More than 240 years ago, American colonists embarked on a seemingly impossible political revolution. Our forefathers had the courage and the foresight to declare independence from a tyrannical monarchy and aristocracy in England that was causing economic pain and suffering for the overwhelming majority of our people.
They did not do this lightly. But they made it clear to the world that enough was enough and that they could not and would not take it anymore. They were going to stand up and fight back in pursuit of liberty, justice, and freedom.
Nobody gave this revolution any chance at achieving victory. The conventional wisdom was that it was doomed from the start. Britain was a superpower with one of the strongest armies the world had ever seen. How could thirteen American colonies with little money possibly rise up and establish independence against the most powerful country in the world?
What was missing from this analysis was the relentless will of the American people and the birth of our ideals: That all men (and we add women) are created equal. That all of us are entitled as human beings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That whenever a government becomes destructive of those rights it is our right as citizens to change it.
If the American people could achieve independence against a tyrannical government more than two centuries ago, we can create a government that works, not just for the billionaire class, but for all of our people today.
It is within our grasp to take on the greed of Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and big oil companies that are ripping-off the American people and threatening the very well-being of our planet. But only if all of us are prepared to stand together and fight back, not with bayonets, but at the ballot box and by demanding that our elected leaders follow through on the commitments they make during this campaign.
I have had the honor and the privilege of serving as Senator Bernie Sanders' representative on the committee responsible for writing the first draft of the platform of the Democratic Party.
This draft platform, which was recently released, is not a perfect document by any stretch of the imagination. It can and must be improved when the full platform committee meets in Orlando, Florida on July 8th.
But this document is a reflection of many of the ideals and aspirations of the more than 12 million Americans who voted for a new political revolution in the year 2016. Here are just a few of the accomplishments that we have already made in this platform.
It is now the policy of the Democratic Party that we will fight to:
• Break up too big to fail financial institutions, enact a modern version of the Glass Steagall Act, and make sure that the banking system is part of the productive economy providing loans to small-and-medium sized business to create good-paying jobs.
• Prohibit Wall Street from picking and choosing which credit agency will rate their products. As The Big Short reminds us, we cannot ensure the safety and soundness of our financial system without this needed reform.
• Make the Federal Reserve a more democratic institution by banning executives at financial institutions from serving on the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks or handpicking their members. During the financial crisis, it was absurd that Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, was a director on the New York Fed, while his bank received over $390 billion in virtually zero interest loans from our central bank.
• Ban golden parachutes for taking government jobs and crack down on the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.
• Empower the Postal Service to offer basic banking services so that low-income Americans are no longer dependent on payday lenders who charge interest rates of over 300 percent and trap millions of Americans into a viscous cycle of debt.
• End corporate loopholes that allow large, profitable corporations to stash their cash in the Caymans and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion a year in U.S. income taxes and use the revenue gained not to lower corporate tax rates, but to create millions of good-paying jobs.
• Make it easier for workers to join unions if a simple majority sign valid authorization cards and require binding arbitration to ensure a first contract. America is strong when unions are strong.
• Expand Social Security and extend its solvency by making those who earn more than $250,000 pay their fair share. At a time when more than half of older workers have no retirement savings, the platform recognizes that our job is not to cut Social Security. Our job is to expand it.
• Allow every American to gain access to health care through Medicare or a public option. This is not everything we wanted, not by a long shot. We will keep fighting for Medicare-for-all. But it is a step forward. Importantly, the platform also calls for an historic expansion in community health centers and the National Health Service Corps that could increase access to primary care, dental care, mental health care, and low-cost prescription drugs to as many as 25 million more Americans.
• Give Medicare the ability to negotiate lower drug prices; ban pay for delay; allow Americans to get affordable drugs from Canada and other countries; and cap the amount Americans have to pay out-of-pocket every month on prescription drugs. The U.S. must no longer pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
• Fix a broken immigration system by providing a path to citizenship to 11 million aspiring Americans; build on DACA and DAPA to include the parents of DREAMers; end the inhumane and unjust raids and roundups of immigrant children and families; and ending the 3-year, 10-year, and permanent bars. We need an immigration policy that unites families and does not tear them apart.
• Repair our broken criminal justice system by abolishing the death penalty; ending for-profit prisons and detention centers; banning the box; and ending racial profiling.
• Strengthen the Postal Service by eliminating the disastrous pre-funding mandate that forces it to pay $5.5 billion a year for future retiree health benefits; reinstate strong overnight delivery standards; and protect 6-day mail and door-to-door delivery.
• Substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units. At a time when millions of Americans are paying 50-60 percent of their limited incomes on rent we need to make affordable housing a right of all Americans.
• Make it easier to vote by establishing universal, automatic voter registration; make election day a holiday; and restore voting rights for those who've served their time.
• Fix a corrupt campaign finance system by overturning Citizens United, eliminating super Pacs, and moving to public financing through a small donor matching program. Working together, we will get big money out of politics.
• Make it clear that states should be allowed to decriminalize marijuana and provide certainty to legal marijuana businesses by granting them access to the same financial services as any other business.
• Expand the post 9-11 veterans caregiver program to include all veterans who are in need and make sure that all veterans get the benefits that they have earned and deserve.
• Close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
• Establish a 100% clean energy system by mid-century.
• Support a Justice Department investigation into fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil that have denied climate change.
As important as these victories are, a lot more work remains to be done. