Youth activism is always very exciting. We were inspired by the dedication, creativity, and energy of the young people at the annual Youth Jobs Coalition (YJC) rally in Boston. The participants, thousands of Boston Public School students, spent their class recess working together to make the youth unemployment crisis more visible to the community. The YJC demonstration, staged in Boston's Financial District, publicized the connection between concentration of wealth and political power in the financial sector and budget cuts that directly affect funding for youth jobs.
The absence of job opportunities is making it difficult for young people to build skills for future success and earn money to help their families. Young people of color are experiencing the greatest struggle. Black teen unemployment, for example, is nearly twice as high as White teen unemployment, which is deepening the racial economic divide.
|Angie Auguste and Princess Mansaray led lobby day trainings for youth activists at the Massachusetts State House as a part of the YJC day of action.|
We were disappointed, though not surprised, to see that the first to comment on our posts of support were skeptics who questioned the merits of the teens' efforts. As one Facebook user opined, "maybe being on the streets applying for jobs would have been more productive."
If only it were that simple. Our reply:
In real terms, unemployment may be upwards of 80% higher than reported when we factor in underemployment. Teen unemployment is at a remarkable high, with Black teens faring worst. This should be a concern to all of us because of the many social ills connected to poverty and extreme inequality. We view the actions and continued efforts of these young people through the Youth Jobs Coalition and other groups as a sign of hope. They are making a choice to work together in peaceful demonstration to address an economic system that's falling short, with inefficient allocation of public resources driven by a concentration of wealth and power. We hope you will consider that, in addition to solid individual initiative, we'll need systemic remedies to unemployment and other economic struggles. The momentum for change won't be generated in board rooms and legislative sessions alone. To make the problems and solutions more visible, we have to get some feet on the street with a unified message.
As banal as it sounds, young people are our future. Peaceful protest has helped to generate positive change throughout U.S. history. Should we not encourage the youth community to be more engaged in this way?
Top photo c/o Steve Schnapp
On January 19th, Responsible Wealth lost one of its founding members and a remarkable man, Bill Densmore, at age 88. Bill was a loving husband, devoted father, and mentor to many, including me for a time. Bill parlayed a successful corporate career into a second career focused on education, peace, economic justice and better end-of-life planning. He played a key role in the original organizing meetings in the fall of 1996 that led to the founding of Responsible Wealth in 1997. Bill was a passionate advocate for economic justice right up to his final days.
For those who were not lucky enough to meet him, I will attempt to give you a sense of who Bill was, and to share with you some of what was said about him at his memorial service last month. For those who want more details, there are a number of links below.
I first met Bill when he was part of the group of about 10 of us who met during the Fall of 1996 to discuss founding Responsible Wealth (RW) as a project of United for a Fair Economy. Bill went on to serve on RW’s Steering Committee for a number of years, helping advise me and guide RW’s early decisions on which topics we would tackle and which tactics we would use to bring the voice of progressive wealthy business leaders and others into the movement for economic justice. During that time, Bill developed a list of 15 corporate “rules changes” that would help close the economic divide, which he continued to promote over the years. (see link below)
Although Bill was less involved with Responsible Wealth in recent years, he remained an enthusiastic supporter and was always warm, inquiring and supportive when we spoke by phone. His membership renewal was often the very first one to arrive, a day or two after we sent out our annual appeal!
On February 2, an impressive crowd of about 500 people of all ages filled the large First Unitarian Church in Worcester for a celebration of his life, which was a very fitting tribute to his long life of service. His daughter Betsy and son Bill Jr. spoke, as did one of his mentees, Paul Reville, and Bill’s friend Michael True. Many of his favorite quotes were recited during the service and/or reprinted in the program. The congregation sang ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple, If I Had a Hammer, and Amazing Grace, and Bill’s granddaughter Eliza played “Imagine” beautifully on the piano while her brother Chris (a theater major at Carleton College) sang the song with great expression.
