Our founders gave us the most incredible political system ever invented, one grounded by the rule of law, majority rule and protection of minority opinions and dissent. They could not agree to renounce the slave trade, they did not extend political participation to women and non-property owners, and they dispossessed America’s First Nations from their land and resource base. But they gave us a system that would enable us to be better people, collectively, than they were. Indeed, they expected it. They invented the American Dream, and I’m running for Congress to restore it.
The American Dream is that everyone has a fair chance to make the most of their talents and abilities, earn a decent living for themselves and their families and pass along better opportunities to the next generation.
Every generation until now has moved that dream forward. In my lifetime that meant overcoming discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, disability and age with sexual orientation on the frontier of justice today. The American Dream enabled me to overcome the challenge of being a divorced single mother waiting on tables to complete an undergraduate and two graduate degrees to become a university teacher, chair of the Montana Human Rights Commission and a representative in the Montana State Legislature.
I have spoken all over the world about democracy and human rights. I’ve spoken to victims of war crimes in a war zone. I trace my own passion for democracy to falling in love with the idea of America after reading about our earliest revolutionary American patriots.
That dream — that fair chances and hard work will enable everyone to make the most of their abilities, meet their needs including health care, and aspire to pass along better opportunities to their children — is threatened today like no time I can remember.
Our public education system — the cornerstone of equal opportunity or as Jefferson called it, “the great equalizer” has slipped from third in the world to 15th. The middle class, the powerhouse of our economy and backbone of our democracy, is in decline as the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2011 one in six Americans now live in poverty. Since 2000 the U.S. has seen 10 percent of our middle class jobs — from 72 million down to 65 million — disappear. And while we commonly use the status and treatment of women to evaluate how democratic and progressive other countries are, women’s rights are under attack in the U.S. and our income remains stuck at 77 percent of our male counterparts. That’s up from 68 percent in 1970, but at this rate we will achieve pay equality in 475 years. With a high school degree, this amounts to a loss of $750,000 for women over their wage-earning lifetimes and with a college degree the loss is $1 million.
When I say I am running for Congress to restore the American Dream, rebuild our economy and strengthen the middle class this is what I mean. It’s about time we sent someone to Congress who understands from her own experiences the importance of good public education, accessible and affordable higher education, and that hard work, fair chances and improving opportunities for the next generation are core American values.
(State Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman, is running for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the June 5 primary. The Havre Daily News is offering similar space to other candidates and their supporters if they meet the 4:30 p.m. Wednesday deadline.)