I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014

I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014

An American dream that embraces the world but does not try to control it

An American dream that understands that soccer is more important than football

An American dream where all children are the most important

I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014

An American dream where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the 1%

An American dream where no one goes without a home

An American dream where food is as plentiful as we know it is

An American dream where food stamps are replaced with free food

An American dream where art is more important than national security

I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014

An American dream where all religions understand that faith is the belief in unseen existences

An American dream for all races and classes

An American dream where education is a right not a privilege

An American dream where the bountiful energy of our natural resources is available to all people

An American dream where we realize our interdependency

An American dream where we realize that the mother raising her child alone is the real hero

I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014

An American dream where the quality and availability of work is our measurement of a strong economy

I am hoping to find a new American dream in 2014 that understands the true meaning of

Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanza and the very craziest of second comings and first

comings…

Steve Honeyman

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Bridging the gap

Economic opportunity, a goal worth pursuing

The numbers are staggering.  Wealth,  defined as the assets in society, are controlled by a small part of the population both in the United States and the world. In our country, 20% of the people control 85% of the assets.

In the world, 1% controls 46% of the assets.

Income inequality in the United States is growing even faster. Between 1966 and 2011, the income of 90% of the population grew by a mere $59, adjusted for inflation, while the income of the top 10% during that same period grew by $116,071. Education inequality and wage inequality and lifespan inequality are all a piece of our economic landscape. Yes, rich people live 4.5 years longer than the rest of us.

It’s not that we don’t have enough resources. Lawrence Mishel, a labor economist and an old friend,  has been studying productivity and wages. Larry is the President of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. According to his work,  productivity has been growing in the U.S. since 1948. At first, wages and productivity grew together. Since 1973, productivity continued to grow by some 80% but wages have only grown by 10.7% for the median working family.

High wage earners have been getting an increasingly larger piece of the pie and more of the productivity resources have been going to wealth, according to Mishel.

What can we do? Solutions are not easy since we know that people often do not share power and money without demand and struggle.  But, such solutions are out there and include a ‘living’ minimum wage, good benefits, health care and pensions.  If unions were to have a resurgence, this would also enable the fight for the quality of jobs.

There is another small but significant success story to give us hope. Over 20 years ago, I did some consulting for Fair Share Housing in Mt Laurel, New Jersey. This was part of the effort to fight for the implementation of the Mt. Laurel Decision which calls for all counties in the state to share in meeting the affordable housing need.  This means mixed income communities.  In 2000, construction was completed on 140 affordable housing units in Mt Laurel, a wealthy suburban community just 15 miles from one of the poorest cities in the country, Camden.

Some 13 years later and the verdict is that the town and its wealthy residents were unaffected by the 140 families many of whom had incomes as low as $8,150.  In fact, the new families due to better schools and job opportunities saw great improvement in their economic lives.

Look, any public opinion poll clearly demonstrates that the great majority of America believes in the importance of bridging the gap and creating economic opportunity for all the people. It may be difficult for this to happen in a free market economy that is not really free and allows the distribution of wealth and income to go only to the very rich. Our CEOs in many companies make over 200 times the amount of the average worker. Concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty do not create a healthy society.

We must all be prophets for a new balance. And the old Buddhist saying, will be appropriate. “When the students is ready, a teacher will appear.”

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Government shutdown insane

Causing public and private pain

The direct and indirect impact of the ‘alleged partial’ federal government shutdown is staggering and devastating. I have been collecting stories and data. There is a chance that by the time you read this, the federal government will reopen for business. Please keep in mind that the pain caused by this exercise in political strategy should not be excused or forgotten.

Okay, let’s start with some of the impact on the neediest. It’s a value of Judeo-Christian and Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu and all faiths, I believe. The present U.S. population is approximately 316.2 million people. About 101 million people in our country receive some kind food assistance from the federal government. This includes Women, Infants, Children (WIC) 9 million, low-cost or no-cost free lunch program 32 million children, and the food stamp program at approximately 47 million people and direct food through what is known as the “cheese program.” Some percentage of these families are no longer receiving any food. It’s hard to tell how many. All the government websites that might have such data are shut down. Many working families rely on some of these programs before some of you begin stereotyping the poor.

Head Start, a program close to my heart, is not able to operate in some parts of the country although a philanthropist recently donated up to $10 million to keep the programs open. It is estimated that some 86,000 children will be shut out of their Head Start programs November 1 if this government chaos is not resolved!

