The American dream, a shining ideal that has served as a beacon of hope for so many for so long, is floundering.
25 million Americans cannot find full-time employment. One out of six people are living in poverty, people’s rights are being threatened, and corporate influence has pervaded our most basic institutions. Yet all this can be changed if Americans fight now.
This idea was keenly expressed Wednesday night during Rosalyn Woodward Pelles’ lecture, “Fighting for the American Dream.”
Pelles, who is the director of the Civil, Human and Women’s Right Department at the national AFL-CIO as well as chair of the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center, spoke to UT students, faculty members and activists about current issues that threaten the ideals which have become synonymous with the American spirit.
“I believe that what America saw in the 1930s is once again the reality we face today — the erosion of America’s promise, and therefore the denial of the American dream,” Pelles said.
Pelles, who has bent her life’s work around the organizing of workers’ and civil rights, sees the current treatment of America’s working class as one such eroding factor.
“Today we are experiencing a great economic crisis that is stacked on the backs of working people while the rich continue to make profits,” Pelles said. “Right now in this crisis, millions are out of work and the official unemployment hovers just above 9 percent. The national rate is probably closer to 16 percent, which includes those who have given up and are no longer looking for work.”
This is in stark contrast to the current financial state of America’s elite.
“CEOs are making 343 times what the average worker makes,” Pelles said. “We’ve also watched as the folks who created this crisis got a bailout — we cannot even get a handout.”
Pelles added that these bailouts have “left the rich and created hardships for the rest of us.”
“Those who received bailouts did not put the profits back into our economy,” Pelles said. “They did not create jobs. Instead they sit on their money and seek ways to make more money, even in this climate. They’re happy being the one percent while the rest of us suffer.”
Still more factors that presently threaten the livelihood of the American dream include new laws that promise to make voting more difficult, the unfair treatment and elimination of public sector workers, and a tremendous rise in hate speech and violence across the country. Pelles stated that if we are to see these negative influences eradicated from our country, America’s youth must immerse themselves in the fight for their rights.
Elandria Williams, Pelles’ colleague at the Highlander Research and Education Center and one-time UT student, found herself agreeing with Pelles’ points.
“I think there’s so much that we, especially as young people, have to think about as we move forward,” Williams said. “We have to ask what direction do we want our country to go in and how can we get there?”
Pelles pointed to participation in the Occupy movement as an excellent example of how students can get involved in moving America in the right direction.
“I am so encouraged by the Occupy movement,” Pelles said. “It has raised the level of consciousness and zeroed in on what the issues are so that people are no longer being fooled. It’s really causing people to go back, rethink things and look at our system in a very different way.”
Jayanni Webster, a senior in the College Scholars program and attendee of the lecture, seconded Pelles’ praise of the movement. Webster encourages students to get involved with the Occupy crusade on campus.
“Students can come to our general assemblies which take place every Wednesday night at 6 p.m.,” Webster said. “We meet at the HSS Amphitheater and then move to an apartment space from there. The meetings are very participatory with the dialogue and formation of ideas.”
Students and faculty can also join Occupy UT’s Facebook group or email for more information.
“This is really a chance for people’s voices to be heard,” Webster added.
In Pelles’ opinion, chances and movements like these are absolutely imperative to the preservation of the American dream.
“We must close ranks and fight together across movements, across lines of race and gender, because no one can do it alone these days,” Pelles said. “Together we have to make sure that America keeps its promise. Then we can once again talk about the American dream.”