Monday, April 6, 2009

Out of the Crisis: Building a new era of justice and peace


Welcome to everyone in Winston Unity Center and to everybody on line.

We are living in very turbulent times. The world is in transition. An old era — an era of neoliberalism, financialization and rightwing extremism — is fading away and a new era is being born.

But no one is quite sure what the new era will look like. It resists easy prediction. It is safe to say that the future of both our country and the world is still to be written.

As bad as things have been over the last three decades, few thought they could get much worse. But they have. Depression economics has entered our vocabulary not simply as a historical event, but as a lived experience for millions.

Only a short time ago most economists said the economic cycle had been tamed. In 2004, in a speech titled “The Great Moderation,” Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke said we live in an era in which macroeconomic instability has been eliminated.

Fast forward five years and the Great Moderation has turned into the Great Crisis. That which few thought would ever happen again has happened again, and without much warning.

The social fabric is rupturing. The terrain on which billions of people earn a living and raise their families feels foreign, even unrecognizable. Haven’t you heard more than one person say, “Is this the country I grew up in?”

Much the same is happening across the planet as billions try to adapt and give meaning to gut-wrenching shocks.

And yet while old certainties and markers are melting away and while no one really knows what tomorrow will bring, hundreds of millions of people haven’t given up on the future. As ominous as this moment feels, it is also a time when the parameters of the possible have expanded geometrically.

I hear warnings about a future of rightwing authoritarian regimes and even fascism. No one should rule out such scenarios, but in my view the arc of history is bending more towards justice and peace, towards respect for each other and the earth.

A future worthy of humankind is possible. Is there any reason to think that millions in motion can’t transform this country and world into the just, green, sustainable and peaceful “Promised Land” that Martin Luther King dreamed of? It would be a profound mistake to underestimate the progressive and socialist potential of this era. The American people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity within their reach.

It will take, of course, new ideas and energy, practical activity, and arms that reach across the divides of race, gender, sexual preference, income, border, oceans, religions and generations.

And, above all, it will take united action. Broad objective forces and challenges will shape our future, but human actions and choices will decide humankind’s fate.

Had the elections turned out differently, I might be less hopeful and enthusiastic. But because of the outcome, a friend of labor and its allies sits in the White House and enjoys high approval ratings. Larger Democratic majorities control Congress. A feeling of renewal and hope is in the air. And after a short holiday pause, the labor and people’s movement that was so instrumental to the election’s outcome is getting in gear – albeit not yet at full throttle, but more about this later.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is on the defensive, its grassroots constituency is dispirited, and its governing philosophy is discredited.

for complete speech

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