My brother, a federal employee, has been furloughed along with 800,000 federal employees. Some 2 million federal workers may have been delayed their salaries.

The Center for Disease Control is halting the flu program. Don’t try to be healthy and prevent disease in your family.

Some veterans benefits have been curtailed and if you lose a loved one in one of our wars, you may not be able to afford to bury her or him.

The National Institute of Health has all but stopped along with putting to death some 300,000 lab mice involved in researching cures for diabetes, cancer, alzheimer’s and other diseases.

This represents only a small percentage of the public pain being inflicted on us by politics and the federal government. Most of our national parks are closed. Small business loans and mortgages are often not being processed if information is necessary from the government such as the IRS. Some safety operations of the Food and Drug Administration have stopped so be careful what you eat.

Please don’t try to call a federal agency. There is no one there to answer. A message comes on saying that due to the federal government shutdown, we are not here to take your calls.

You have heard about raising the government’s debt ceiling which might be the incentive to resolve the government shut down since this is something that impacts the markets and the rich.

On October 17, America will have $30 billion left in the bank. This is not enough to pay our bills so we need to borrow more money. Imagine, you are unable to pay your bills and you call up credit card companies requesting more money. It’s the same idea.

Of course, throughout all of this, Congress has continued to receive their salaries and live their comfortable lives. There is not much we can do short of overthrowing the government as Thomas Jefferson said is our responsibility or…

The Citizens of the United States versus the Federal Government, a class action lawsuit demanding a tax rebate for the pain inflicted on all of us or…

Agitate the rich and powerful! Vote them out of office.

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How do we measure up?

They are watching and listening

The trends in technology and corporatization are challenging all of humankind to fight for creativity, privacy and the freedom to be more than the sum of our parts.

We may be losing this war!

The recent uncovering of the extensive surveillance of our personal computer files has opened the door to our fears. Ironically, in opinion poll after opinion poll, the majority of Americans fear issues of security more than they fear issues of the loss of privacy. But, we may not understand the true nature of the new age of surveillance and information gathering.

A friend of mine said, “What do I care if they know everything I do?” Through our cell phones and our computers and the extensive digital and paper trail we leave through banks and taxes and credit cards, information about you and me is the most valuable commodity in our society. They know what we eat, what clothes we wear, our likes and our dislikes, our friends and our loves. They even know I am writing this column. They are evaluating and assessing and attempting to determine our decisions and outcomes before they happen. Their goal is nothing less than predicting our every move and measuring our chances of success in all aspects of our lives. This is in part an outgrowth of the more recent business culture of impacts and outcomes as promoted by the world of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Who is they, you might ask!  Verizon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, other social media and corporations interested in buying information for the purposes of selling their goods and services to you and me. Futurists predict a world with decreasing problems of war, poverty, misery and disease. Futurists also predict a world where mobility in terms of class is more difficult. Our ability to improve our lives will be totally based on access and use of technology.  As Janis Joplin sang, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” We may be losing our freedom and not even realizing it until it’s gone.

Remember the height charts in our homes to keep track of our children’s growth?  It was often in a doorway.  A pencil slash for Ann’s height at 4 and 6 and 8 and 10 and often ended before we reached our teen years.  A comparison with her brother Steve who was two years younger but by the age of 12 shot up as boys sometimes do. It was a nice way of following our children’s growth.

Today, technology and science can almost predict everything about our children and their future. Or have technology and science reached a level of sophistication where the measurements of impacts and outcomes actually play a role in creating our future?

Are we more than the sum of our measurements? Is there still room for the surprises of creativity and beauty and the natural wonders of the universe?  Can a young person born in poverty become the next Van Gogh or Rembrandt or Whitman even when the measurements predict otherwise?

I for one am betting on the power of the human spirit and the magic and the science of an amazing universe.

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Hello, Mr. President!

Is anyone home?

Have you ever tried to call the White House and leave a message? “Don’t invade Syria; when are you going to pass immigration reform; what’s for dinner?”

On Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, Rev. Sharline Fulton asked the summer congregation of  St. John’s- by-the-Sea in  Avalon, NJ to call the White House and express their opinions about the decision by the President to bomb Syria. I had the good fortune to be visiting with my friend Rev. David Funkhouser and hear the powerful sermon from Rev. Sharline about how pride can promote a sense of superiority and in this case, lead us down a path of violence and war.