Many friends stayed afterward to console the family, share remembrances of Bill, and look at various displays relating to Bill’s life and work. Not surprisingly, there was a literature table near the door for some of his deepest passions: The Center for Nonviolent Solutions, the Better Ending Partnership, and the upcoming Rules Change Conference (May 3-5, UMass Amherst).
For me, the word “persistence” kept coming to mind during his service. Appropriately, Rev. Barbara Merrill spoke of Bill giving us all a “metaphorical toolbox” that contains “optimism, persistence and humility,” which really captures Bill well. She said, “Bill spent much of his energy in this existence in service to others. And we were the lucky recipients.” [Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your notes with me!]
Rev. Merrill also read some comments she had received from others, including:
- “Bill possessed a keen, penetrating intelligence, handsomely combined with an uncommon gentleness and civility. He so catalytically evoked the best in others through his pure sincerity of purpose, and the twinkle in his eye.”
- “…His whole life has revolved around nurturing civic action by successive generations.”
- “Bill’s calm, quiet exterior formed a kind of camouflage over a white hot flame of practical idealism that burned within. He had a deep sense of compassion for all, a passion for economic justice, and a conviction (born of long experience and observation) that nonviolence is more effective than violence in confronting evil and addressing injustice. Bill bridged the corporate world and the social activist world like no one I’ve ever known. He did it quietly, energetically, persistently, optimistically, and most of all, effectively!”
- “He was the ultimate networker, working with understatement, yet quiet force, to make things happen. He very subtly coached me and our staff team in how to manage everything. Always available. Always thorough. Always steady. Always encouraging and non-judgmental. Always curious. Always receptive.”
I will miss my occasional calls with Bill. But like everyone who has been touched by his life, I feel richer for having known him.
February 15, 2013
Rules Change Conference, May 3-5, 2013 (http://www.ruleschange.org or http://mediagiraffe.org/wiki/index.php/Ruleschange or email email@example.com). Note: Chuck Collins had a planning meeting with Bill Densmore and Rep. James McGovern about this conference just a couple weeks before Bill died.
Better Ending Partnership: 508-767-9877 or http://www.betterending.org.
The Center for Nonviolent Solutions: http://www.nonviolentsolution.org/about_mission.php.
Slideshow of Bill’s life (about 100 photos).
Lots of background information about Bill, including some of the above: http://newshare.com/wpdensmore/.
15 Corporate Rules Changes: http://newshare.com/ruleschange.pdf (see esp. Section F near the bottom for complete list).
Quotes worth remembering related to Bill
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.” - George Bernard Shaw
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” - George Bernard Shaw
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, …who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, if he fails, at lest he fails while daring greatly…” - Theodore Roosevelt
“It’s not how much you know, but what you do with what you know.”
From Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White): “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
A Prayer for Bill
As a final note, here is the prayer written and read by Rev. Gary Kowalski at Bill’s memorial service [thank you, Gary]:
We give thanks
For those who live large,
For practical idealists,
For men who lead from the heart.
We give thanks
For the life of Bill Densmore,
Saddened by his passing
But strengthened by the energy and enthusiasm
With which he embraced his time on earth,
Inspired by his commitment
To building the beloved community
Of justice, equality and peace.
This church that he supported,
This city and its civic institutions that he served,
The nation that he defended and sought to transform
Are friendlier, fairer and more free
For his having lived.
Where grief casts its shadow,
When vision grow dim,
When souls go cold,
Enable us to remember
Those who reached toward the light
Who illumined our world with their honor
And warmed it with their humanity,
Renewing our faith
That beyond birth and death,
Beyond time and space,
Love never fails,
Compassion never ends,
For all are in the hands of goodness and mercy.
This webinar explores how to effectively integrate film into economic fairness campaigns. How do social issue documentary films do more than just raise awareness? How can you leverage the story in a documentary film to advance your efforts? How can you effectively rally local audiences around your cause once the lights come up? This Tax Fairness Tune-Up webinar will answer all these questions, and provide a framework on how to use film as an asset to economic fairness campaigns.
