The Death of the American Dream by Dakotah Lilly
America has the highest prison population in the world, according to author William Blum in his book “Rogue State."
Jerry Dewayne Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for stealing a slice of pizza under California’s three strikes law. This is not a nation that provides anybody with opportunity for anything besides failure. Millions of Americans are feeling the crunch of free market American economic policies. 2008 was the beginning of the subprime mortgage meltdown. One would be hard pressed to find an American not affected by the economic crisis.
People lost their jobs, homes, and economic security, while wages are still stagnant or decreasing, union membership is at an all-time low and poverty has been rising. All of this in the wealthiest nation on earth. Sales of designer and luxury goods are skyrocketing, while more and more people are unemployed. Student loan debt now surpasses credit card debt as the largest source of debt in America. People say that college and hard work are essential to the American Dream, yet the United States has no form of a universal pre-k or university system. 32 million Americans are illiterate. America has failed all of these people--Capitalism has failed all of these people. The American dream is no longer an attainable goal, but a fairy tale.
America, known as the home of the free locks up more people than any other country on earth. The majority of these arrests are for non-violent offenses. In F. Scott Fitzgeralds famous book The Great Gatsby some of New York's wealthiest individuals are shown committing the most heinous of crimes, yet none of them actually face any legal repercussions. Speaking of two rich individuals in the book, the character Nick Carroway said it best “they were careless people, they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money." Imagine if a person of color or a person who was not rich had committed the same crimes as the fabulously rich. That is not the American dream--that is not the American way: a two-tiered justice system: one for the rich and one for everybody else, goes against everything we are taught to believe in about the American dream. It also shows just how unattainable the American dream is. If a middle class person is found guilty of possession of marijuana three times, in some states they may face 25 years to life in prison. The American dream for these people is literally impossible, as it is for the vast majority of Americans.
Minorities are especially excluded from the so called “opportunities” some argue are still available in attaining the American dream. Americas history is unfortunately a shameful one.
Since recorded history in the 1400s Spanish conquistadors enslaved Native Americans and killed millions. Now replace the words “Spanish Conquistadores” and “Native Americans” with “the rich” and “the workers of America."
In 1997 10% of black males in their 20s were in jail, compared to 1% of white male. Studies show that black males are thirteen times more likely to be given longer and harsher sentences than white males for drug related offenses. 77% of all executions in Maryland since 1923 were of African Americans. The average black American has an annual income that is 61% less than the average white income--this is the same percentage as in 1880 (Kenneth Anderson 2003). The statistics are no better for Latino and Latina populations. Yes this is in the so called “land of the free” where there is supposed “liberty and justice for all."
Unfortunately the buck doesn’t stop there: 494 of the top fortune 500 companies in America are owned by men. On average American women make $650,133 less in a lifetime than the average man. The US also has more recorded rapes than any other industrialized nation (Kenneth Anderson 2003). These are not things to be proud of. Faced with these facts nobody could still logically claim the American dream is still possible in America (If it ever was--Editor). Even for the whitest, manliest and most christian man, the American dream is still unattainable.
Dana Gioia’s poem “Money”, is an excellent example of consumerism in America. “To be made of it, to have it!” The poem sounds as if it were written by Lloyd Blankfein himself, and that is not a good thing. Money controls peoples lives in America, but not for the reasons you may think. When comparing the years 1979 with 2001, the rich saw their wages skyrocket by 157%, while those in the bottom 20% saw their wages decrease when adjusted for inflation. As of 2000 the average CEO makes somewhere from 500-600 times more than their lowest paid worker (Kenneth Anderson 2003). Baseball players make hundreds of times more than teachers and scientists, those who educate and advance humanity. Please keep in mind the baseball player's actual contribution to humanity is, lets be honest, hitting a ball with a stick. What we have been seeing in America for decades and now at the worst point is “affirmative action for the rich." If you are rich, so will be your children, and your children's children; however the actual laborers of our nations children, will have to settle for cat food for Christmas dinner. That is not the American dream.
The American dream is not allowing corporations to ship jobs overseas, it is not slaving away for $7.25 an hour, it is not being honored by paying those same corporation's taxes when they get a tax break. There are names for this type of system, they include oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, aristocracy, and fascism. Martin Espada noted in his poem “Who burns for the perfection of paper” of the toiling many people must go through to reach their dreams; however, currently no matter how hard you work success will always elude you. Many people believe that the idea of the American dream is nothing but a scheme to keep workers toiling away, harder and harder in pursuit of this dream. If you take everything into consideration its not far from the truth. Social mobility is at an all time low. Unfortunately, the large part, but perhaps not a majority of the American people, seem hoodwinked into believing that the solutions to these problems is more division and more of the same problems that got us into this mess of an oligarchy.
Those in government continue to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, cut services for the poor and middle class which help spur social mobility, and the American people continue to vote for tweedledee and tweedledum at the ballot box hoping to find a revolution that many Americans feel we need a form of. However, the American people can only be fooled for so long, and there is hope that a storm is coming and a radical change of values and social structure is coming along with it. Hopefully this is the case.
Dakotah Lilly is a 17 year old radical gay socialist who lives in PA. Lilly is the leader of Lehigh Valley Youth Democratic Socialists. Dakotah's first mass action was joining Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox and other organizations in March in WDC for Spring Rising; in his spare time he likes smashing patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism and defending the oppressed.
Although, not a self-identified anarchist, Dakotah Lilly is helping to organize a left wing anarchist action known as Mid-Atlantic Anarchist Collective MAAC,