After the worship message, I was having a conversation with Sharline and asked her if she actually had a phone number for the White House. Sharline, part Syrian, is a 79 year old semi- retired minister who has the energy and passion of a woman half her age. She pulled out her telephone book, you remember those before you kept your numbers in your cell, and showed me a number, 202-456-1111. I called the number. Even though it was Sunday, I assumed I could leave a message given our technological advances.

“Thank you for calling the White House Comment Line.  The office is now closed. Your comment is very important to The President so please call again between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm EST, Monday through Friday. For additional information about the White House,  please visit WWW.WHITEHOUSE.GOV and to share your thoughts click on the word “contact us” on the upper right hand corner of the page.” They also repeat the phone number several times telling you it is the direct number to the White House. Why do I need to be told it’s this several times? Why doesn’t the President have an answering machine? Or better yet, employ real people to answer the phone seven days a week. During the work hours described in the message, each administration has volunteers taking calls. Is the President only interested in hearing our comments during work hours or on the computer if you have access to the internet?

What if Dennis Rodman, former flamboyant basketball player for the Detroit Pistons, has a diplomatic breakthrough with the President of North Korea, Kim Jong Un and he wants to call President Obama for advice? Well, only privileged parties are privy to the “secret number” that reaches the President directly. And I suspect Rodman is not on that list.

Some of you might not remember President Rutherford B. Hayes. He wasn’t well known for much but in 1877 he installed the first telephone in the White House. The phone number was “1.” There was not a telephone in the Oval Office until President Herbert Hoover in 1929 and the problem with that system as it evolved was that anyone in the White House could listen to conversations with the President by pushing a button.

President Bill Clinton revamped the telephone system in 1993 creating a private line to the President. It’s not surprising that this particular president would want a private line.

There have been a number of times when the White House telephone lines have been jammed or overloaded by more calls than the system could handle. This usually takes place when there are catastrophic events, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or before a vote on controversial legislation such as the 2007 immigration overhaul bill or the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

For the sake of democracy, let’s hope that technology is a vehicle for communication and does not become an end in itself. Pick up the phone, Mr. President!

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Culture is the force of identity

Latino or Dominican or American


America is experiencing an identity crisis. It is not only the issue of immigration reform on the front burner but the cultural identity of our country. Finally, we might really embrace jalapenos as an American standard of cuisine.

Let’s be clear; like it or not, the United States is changing. The numbers don’t lie. But more importantly it is our culture that reveals who we are becoming. In every community from the city to the suburbs, you see it and you feel it and you taste it.

Culture is defined as the language, social habits, beliefs, food, music and the arts of a particular group of people. It is also the values and behaviors and ways of living of a community. Dominant culture always resists change and tries to assimilate the new arrivals first through language and second by not allowing for the preservation of their community beliefs and standards..

American “white bread” is losing the war to tortilla chips and salsa. The United States was built on a foundation of immigrants but resisted the primarily white European cultures from becoming a dominant force, the closest exception being Britain. But, how could we attach ourselves only to our former colonial power? Subjugation and exploitation has been the primary vehicle to preserve a dominant culture. As we brought black slaves from Africa to the United States, the strategy of destroying their culture became a way of control. Nothing to fear from them because they were less than human and considered property.

The next challenge to the dominant culture came in the late 1800s and early 1900s when millions arrived on our shores from Italy to Ireland to Germany to Russia and many other countries through Ellis Island. This wave of immigrants fought to retain their culture and while having an impact did not radically change the American way of life.

More recently, the millions of immigrants from countries in Latin and Central America and Asia are making a more powerful challenge to our dominant culture than ever before. In every corner of every community, the fight for a diversity of cultures to be preserved is ongoing. The ultimate foundation of control is in the language. When you begin to see this challenged, you know that assimilation is not as effective as it has been in the past. When a local Philadelphia cheese steak business refused to take orders from people unless they spoke English and posted signs English only, when states pass English as the official language, you know that the dominant culture is feeling threatened.

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Save the children

Save the world

As we head toward another school year, Philadelphia public schools may not open on time because of a lack of money.  Allentown as well as Philadelphia has laid off hundreds of teachers and other public school staff due to insufficient funds.

When it comes to our children’s education, we just check the box. It’s time to look, think and act outside the box. I want to suggest that we focus on pedagogy, the science and art of education or how we learn and how we teach! Of course, we then must look at the real costs of educating a child.

Special needs children come with many different strengths and challenges. Some have physical and/or learning issues. Others who are labeled as “developmentally delayed” are often identified with very low expectations. My niece Rebecca is now a special needs adult and developmentally delayed.  Over the years, as I have communicated with her and looked into her eyes, I have seen a certain sense of understanding that I do not believe all of her teachers realized or took the time to nurture and develop.

