I am worried about our tendency to over invest in things and under invest in people. ~John Kenneth Galbraith
When I was a kid, things felt different.
They were different. It was a long time ago.
I painted my nails Electric Yellow, drank Tab, and wore my favorite blue jelly shoes everywhere. And I remember feeling like everything was … fine. And would always be fine.
We lived in a typical midwestern suburban house on a simple street with a great school within walking distance. We rode our bikes to the pool. We played flashlight tag in our adjoining backyards. We hunted fireflies (of which there were many).
None of us was rich. None of us went hungry. We were typical middle-class kids living a middle-class lifestyle in a middle-class city.
Forty years later, the middle class has been fleeced to make room for space-seeking billionaires. There aren’t many fireflies anymore. And that typical middle-class midwestern neighborhood street I used to live on looks rundown, beatdown, and broken down.
The tree my five-year-old self ceremoniously stuck in a hole in the backyard is a giant, now. But everything else looks terribly small.
Life – like everything else – looks shinier when it’s new. So I understand that my memories of childhood have a sparkle that can’t be recreated.
But I truly think things were different back then, when America invested in America.
My childhood president was Ronald Regan, so I suppose I can be forgiven for being blind to America’s increasing lack of investment in America until well into my adulthood. Tax cuts were something to be celebrated, and less government involvement sure sounds good. We could do more with the money than the government could, was the general sentiment. Let us do it on our own.
My Conservative-Chronicle-reading family members held fast to the idea that if government “got off our backs” we’d be more successful – individually and collectively. Trickle-down economics would work, we were promised, if we gave it time and the government stopped “bleeding corporations dry.”
I believed them, for a while. For a long while, if I’m honest with myself and with you.
I only truly realized just how far behind our country had gotten due to our decades of American disinvestment when I had my son.
Trying to figure out how to take care of a brand new human is a daunting task, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. (Even those who seem prepared for it aren’t prepared for it. It’s a cruel joke.)
And at the time, I was a lawyer. But I wasn’t just a lawyer. I was a lawyer-lawyer. It was definitional – as weaved into the fabric of who I was as my name and that I grew up in Nebraska. When I introduced myself, I’d offer “Hi, I’m Michele. I’m a lawyer.”
But as I spent more time with the new human we had created, I slowly, agonizingly, came to realize that if I went back to work full time, I wouldn’t be able to do my best at my very unpredictable job (litigation is a feast-or-famine existence) or at my other very unpredictable job (motherhood).
It made me angry at both employers.
Honestly, I just needed a few more months to wrap my brain around being a parent and caring for a new child and a post-child self. A few months to set up better childcare and assemble more of a support system. A few months to catch my breath and assimilate to a completely changed reality and identity. I knew a lot of other women who felt the same way and were struggling with how to make do.
That’s when I saw how little our country invests in people, and how awful our country is to parents and families.
When I heard that Canada gave parents a year of parental leave, I cried. Then I cursed. I learned that Germany and Japan had more than a year of paid leave – and that the U.S. is alone in the industrialized world for giving no paid medical and family leave.
How can that be? I remember asking my husband. We are the wealthiest country in the world, and yet parents are expected to cobble together whatever we can and make it work – or quit our jobs? How does that make any sense?
I railed on about the obvious inequity, about the lost tax revenue over time, about the studies I was reading during naptime that proved the importance of early childhood development. I cursed the politicians who were slashing taxes to pad corporate bank accounts … and refusing to invest in America.
I was learning about our country’s priorities, which – surprise! – didn’t include families, and it was hard to grasp.
Nearly ten years later, it’s still hard to wrap my brain around.
Ultimately, I chose to walk away from a career that was definitional, because I just couldn’t see any other way forward. When I tried to re-enter the same career a little over a year later, I found that my once-impeccable resume was tainted with breastmilk…
…Even though in every other industrialized country I would have just been coming back from leave.
Intellectually, I had recognized for a long time that America doesn’t treat people humanely and doesn’t invest in people as much as it invests in widgets and weapons. But that postpartum experience was when it became personal.
And now is when I come down to today’s – this week’s – ask.
We have an opportunity – right now – to do better. We have an opportunity, the likes of which I have not seen during my lifetime, to make investments in people – like paid medical and family leave – a reality. We have the opportunity to invest in ourselves again.
We need to take it.
The reconciliation package that is being batted about right now includes (a relatively measly) 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and medical leave, phased in over a decade. It’s got plenty of other investments in America, too – from universal pre-K to roads and bridges. But because the press is so captivated by the entire package’s estimated $3.5 trillion price tag, they’re glossing over what that money is for.
Three trillion dollars is hard to envision. But for comparison, the F-35 fighter jet program, with 283 jets, has a cost of $1.6 trillion. The Cost of War estimates we have spent $6.2 trillion on the “War on Terror” efforts.
Our leaders have greenlit those expenses. So how can they not invest $3.5 trillion … in us?
How can our leaders – some of whom were once jelly-shoe-wearing kids like me from middle-class neighborhoods that flourished because America invested in itself – not grab this opportunity with both hands?
It’s not going to be easy to pass this reconciliation bill, but it’s possible. It makes me hopeful – that maybe America will invest in itself again.
After the kind of year we’ve all had, that’s a great feeling.
And with that, let’s get to work!
(Friends, there will be a lot of negotiating over the next few weeks, and it’s going to be up to all of us to show our elected leaders how much we want them to invest in America again. You’ll see some resources in Wednesday’s action.)
Actions for the Week of September 14, 2021
Tuesday: California! Go Vote! and Call With Senator Warren
First, if you’re a California voter: vote! And tell all your California friends to vote!