Campaign Coordinator, Working Films
Andy holds a B.A in film studies, with a focus in documentary film and a minor in environmental studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. A longtime proponent of connecting film with activism, he has coordinated various national campaigns, which leverage the narrative in social issue documentaries to advance the efforts of organizations with shared goals.
Karin Hayes & Victoria Bruce
Recipients of the duPont-Columbia University Award for excellence in broadcast journalism for their first film, The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt (HBO/Cinemax). Their most recent film We’re Not Broke premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Award.
An award-winning filmmaker and the president of 371 Productions. He has been working in documentary production since 1/92. His latest film, As Goes Janesville, is a documentary about how a town tries to reinvent itself amid the loss of their century-old GM plant and Wisconsin’s civil war over unions. The film’s storyline about corporate transparency inspired him to create BizVizz. He’s busy right now developing new technology and media projects for the common good. Before making his own films, Brad associate produced FRONTLINE’s Peabody award-winning presidential election year special, Choice ’96, and Lumiere Production’s PBS series, "With God on Our Side: The History of the Religious Right."
Responding to the unprecedented level of outside spending in last year's election cycle, Responsible Wealth has joined a coalition of investors to step up its campaign to press companies to refrain entirely from making political contributions. The coalition, including Clean Yield Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management, Zevin Asset Management, and Harrington Investments, has filed resolutions with Chevron, Bank of America, 3M, Target, Starbucks, ExxonMobil, and the EQT Corporation. Responsible Wealth members filed at Bank of America and Target.
Because of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, so-called “independent” or outside spending in federal elections—made in support of candidates by groups with no supposed connections to their campaigns—contributions increased nearly fivefold between 2010-2012, from $300 million to $1.3 billion (Center for Responsive Politics). Just last week, Demos & the US PIRG Education Fund released a report estimating that for-profit corporations were responsible for at least $101 million in political spending in the 2012 elections, although the actual amount could be up to four times that amount due to vagaries in reporting requirements.
“In 2012, Chevron gave $2.5 million dollars of company funds to a Super PAC—the single largest corporate donation to a Super PAC ever. Shareholders don’t want to pay for Chevron’s political preferences or contribute to the untamed spending unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. It’s time for Chevron to listen to its shareholders and stop throwing millions of dollars into the wind.” - Leslie Samuelrich, Senior Vice President of Green Century Capital Management
At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in public opposition and backlash to corporate influence in the democratic process. In February 2010, immediately following the Citizens United decision, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 80% of respondents opposed Citizens United, across partisan lines. Political spending and lobbying undermine the trust of the consumer.
“By the sheer volume of money involved, dollar democracy by corporations is drowning out individual political voices and undermining the essence of the American political system. ExxonMobil’s huge political donations are symptomatic of this corrosion of democracy, so as shareholders, we have a responsibility to put a stop to this dangerous behavior.” - Sonia Kowal, Director of Socially Responsible Investing at Zevin Asset Management
And contrary to conventional wisdom, campaign contributions may actually stunt the long-term growth of a company. A 2012 University of Minnesota study found that companies contributing to political action committees and other outside political groups between 1991-2004 grew more slowly than other firms, invested less, spent less on research and development, and were linked to poor corporate governance.
By changing their policies around political spending, companies have an opportunity to set a higher standard in business, raising the bar for their competitors. At Target, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, 3M, and EQT, Responsible Wealth and its partners are calling for company directors to conduct a study examining the feasibility of adopting a no-spending policy. Chevron is being asked to completely desist from political giving. And at Starbucks, the request is for a complete end to political spending while also asking the company to refrain from establishing a political action committee, a vehicle for raising and spending money from employees and shareholders.