During my years as a community organizer and as a consultant to non-profits, I have had the opportunity to work with out of school youth and with young people who are considered mentally gifted and with young people just making it in our public school system and everyone in between. There are some common ways all young people learn. There are some unique learning characteristics for each of our children. We need the public will to understand the spectrum of learning and the capacity to adapt how we teach.

Every school year the focus is “structural reform.” Centralization and decentralization and school committees and regions and strategic partnerships and magnet schools and charter schools. It is time our politicians and education leaders engage in a public conversation centering on pedagogy. Teaching and learning should lead the way not structural reform.

Now let’s talk about money. If we are really committed to providing the best education  possible to every child, what would it mean? Here is our present reality. In Allentown, we spend a little over $6,000 per child annually on education, one of the lowest in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, e spend a little over $14,000.  In some of the suburbs of Philadelphia, we spend over $24,000 per child. The formula is always based on property taxes. It should be based on the real costs of educating each child. This would mean a dedicated funding stream from all levels of government. We would all have to abide by a “costing out study” which should be driven by a public conversation on pedagogy.

I know people will say this can never happen in our economic and political system. Many people said the same thing at one time about child labor laws and  voting rights and health care.  We must have a vision for our children. Gil Scott Heron, a great musician and artist, wrote and sang “Save the children.”

“We got to do something to save the children. Soon it will be there turn to try and save the world.”

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Stand your ground, Trayvon

Your spirit is in our hands

Trayvon Martin was killed because George Zimmerman had a gun in his hands. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, spoke in Philadelphia at a meeting of the National Urban League on Friday, July 26. Fulton asked the crowd of over 2,000, “to use my story, to use my tragedy, to use my broken heart, to never let this happen again to anyone else’s child.”

“No prom for Trayvon, no high school graduation for Trayvon, no college for Trayvon,” she said. But, what we do will define Trayvon’s legacy.

As a white writer and organizer who works in the African-American community, I sent an email to ten friends and colleagues soliciting their opinions about the George Zimmerman verdict. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on July 13. I sent the communication to 4 African-Americans, 3 Hispanics and 3 whites. Far from this being a scientific poll, only 3 African-Americans responded. One white person had some comments but wanted them to be kept private. This is not a good indication of the urgency of our willingness to examine our hearts and souls.

“My immediate reactions to the Zimmerman verdict were outrage, sorrow and disappointment. But, I was not surprised. As a black man who has seen how this nation has demonized our black boys in its media coverage, its literature and its pop culture, I had hoped that the facts of the Trayvon case (Trayvon was unarmed, Zimmerman was told not to follow, Zimmerman was not a policeman, Zimmerman got out of his car to continue to pursue Trayvon, etc., etc., etc.) would outweigh the racist depiction of this innocent boy. I had hoped that the maternal instincts of the 6 women on the jury would allow them to empathize with Trayvon’s mother in the loss of her child. But no, once again we are reminded that it just doesn’t work like that for black folks. Immediately after verdict, I rushed to be with my two grandsons, 11 years old and 7 years old, to hug and kiss them and let them know again that their glistening black skin was a blessing from the Lord, evidence of a proud and glorious history. They both told me, “We know pop pop.”
- James Randolph, retired Deputy Commissioner of the Phila. Department of Human Services

Our country is supposedly based on the rule of law not the rule of an individual. But individuals wrote this Florida stand your ground law where the interpretation of a dangerous situation is so broad that a 17 year old boy without a gun can be legally murdered.

“A clear example of the how a law can lead to injustice. How can it be justice if an adult with a weapon pursues a teenager doing nothing more than walking home. He kills the teenager and there is not a murder committed? Going after someone while carrying a weapon is all you should need to know!”
- Bernard H. Fisher, accountant in Delaware

We are challenged to write laws that create a more just society. But, it will take more than good laws to ensure that tragedies like Trayvon never happen again.

“This incident represents an opportunity for Americans to reexamine their true feelings about class and race in America. I feel certain that despite that fact he is part Hispanic, George Zimmerman may have felt the same way about a Mexican in his community. The current prejudice in America is not just about race but also about class. In this gated community, I am sure that Mr. Zimmerman felt there are those who neither had the right or privilege to live there.”
- Dolores Shaw, community leader

We must change our heads and our hearts. As Trayvon’s mom Sabrina said, “Trayvon was my son. But, Trayvon is also your son.”

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Change only comes with demand

Hope, tension, resistance and struggle are key

How often have you found changing something in your life to be difficult or impossible? And before you can even want personal change, there must be some level of admission that you are responsible for your present reality. You then need to have hope for something better and be willing to demand change in yourself.  To accept that tension and resistance and struggle are essential components of change.

I experienced all of these stages when I stopped smoking some 13 years ago or in my never-ending battle to live a healthier life, and still have fun. These stages of change are true for our personal lives and also true in communities and our country and the world. It is all a part of the physical laws of the universe. You try to move a heavy object and you feel the resistance in your body. You try to change a way of doing or being in your life and you feel resistance, sometimes in the form of fear, in your head and your heart. You try to change government to care about children or treat people with disabilities with support and respect and you encounter resistance.

The key is an understanding, an appreciation of power in your personal life as well as in the public and private sectors of our communities. Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist and Leader, says it best..

“Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those who they oppress.” In our personal lives, we are often our own tyrants. In our communities, the tyrants can be government or business or those who promote only ego or greed.

In a recent campaign for early childhood education in Philadelphia, the resistance came in the form of a claim that there were no resources available. The Philadelphia School District chose to save money on the backs of our youngest children.  The resistance came from city government recognizing the importance of quality, early childhood education and but not being willing to put their actions behind their words. The resistance came from the egos of those who were more worried about who would get credit. But, once the community group promoting this change made their demands known, the process of shifting power began. It was not easy; it never is. People wanted to give up. At first, city government said no. But, as the demand grew, change was on the horizon.

And so it is in fighting for better housing, in pushing for immigration reform, in trying to win more resources for public education, in making sure we eliminate hunger, in really bridging the digital divide. Past, present and future struggles always, are one in the same. Again, Frederick Douglass is most eloquent…

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”

Struggle for personal change and public change begins with hope and demand.

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The wrong people are saving America

Our social and economic needs can only be addressed by affected communities

A new community of wealthy individuals now identifying themselves as “social innovators” have decided to be the saviors of America. Many are looking for meaning in their lives or a challenge after making millions of dollars or more through start-up tech companies or hedge funds. Their heroes are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Privatization has also taken on the role of America’s savior moving in to communities and countries after catastrophic events or circumstances. One of the best known examples is New Orleans after Katrina. Before the devastating hurricane, New Orleans was 70% Black and 30% White. Today, it is 70% White and 30% Black and Latino. Most low income families could not afford to return to their homes.

What is wrong with the wealthy and the politically influential 1% as the saviors of America? The definition of social innovation is the development of new ideas and strategies that can address social needs from working conditions to education to health and other areas in our communities and country. Should we really care who finds solutions to these issues?

Yes! The forces which reshaped New Orleans created a new community in their own image. If we allow only the 1% to lead us out of the abyss, they will be the only face of America and economic inequality will continue to grow.

If added value in our economy is partially measured by the creation of jobs, let’s look at Google and Home Depot. Google has $74 billion in assets and 23,714 employees. Interns make $6,000 a month, all professionals! Home Depot with $41 billion in assets has 340,000 employees and a diversity of working class and professional employment opportunities. But, it is Google who has positioned itself as a new savior.

Now, all of this has been moving in this direction for some time. In the 1987 film “Wall Street” Michael Douglas playing the fictional business character Gordon Gecho says, “I create nothing. I own. We make the rules. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip… Money isn’t lost or made it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.”

In the 1950s and 1960s and earlier, companies were often run by people who had been part of the development of the product, engineers and inventors and those who worked their way up. Today, most companies are run by lawyers and accountants and money managers. They are focused on short term profits and not long term sustainability. They care little about job creation. Decades ago when a company had to layoff large numbers of employees, their stock plummeted. Today, downsizing often results in the increase in the value of a company’s stock.

We need to be the saviors of America! A new populist movement is called for that focuses on creating economic democracy by challenging economic inequality. We must fight for job creation and job training and an educational system that believes it can work for all children.

It’s time to reclaim America starting with small steps in our communities. This is not about being against government or the private sector. It is about accountability and balance. It’s about fighting for resources for our schools. It’s about building mixed income communities and protecting our environment.

What are the issues impacting your family and neighborhood? Do you know others who share those concerns? Invite them over to your house for a conversation. This is a call to action and there is nothing less at stake than the future of our families and communities and country. “The first revolution is internal,” Ghandi said. It all begins with you and me.

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