Find a protest near you.

by Harry on February 26, 2011




yeliabmit 02.26.11 at 6:10 pm

Isn’t the American Dream actually the dream to become one of the “very rich” who the Republicans represent? It certainly seems to be the stated goal in popular expressions of the Dream.

Why would a rally which seeks to undermine the interests of the very rich be supported by American Dreamers? If this is a rally meant to express solidarity with the working class of Wisconsin, referencing the American Dream seems like a rather big error in messaging.


Harry 02.26.11 at 6:13 pm

I didn’t choose the name! And I don’t like it either. But the phrase was recently explained to me very differently, as referring to the idea of having a good family wage, owning a home in a stable community, etc — a sort of high-level-of-sufficiency threshold. So I don’t know (I’d always understood it your way).


e 02.26.11 at 6:38 pm

First, the american dream, is a concept worth fighting for. There are deep strands of solidarity, justice and workers rights in the american tradition too. Give voice to that american dream. No key evaluative concept should be only handed over to the right. They talk of freedom but the left are the real defenders of real freedom for all (in contrast to only the formal freedom)

Second, even the rights version of the american dream often includes the idea of everyone having a shot at success. That requires a basic structure with robust protection for for working class families.


yeliabmit 02.26.11 at 6:50 pm

So the American Dream is really the Dream of Economic and Political Democracy. Who knew? We want the American Dream here in Canada as well, if that’s the case.


praisegod barebones 02.26.11 at 6:57 pm

See, that’s what I think of as the Canadian Dream.


bianca steele 02.26.11 at 7:06 pm

It may have something to do with what used to be called “an American wage”?


Harriet Baber 02.26.11 at 7:18 pm

I thought the American Dream was simply a matter of not having your back to the wall–being safe from a situation in which you simply cannot better yourself whatever you do, where your only option other than boring, dead-end work at poverty wages is begging at the local freeway entrance. But then, I’m just a satisficer. I’d be perfectly happy with this.


Christopher Phelps 02.26.11 at 7:37 pm

It’s more like an American Nightmare these days:


Walt 02.26.11 at 8:09 pm

I’m a believer in the Great Samoan Dream, myself.


engels 02.26.11 at 8:35 pm

I always thought the American dream meant that anybody could ‘make it’. I don’t know exactly what this means but I would have thought it involved a bit more than being lower-middle class, which is what Harry’s #2 seems to amount to.


engels 02.26.11 at 8:44 pm

(I can see that having a ‘good’ job and owning your own home in the ‘burbs is an important American ideal, but I would never thought of it as being The Dream.)


Ben Alpers 02.26.11 at 9:12 pm

I went to our little gathering of the usual Sooner State progressive suspects in OKC today. I only hope there’s some follow up to all this. Hint: nitpicking about the meaning of “the American Dream” is not a viable tactic. Claim it, own it, use it, I say!


Russell Arben Fox 02.26.11 at 10:03 pm


I always thought the American dream meant that anybody could ‘make it’. I don’t know exactly what this means but I would have thought it involved a bit more than being lower-middle class, which is what Harry’s #2 seems to amount to.

Harry’s #2–“having a good family wage, owning a home in a stable community”–is being “lower-middle class”? Would that everyone could be lower-middle class then! That’s the Laschian dream.


Cian 02.26.11 at 10:25 pm

”having a good family wage, owning a home in a stable community”

I think if the left positioned everything around that, they’d do a lot better. Own the reasonable American dream. Attack the Conservative nightmare.


joe koss 02.26.11 at 11:19 pm

Just got back from the rally in Oklahoma City. I wore my red 10 year old UW sweatshirt that I got my freshman year and my red UW hat. The MoveOn organizer saw my outfit, asked my about m story, then proceeded to shove the microphone in my face to talk. I can’t exactly remember what I said (having never been in that position before, it was strangely exhilarating and easy to talk without thinking), but it seemed to fire the crowd up (I will though be embarrassed to find out if any of it makes its way to the internet).