Responsible Wealth members Marnie Thompson & Stephen Johnson (Greensboro, NC) and RW Director Mike Lapham are currently in negotiations with Target executives and are pressing the company to be more transparent about its process and reasons for engaging in political giving. If Target changes its policy around political giving, it’s possible the bar will be raised for its competitors. Only time will tell, but for now, we’re keeping the pressure on.
CLICK HERE to see the full press release.
UFE's tenth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report, State of the Dream 2013: A Long Way From Home, outlines the state of the racial wealth divide in the U.S. and puts forward creative solutions for addressing persistent racial inequities.
Black and Latino families continue to have far less wealth than White families and have emerged from the Great Recession more indebted and less able than White families to face the economic challenges before them.
Housing, an integral piece of the increasingly elusive American Dream, has much to do with the hemmorhaging of wealth in communities of color. This report examines the link between housing and asset-building policies, the impacts of those policies on communities of color, and urges a targeted, goal-oriented policy approach that is guided by our shared values and principles.
Fifty years ago this year, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a vision for a future of equality for all people, regardless of race, in his "I Have a Dream" speech. He spent the final years of his life working with thousands of others to challenge economic inequality and racial injustice. Although their efforts made historic civil rights victories possible, much work remains to close the racial divide. We are, indeed, a long way from home.
Read the report today. Share it with your community. Start a conversation. Speak out and work together to make a new economy possible.
Our Popular Economics Education Team is hosting UFE's renowned Training of Trainers Institute in March 2013 near Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (details below). We invite organizers, activists, educators, students, and others across the U.S. who want to join and advance the movement for a just economy.
Transformative education—which includes reflection, thoughtful analysis, and learning from each other—is vital to the success of any movement for social and economic justice. In order to challenge the status quo, we first need to make sense of the roots of the Great Recession and, more broadly, the ways in which our economic system creates and perpetuates class, race, and gender inequality.
Working toward a shared understanding of how we got here and a shared vision for the future will help us to build a cross-race, cross-class movement for an equitable, democratic, and sustainable economy.
UFE's Training of Trainers Institute explores the causes and consequences of inequality and provides participants with tools to inform their communities and inspire political action.
Thursday, March 14 – Sunday, March 17, 2013
On-site check-in from 3:00–6:00 p.m. on March 14, 2013; The Institute ends at 1:30 p.m. after lunch on March 17.
Shady Lakes Ranch Conference Center
Cleburne, TX. Shady Lakes Ranch is 30 miles south of Fort Worth; one hour from the Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) airport. We will help to arrange low cost transportation to and from DFW.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE:
Jeannette Huezo and Steve Schnapp, UFE's Senior Education Coordinators, will train you in how to lead UFE-style popular economics education workshops that demystify the economy and creatively educate, inspire, and mobilize people to take political action.
It is right for you if you are:
- An organizer, leader, activist, teacher, or trainer engaged in campaigns for economic or social justice, or
- If you are seeking to improve your training and facilitation skills in order to more effectively present information and engage people in dialogue about the economy.
You will learn about:
- National economic trends, the rules and policies that contributed to the Great Recession & the jobless recovery;
- The impacts of economic policies in terms of race and gender;
- Some history about popular resistance to economic inequality in the U.S.;
- Strategies to advance economic recovery by closing the economic divides; and
- Principles and practices of popular education.
You will have opportunities to:
Work in small groups to plan and practice leading either UFE's or original popular economics education workshop activities;
- Receive constructive feedback on how to effectively present workshops and lead productive discussions on economic inequality;
- Discuss how to best adapt UFE's materials to your communities and constituents;
- Practice responding to challenging questions and difficult workshop situations; and
- Network, build solidarity and open doors for collaboration with others working for economic justice.
- Participants should arrive at the Conference Center on Thursday, March 14, between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.; program begins after dinner on Thursday and concludes after lunch on Sunday.
- Sessions will be conducted in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings.