Second, Tonight, join MoveOn and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Pramila Jayapal, and Representative Brendan Boyle in a Zoom conference to discuss the Reconciliation plan and how to make sure Biden’s economic agenda becomes a reality. Biden’s plan will be voted on in the U.S. House and Senate in the coming weeks and a massive lobbying campaign by the rich and corporations is underway to defeat it—but together, we can make sure Congress holds firm against this lobbying blitz.
This call will include “shared marching orders on how to put wind in the sails of Democrats, push back against Republican obstruction, tax the ultra-wealthy, and invest in policies that will transform America.”
That’s exactly what President Biden is aiming to do in his Build Back Better plan. The president and Democrats in Congress are working hard to pass historic investments in paid leave, affordable child care, universal pre-K, free community college, affordable health care, lower prescription drug costs, home- and community-based care, clean energy, and so much more—paid for by fairer taxes on those at the very top.
But we don’t need to stop at just funding these transformative investments. We’re building massive support for other critical ways to level the playing field and make the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, including Sen. Warren’s wealth tax plan!
Join tonight at 5:30pm Eastern! Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/2716315712778/WN_dsKJkof_R6WRwbXM15ffkw?source=moveon
Wednesday: Resources on the Fight for Family Leave
I’ve already waxed poetic about the need for paid medical and family leave, so I’ll just cut to the chase. Paid leave is MASSIVELY popular. It’s popular with both Democrats and Republicans. So let’s work hard on getting this over the finish line.
For a great summary of the lack of investment in this area (and a comparison of the US to other countries) check out this recent piece by Judd Legum: https://popular.info/p/the-shameful-treatment-of-american
Last week, the Ways and Means Committee held a markup hearing. You can read Chairman Richard Neal’s opening statement here: https://waysandmeans.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chairman-neal-opening-statement-subtitle-markup-build-back-better-act
You can see what industry supporters are saying here: https://waysandmeans.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/what-they-are-saying-ways-and-means-paid-leave-proposal-urgent-necessity
And PL+US has so many resources – white papers, talking points, reports – that sharing them all would be overwhelming. Check them out at https://paidleave.us/about
I know that there’s so much in the reconciliation package that it’s hard to even know what to advocate for. But the leave portion of the bill has been relatively unnoticed, and it’s such a huge bipartisan win that I think it is work focusing on in earnest.
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling from zip code ___. I wanted to call to encourage Senator [name] to support the family leave that’s in the current reconciliation package, and to ensure that it stays in whatever bill gets passed. The US stands alone in not providing any sort of paid leave for parents after the birth of a child. That’s ridiculous. The proposal in the Reconciliation Bill – 12 weeks – is modest in comparison to what other countries provide. Canada provides over 50 weeks! I urge the Senator to invest in Americans and ensure paid leave is included in the Reconciliation Bill.
Thursday: Get Ready for the Finish the Job Rally!
The Declaration for American Democracy Coalition (https://dfadcoalition.org) is an anti-oppression coalition working together to make the promise of democracy real. Members include a broad array of progressive organizations – from Indivisible to Planned Parenthood and NARAL to Sierra Club to Color of Change to MoveOn to SEIU – it’s a really diverse group.
Their focus, as their name implies, is preserving Democracy. Once again, they’re setting up actions to support the For the People Act and protect voting rights. From their website:
Across the country, extremist state politicians are passing anti-voter bills making it harder for people to vote, especially for people of color. Now, these same state politicians are preparing to draw highly partisan congressional maps that will effectively disenfranchise voters for the next decade. Luckily, there is a solution.
The For the People Act (S1) would protect our freedom to vote, get big money out of politics, ensure fair districts, and help create a democracy that works for all of us.
And on September 13th, Senators will return to Washington DC and Majority Leader Schumer has promised that voting rights will be the first legislative priority when the Senate returns. With redistricting already underway, we don’t have time to waste.
Join us on September 17th for our local event as a part of a nationwide Day of Action to urge the Senate to Finish the Job For the People by passing the For the People Act quickly and to demand that they let nothing, including the filibuster, prevent them from getting the job done.
You can join online for the virtual event with this link: https://www.mobilize.us/ptp/event/412439/
Or, you can go to any one of the hundreds of in person events they will have on Friday afternoon. Find the one closest to you here: https://www.mobilize.us/ptp/?org_ids=7096
Friday: Mark Your Calendar and Share – September 20
Today’s action is actually for Monday, September 20! That’s when the Sunrise Movement will be having a Day of Action to bring home the reconciliation package. Because it’s going to start early in the AM and go ALL DAY, I want you to know about it in advance so you can participate!
Right now, Democrats are working on a massive infrastructure bill that could meaningfully bring us towards the Green New Deal. But, at the same time, we know Exxon and their friends are swarming Democratic offices to do everything they can to weaken action to stop the climate crisis. They might have the money, but we have a movement.
On the 20th, young people from across the country will be taking action online and in their communities to demand that Congress Bring It Home.
At the ‘Congress Bring It Home: Action + Watch Party’ we’ll phonebank to drive calls to key Dem representatives to fight for an infrastructure package that will bring us towards a Green New Deal. Then, we’ll get grounded on the work we’ve done to get to this point, and how a bold infrastructure package could impact our lives by watching a short film about the Generation on Fire treks.
We’ll train you on everything you need to know, and we guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun too 🙂
Check it out here: https://www.mobilize.us/sunrisemovement/event/413142/?ms=popup
And sign up for an action near you at smvmt.link/sept20th
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.