I would estimate there were a couple hundred people there, a contingent of Teamsters, teachers and other public sector workers, families, and students. It made me feel proud to know that what has started in Madison is waking up a movement across the nation.

On Wisconsin. Forward!


Harry 02.26.11 at 11:31 pm

Police are saying that today’s rally in Madison was the size of last Saturday’s. Many tens of thousands. Bloody cold and snowing but that doesn’t seem to bother people here. The more obnoxious signs (comparing with Hitler etc) seem to have diminished in number mercifully. I watched (but didn’t join in) tens of thousands singing the national anthem with hands on hearts.

In the local grocery store nearly everyone had union/MTI/Fab 14 buttons on, except the checkout clerkes, all of whom were eager to hear all about the rally. I bumped into an old lefty friend and we agreed that it’s like being in an alternative universe.

I’m proud of you, Joe.


engels 02.26.11 at 11:41 pm

Would that everyone could be lower-middle class then!

Russell, you can would this as much you as you wish but please don’t delude yourself that doing so either makes it attractive to some of us or — fortunately — remotely possible.


Ben Alpers 02.27.11 at 12:00 am

I can report that Joe Koss did both his home and adoptive states proud at the OKC rally.


joe koss 02.27.11 at 12:40 am

Thanks Harry and Ben.

But, oh man, you were there Ben? Did I meet you? Now I am really starting to feel embarrassed. I am normally reserved and on the shy, contemplative side of things.


John Protevi 02.27.11 at 12:52 am

About 150 of us in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Almost everyone had on red or red and white. A good time was had by all.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Scott Walker has go to go!” was followed by “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bobby Jindal has got to go!”

We also pointed to the Capitol Building and yelled: “Whose house? Our house!”

We asked the cops to come join us, but they stayed put up by the door to the building.


politicalfootball 02.27.11 at 2:05 am

Huh. yeliabmit’s definition of “American Dream” is very much at odds with my understanding of the concept. This Wikipedia article explains:

The ethos today simply indicates the ability, through participation in the society and economy, for everyone to achieve prosperity.

I think it says something about the right-wing propaganda ascendancy that there seems to be a general acceptance here of yeliabmit’s definition. I guarantee you that this wasn’t how the phrase was used when I was a kid. In fact, what supposedly makes the dream “American” was its egalitarian nature – the lack of an aristocracy.


Russell Arben Fox 02.27.11 at 2:06 am

I was home on childcare duty with the two youngest while Melissa was with the older girls volunteering at the Human Society. But my friends in the DSA and YSA tell me there perhaps 600 people at Topeka…which, if true, is simply fantastic. I hope it is. I’ll probably post photos once I get them.

Engels, what’s your beef with “a good family wage” and “owning a home in a stable community”? Not appealing enough? Or am I misunderstanding you?


yeliabmit 02.27.11 at 4:09 am

Didn’t George Carlin say “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it?” I find it hard to believe that anyone who’s paying attention to think that it’s possible, under the system in place in America, for everyone to have “the ability, through participation in the society and economy, for everyone to achieve prosperity.” Everyone? Everyone means… well, everyone, doesn’t it? Sharecroppers, migrant labourers, inner city youth and single parents are part of everyone. When has the actual operation of the US economy ever been structured so as to ensure everyone could achieve prosperity?

I hate to say it, because I know how much Americans despise the word, but definition sounds more like socialism, son!

Anyway, I agree with Ben Alpers’ point at 12 — maybe it’s time to repurpose the term. Dreams can change, after all. The US certainly needs to start dreaming about something else pretty soon.


yeliabmit 02.27.11 at 4:27 am

Yeesh. I should hire a proofreader.


Ben Alpers 02.27.11 at 6:23 am

But, oh man, you were there Ben? Did I meet you?

I was there, but I didn’t meet you. I was in the crowd. Like a lot of folks there, I was wearing an OU sweatshirt. I was the only guy in an Oakland Oaks cap, however (no significance to that, other than the fact that I’m an East Bay native … I just happened to grab it on the way out the door).


a.y. mous 02.27.11 at 7:44 am

Good luck with the protesting. It’s been a long time since Americans saw some collective action at home. Don’t know much about the Walker guy, but I agree with #20. Jindal’s got to go. There’s even talk of him pitching for a 2012 nomination. Heavens forbid!