- Breaks will be provided throughout the day to allow participants to reflect and network with other participants.
The program includes presentations of creative and engaging activities from UFE's workshops, including:
- The Growing Divide - The Roots of Economic Security
- Closing the Racial Wealth Divide
- Bankers, Brokers, Bubbles, and Bailouts
- Immigration and the Growing Divide
Space is limited and preference given to applicants who are able to attend the full Institute. Some materials, including a detailed agenda for the Institute and short readings will be sent to all registrants prior to the training to help participants prepare for the Institute.
Registration fee is $500, which includes the Institute fee, materials, meals, and room/board (double occupancy). Transportation is NOT included. However, We will help to arrange low cost transportation to and from the Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) airport.
We offer a reduced fee to organizations sending two or more participants.
Partial scholarship is available to participants from low-income communities and/or resource-limited organizations. If you require financial assistance to attend the Institute, you need to complete a scholarship request form after submitting this application and paying your deposit.
A minimum $25 deposit is required with your application. A payment of at least 50% of the fee must be paid two (2) weeks prior to the Institute. Payment in full is due one week before the start of the Institute.
For more information:
Contact Jeannette Huezo (firstname.lastname@example.org, 857-277-7881) or Steve Schnapp (email@example.com, 857-277-7868).
This fall, Responsible Wealth & United for a Fair Economy made the strategic decision to focus our efforts on promoting a stronger estate tax as part of the fiscal slope negotiations. We’ve been heavily involved in rolling back the Bush tax cuts since 2001, but we knew there would be lots of other groups on that bandwagon. We figured Responsible Wealth’s greatest value added would be to get a bunch of really prominent individuals to say we should have a stronger estate tax. So we did.
Together with signers like Warren Buffett, George Soros, President Carter, Bill Gates, Sr., Abigail Disney, and Richard Rockefeller, Responsible Wealth put a stake in the ground saying we should have a $4 million per couple estate tax exemption and a 45% rate, rising on the largest fortunes. That was considerably to the left of Obama’s proposal ($7 million; 45%) and far stronger than 2012 law ($10 million; 35%). Unless you’ve been backwoods skiing and just made it back to your iPhone, you already know that both the Senate and House passed legislation that extends the $10 million per couple estate tax exemption and raises the rate to 40%.
Here’s the good news:
- We still have an estate tax.
- We got part of what we wanted in the negotiations: a 40% rate is better than 35%.
- This is the first time the estate tax has been strengthened in 28 years.
- With your help, Responsible Wealth made the estate tax part of the fiscal cliff debate. Prior to our December 11 teleconference, there was almost NO discussion of the estate tax. In the past two weeks, almost EVERY story about the fiscal cliff tax debate mentioned the estate tax.
- The GOP was forced to tip their hand and expose who they’re really concerned about. They made it clear in the 11th hour negotiations that keeping the estate tax as weak as possible for wealthy families was their top priority.
- The estate tax was finally indexed to inflation. Some Democrats don’t like this, because it means we’re stuck (for the foreseeable future) with an overly high exemption. But indexing in and of itself makes sense. If the original estate tax had been indexed for inflation, we likely would never have faced the past 12 years of challenges to the law.
Here’s the not-so-good news:
- The $10 million per couple exemption is still unnecessarily high, and the 40% rate is too low.
- The estate tax was once again used as a bargaining chip in the negotiation (as in 2010). While the GOP is unified in their staunch opposition to the estate tax, Democrats are mixed. If you look at the socioeconomic level of Members of Congress, and who they are married to, and who gives them 95% of their financial support, it’s no surprise that there are mixed feelings.
- The estate tax discriminates against gay and lesbian partners, since the spousal exemption only applies to married couples by the federal definition of marriage. So only the individual exemption ($5.12 million) applies.
- The federal estate tax remains “de-linked” from state-level estate tax laws, meaning states cannot automatically get a credit on federal estate tax payments.
