What role do nonprofits play in protecting the gains of the 20th century?
I’m pretty convinced everything can be explained by referring to the Star Wars movies — and let’s be clear, I’m talking about the original movies, and yes, I am dating myself.
If you remember, the first episode was called “A New Hope” — when a ragtag band of misfits dethroned an empire. Let’s call that the period leading up through the inauguration of our first African American president. There was immense optimism everywhere that perhaps we would at long last find a path out of the darkness, on issues from poverty to immigration to the U.S. role in the world.
(And we shouldn’t forget: we actually did win some historic breakthroughs — health care, stimulus, DADT, a very long list.)
But all things considered we now seem to be stuck in the second movie of the Star Wars triology: “The Empire Strikes Back.”
What we face can be summed up pretty easily: a concerted, systematic, well-funded, strategic effort to roll back the 20th century. Just to point out a few elements of this attack:
- Attacks on the safety net from Medicaid to Medicare to Social Security
- Budget cuts to services
- Voter ID laws that would make it harder for young people, our elders and communities of color to vote
- Attacks on unions and collective bargaining that helped to build a middle class
- Viscious anti-immigrant laws that would punish people who renew the American Dream and make this country unique
Working in communities we see everyday, the enormous suffering that our people are bearing under the weight of unemployment, foreclosures and declining income and wages. And there is a sense of deep disappointment — in our political system, in our leaders, in the future of the American economy and the American Dream.
The Idea of America
These are dire threats to the very idea of America.
What are we to do? I recommend a certain creative schizophrenia: a short-run and a long-run perspective.
In the short run, we need to advocate on the budget. We need to work with the Obama administration on immigration. We need to raise the voices of the people most affected. And we need to sharpen the role of community-based nonprofits in doing all of these things. In addition, we need to work on elections.
The long run is more complex. We won’t be saved by any political party or by the President. We will only be saved by a broad and deep social movement in this country that rouses millions of people to participate in their democracy.
Victories of the 20th Century
We won the 20th century. Reflect:
- Regulation of big corporations
- Protection of consumers
- Environmental protections
- Workers rights
- Social safety net created in the New Deal
- Gains in women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights
The defining changes of the 20th century were brought about by movements of ordinary people taking history into their own hands and calling forth inspired leadership.
What role can community-based nonprofits play in building such a movement today?
Our message must be that the American Dream is fading. Greedy corporations and the politicians they own are squeezing the vitality out of it.
To restore the Dream, Americans of every stripe will gather in 1,000 house meetings across the country on July 16 and 17 to create a new movement for a vibrant economy that works for everyone. These meetings — sponsored by the Center for Community Change — will be the first step in fostering a democratic, grassroots campaign to return America to its moral center and true patriotic roots.
At the core of this movement will be an unrelenting focus on creating good new jobs. American workers will develop an agenda for job creation that will truly transform America.
To host a meeting or find one near you visit Change Nation at www.JoinChangeNation.org.
We ask a lot of commuity nonprofits: organizational sustainability, direct services, responding to the policy crisis of the day, and now: movement building.
We can do this. There is something happening in America again. The Return of the Jedi is closer than it appears.
About the Author
Deepak Bhargava is executive director of the Center for Community Change, a national nonprofit organizing low income communities, supporting grassroots groups and community organizations for social justice.
He has written in the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Post, and has testified before Congress more than 20 times. Glen Beck has said about him that “people should be scared.”
This article is adapted from a speech he gave to the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD).
Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.