is September 11, 2001, because I believe that the era that we are in now begins on September 11, 2001. The election of George W. Bush in 2000, whatever we think about it, was an election that was ultimately a choice that the American people made [interrupted by a shrill, whistle sound] -- okay, that's fine; I've been reading The Hunger Games [laughter]; I really was running through my head what kind of thing the Capitol might have been sending to us at this point.

September 11, 2001 -- my [point] here is that when we elected George W. Bush, or when George W. Bush was handed the American presidency by the Supreme Court of the United States, that decision was made, in part, because we understood ourselves to be in a time of peace, internationally; of domestic economic growth. George W. Bush, for whatever his failings or successes, does seem like a guy to kind of keep the party goin'. So, if you're thinking that you're coming out of the Clinton era and things are good economically and we're at peace internationally, then it does not seem that odd to make the choice of electing a kinder, gentler conservative, right? You've got to go back to 2000 to remember where we were in that moment.

We did not know then that just a few months into the first year of George W. Bush's presidency that there would no longer the good times, that it would no longer be a time of economic expansion, it would no longer be a time of relative international peace, but instead that the new era would begin when Americans finally came into [the place] many of our trading partners, political partners and allies had been for decades, which is in the age of contemporary terrorism.