What’s ahead on the estate tax:
- This is not the last word by any means. Opponents like Jon Kyl will still push to weaken or completely repeal the estate tax as they have done repeatedly since 2000. Wealthy people in particular will need to continue to speak up in favor of a strong estate tax.
- We are continuing to gather signatures on our Responsible Estate Tax proposal. To date, over 1,200 people have joined the initial 36 signers since December 11, including 130 wealthy signers.
- Most of the revenue from the estate tax comes from having a higher rate (think: really large estates). We will push for a higher base rate than 40% AND progressive rates up to 55% on the largest estates.
- The exemption level is about fairness. A couple with $10 million in assets (among the wealthiest .15% in the country) should not be able to pass on those assets tax-free to the next generation. Anyone with that amount of wealth has benefited greatly from what our country has to offer. We’ll continue to push—with your help—for a lower exemption.
If you haven’t yet signed our Responsible Estate Tax proposal, please take a moment to do so today.
Amid all the post-election excitement, we also want to celebrate the amazing work of some of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (TFOC) partners and other contributors in the state progressive tax movement.
In New Hampshire, our allies prevented a constitutional amendment to ban the state’s income tax. This is a huge win, and it’s one that can be looked to by other states facing regressive policy initiatives. Much hard work is still to be done in the Granite State, but we’re optimistic. That a broad and diverse coalition was able to come together to stop this measure bodes well for positive change in New Hampshire.
Oregon also enjoyed two exciting victories. TFOC partner organizations Tax Fairness Oregon and Our Oregon worked hard to save the Oregon estate tax from repeal. They won a resounding victory for fairness, and ensured that hundreds of millions of dollars would continue to flow to vital services in the Beaver State. As well, measure 85, which eliminated the Corporate Kicker Tax passed with ease, and will allow for much needed revenue for Oregon’s public education system.
Since 2004, conservative activists, led by the corporate-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have tried with all their might to enact Taxpayer Bills of Rights (TABOR) measures in 30 states. Florida's TABOR, which would have limited public investment and revenue, while requiring a supermajority to override these limits, would have severely hamstrung the state's ability to fund vital services for Floridians. In state after state, voters have turned down this extreme measure, and this year, Floridians joined in that rejection! This was made possible by amazing organizing efforts, combined with voter education and mobilization to stop such a restrictive and economically harmful measure.
Here are a few things we can all take away from these inspiring election day triumphs:
- To achieve victory you have to educate, not just by telling the voters why they should be for or against a measure, but by also learning from them how these measure affect them and their communities.
- Organizing still works, even on the less-than-sexy matters of fiscal policy and ballot measures. Effective partnership-building contributed greatly to these successes. Don’t go it alone. We’re stronger and louder when we pool our resources and work together.
- There is still a tremendous amount of work required to establish fair, progressive tax structures in states across the country. While much of the focus over the next few months will be about federal taxes and budget issues, we can’t forget that the tax fairness movement has to continue at all levels of government.
These statewide election day victories can be models for what’s possible in your state and beyond. We congratulate all of those involved in those efforts and are excited to help keep building momentum for tax fairness and a more just and equitable economy.
In a CNN.com op-ed, Donna Brazile reminds us that race is still a factor in our country. A recent AP poll actually shows a rise in both anti-Black and anti-Latino attitudes. And indeed, the very same people who promote the idea of the United States as a post-racial society remain eager to exploit racial resentment for their own gain.
Brazile urges us to beware of snobbishly deceptive "dog-whistle" politics. With a little bit of active listening, you'll recognize "dog-whistling" as an underhanded compliment. Take former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu's recent comment about Gen. Colin Powell's support of a certain African American U.S. president.
"You have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or that he's got a slightly different reason for supporting President Obama...I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."
This crafty mash-up of words, to some, might sound innocuous, polite, even. But, the hidden signals — "You have to wonder..." or "somebody of your own race" — are merely the stubborn tars of racism, covered in the weightless feathers of empty accolade with, "I applaud Colin."