Regarding the great American Dream, I’m reminded of that wondrous turn of phrase whose lyrical exposition is only surpassed by its normative and denominative validity

I`ve got an average house,
With a nice hardwood floor.
My wife, and my job, my kids, and my car,
My feet on the table,
With a Cuban cigar.

I shall leave it as an exercise for you to expand the elisions.


bread and roses 02.27.11 at 7:45 am

There were about 2500 people in Olympia today- so one of the speakers said.

My favorite sign: Everybody does better when everybody does better.

It was a good day.


Christopher Phelps 02.27.11 at 8:11 am

It seems to me that the American Dream was always one of limitless opportunity that did not imply wealth, necessarily, but did imply the potentiality for upward mobility. And the point was not one it would accrue to everyone but that it could accrue to anyone. This was always tied to the Protestant work ethic and the perceived connection between hard, honest work and attainment of material advantages if not bounty.

What has happened since the 1970s–see Barbara Koppel’s old Academy Award winning documentary on the 1986 strike at Hormel in Ausin, Minnesota, American Dream–is a downward mobility and fear of falling that has most people in the mid-range of income, which includes many white-collar workers, with the sensation that their kids will be worse off than they were rather than better off.

This curdling of the dream actually explains a lot of Tea Party activity. It’s whites who are most likely to believe the dream no longer exists for them, whereas blacks tend to believe in the age of Obama that the dream is increasingly open to them. There is evidence that the worst-off groups in the society are most likely to believe in the American Dream, which explains why it took hold as a concept in the Great Depression. This wouldn’t make sense if you think of it as a description of reality but makes complete sense if you think of it as an aspiration, one that does account for why some individuals advance well beyond their parents’ level of income and wealth, something more noticeable, most likely, among the disadvantaged than other groups where gains tend to be experienced as marginal more than qualitative.

It is the upper and lower middle classes (which others might see as the broadly defined working class) tha in our new Gilded Age are most likely to feel precarious, most likely to feel like things are going South, and most likely to feel that opportunities are constricting. Unfortunately they tend to take out their animus on government (which they perceive as a constraint on advancement directly felt in taxes) and those below, in part because the corporate or executive class is now at such a remove of privilege that it is much less visible in daily experience.


Christopher Phelps 02.27.11 at 8:12 am

Whoops, all that stuff after Koppel’s film’s title wasn’t supposed to be ital. I shouldn’t even try the formatting.


Christopher Phelps 02.27.11 at 8:13 am

PS Regarding the white-black difference I’m not just making this up — there was a very striking Washington Post poll on this recently.


Salient 02.27.11 at 4:58 pm

Well that was fun.

Christopher Phelps’ interpretation sounds right to me, with one minor tweak: upwards mobility was envisioned as intergenerational. The less-romanticized version of the American Dream was: immigrate here, work yourself to the bone at a rough and ruthless and devastating job, thereby ensuring your descendants wouldn’t have to do the same. The dream was the opportunity to engage in categorical self-sacrifice, in order to ensure your kids and their kids would have a better life, comfortable and flourishing, moreso than you had any hope to achieve for yourself. The dream’s only beautiful and laudatory when it’s phrased to indicate just how unselfish and heroic and awe-inspiring it was to actually invest one’s life in the brutality of that dream’s bargain.

Nowadays the emptiness of that bargain, the failure of the community to fulfill its implied obligations, and the futility of that investment is kids’ movie fodder. Toy Story 3 vivisected the American Dream as a third-act plot device without even a flinch of conscience.

I hate to say it, because I know how much Americans despise the word, but definition sounds more like socialism, son!

…Yeah. It does. There’s inlets from all directions, but all compassion rising to the level of self-sacrifice ultimately flows along the same course, and pursues the same end.

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