Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones, recently published by Nation Books. In Rebuild the Dream, the former Obama White House advisor explains how the "hope" bubble burst—and how the American Dream can be recaptured and renewed. For more information go to www.rebuildthedream.com or www.nationbooks.org
This spring 2012 will mark the long-awaited re-emergence of the 99 percent movement. With Occupy as its spearhead, this movement of everyday people remains the most promising development in American politics.
And yet the very framework of the 99 percent requires some clarification and moral nuance. A movement that defines itself as the 99 percent against the 1 percent probably cannot succeed in America. But a movement that defines itself as the 99 percent for the 100 percent cannot fail.
The 99 Percent for the 1 Percent
The “99 percent versus the 1 percent” argument falls short in a lot of ways. The vast majority of Americans do not oppose their fellow Americans, simply because they are rich. To the contrary: more than perhaps any other people on this Earth, Americans admire success. What we detest is greed. We like economic winners; we hate economic cheaters. We cheer economic innovation; we despise financial manipulation. Like most people, I don’t hate rich people who buy yachts. (The workers who build those yachts are happy.) We don’t mind when wealthy Americans buy expensive toys; we do mind when they try to buy governors and Congresspeople.
There is a reason that both the right and left love Steve Jobs (for all his flaws) and hate Bernie Madoff. There is a reason that the original Occupiers claimed the space at Wall Street, not Silicon Valley. Even they love successful entrepreneurs who create sleek and useful products.
Within limits, Americans like the risks and rewards that come with living in a market economy; we don’t mind having winners and losers, but we go ballistic when anyone tries to rig the game. If some of today’s super-wealthy outrage us—it is not because of their material success. It is because of their moral failings.
Furthermore, we expect everyone in America—the 100 percent—to do their best, to be good neighbors and to contribute to the success of our country. In return for enjoying the support of the greatest nation on Earth, we expect those who do well in America to do well by America. We expect them to pay fair taxes, create good jobs here at home, to give something back to this country. In a crisis (like the present one), we expect everyone to pitch in and do her fair share. Those who live up to these duties and expectations have always held a place of honor in our society. Americans always stand with those wealthy patriots who stand with us.
Setting our movement “against” the 1 percent has a logical and a moral limit—there’s always a top 1 percent to be against. Take down the present top 1 percent, and there’s another 1 percent just below them. The real enemy is not the wealthy, but the corrupt. The real enemy is not the 1 percent, but rather those who stand with only the 1 percent and against the rest of us. And many of the 1 percent are on our side. Like Warren Buffett, there are many patriotic millionaires who think that corporations and the wealthy should be paying their fair share and the financial sector should be better regulated instead of rigged against the average investor. There’s no need for us to set ourselves against people who actually agree with us.