If you noticed the scum dripping from that statement, CONGRATS! You heard the dog whistle! Language, however, is but one of the ways racism manifests itself in our supposedly "post-racial" society.
Brazile looks to rapidly shifting U.S. demographics as one dimension of racial bias. She cites UFE's 2012 State of the Dream report (yay for us!), which explains that by 2030, the majority of those under 18 will be people of color. By 2042, non-Whites will comprise the majority of the U.S. population. Mix in the fact that 80% of retirees are White and own a significantly greater portion of the country's wealth than younger, minority communities, and you'll see what's essentially a racially-charged class war.
The more disturbing effects of modern-day racism are the social and economic deterioration. People of color are earning and building wealth reserves at alarmingly lower rates than their white counterparts. Predatory banking practices, cuts to public services, and voter disenfranchisement efforts are ravaging communities of color and further muffling their political voices. And, concentrated poverty turns poor communities into zones of social toxicity that are difficult to escape, especially for young people who know only that hopeless reality.
We can't expect to meaningfully address race and class inequities until we build a more cohesive national community. The sooner we accept not just our history of racial division but also the current racial divide, the sooner we can start working together to provide shared opportunity to all people.
Public policies are intended to be a reflection of a country’s values and priorities. In reality, tax and economic policy outcomes represent the wants of the financially enriched, not the needs of the bottom 99%.
The U.S. may be a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but wealthy, white males comprise the vast majority of our supposedly representative legislature. Nearly half of Congressional members are millionaires. In 2010, the median net worth of U.S. Senators and Representatives was $2.63 million and $756,765, respectively, compared to a median net worth of $66,740 for U.S. households.
On the other hand, two historically marginalized groups—women and people of color—are dramatically underrepresented at the policy tables. Women account for only 16.8% of Congress (27% of them are women of color). People of color represent only 15.1% of Congress, with only four seats in the Senate.
As such, the interests of the wealthy dominate public debates while policies of particular importance for women and communities of color struggle for acknowledgement, let alone forward movement. Deficit hysteria has prompted harmfully misguided cuts to the social safety net while maintaining unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, painting a frightening picture of who our elected officials actually serve.
Throughout the presidential campaign, many have the criticized candidates for being “out of touch” with the majority of Americans. It can be reasonably argued that, with a few exceptions, Congress is as well. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) points out that some legislators have been loyal advocates for the 99%, while others have not.
The report, “A Congressional Report Card for the 99%,” grades Senators and Representatives based on their voting histories on inequality-related Congressional actions. While the report’s focus is mainly on policies addressing economic inequality, it leaves room for a deeper analysis of the impacts of policies on persistent racial and gender disparities.
Nearly all of the 40 congressional actions evaluated by IPS—including bills related to taxes and the federal budget, jobs and wages, education, housing, poverty, and healthcare—have disproportionately affected communities of color and women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, would have helped to ensure equal pay for equal work. This measure would have been a boon for women, who still make 77¢ to every dollar a man makes. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Act. The oppositions’ main argument—that the bill would burden small businesses—is unfounded and yet another strike in the conservative war on women.
Another bill, the Half in Ten Act, aims to cut poverty in half in the next ten years. The poorest among us, who are disproportionately people of color, were experiencing economic hardship long before the Great Recession began. Blacks and Latinos respectively make up 27.6% and 25.3% of those in poverty and would benefit greatly by this effort. The bill has 68 co-sponsors but has yet to reach a vote in the House or the Senate. Unfortunately, as politically polarized as Congress has become, even the most sensible policies, like Half in Ten, struggle to gain traction.
Moving forward, we should push lawmakers to more carefully examine the impacts of policies on those hardest hit by inequality, like women and people of color. As citizens, we must all fight to make ours a more truly representative democracy, where the voices of those with the biggest bank accounts carry no more volume than those with the smallest.