The greatest question our nation faces is whether American democracy will survive. Over the past few years, we have faced threats and events that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago, from terrorists’ assault on the U.S. Capitol to a president who brazenly attempted to overturn election results. It is important to understand these events were only possible because of weaknesses in our civic infrastructure that have festered for too long. We have to address these foundational issues if our democracy is to survive.
Our middle class is essential to our democracy. Only when Americans can support themselves and have time to participate in civic activities can democracy thrive. Remember that our nation was founded by merchants and farmers, and that Thomas Jefferson and others clearly articulated the need for a citizenry who could support themselves. At the time, this stood in stark contrast to the mostly landless and impoverished masses of monarchical Great Britain.
History demonstrates how essential a strong middle class is for the survival of democracy. Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the loss of the middle class created fertile ground for the demagogic promises of Nazism. The fall of Iran’s middle class in the middle of the century helped pave the way for Islamic dictatorship.
Over the past four decades, America’s middle class has shrunk rapidly as special interest lobbyists have carved giant loopholes in longstanding employment laws. As a result, far too many American workers do not earn a living wage, many of them are misclassified as independent contractors, and far too many companies use illegal tactics to break unions. Our laws are supposed to protect the rights of individuals on the job, but those laws no longer work in practice.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed sweeping bipartisan legislation to restore the original intent of our longstanding workplace laws, called the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Congressman Don Young is one of the supporters of this bill. More than any other legislation, this bill would begin rebuilding our middle class. For that reason alone, it is worth supporting and I hope Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan help bring the PRO Act to the Senate floor for a vote. It is currently being filibustered by senators in the pocket of special interests, and it deserves an up or down vote.
The future of American democracy is in our hands. We have to fight for our right to vote, for our votes to count, for a fair press, for a living wage, and for the integrity of our lawmaking bodies. Equally important, we have to fight for the foundations of a strong democracy, from the free press to a middle class. If we continue to allow special interests to shred our middle class, our work in maintaining this nation’s promise will be infinitely more difficult. Here’s hoping our senators help overcome the filibuster that is blocking the PRO Act.
— Abel Bult-Ito
President, United Academics AAUP-AFT Local 4996
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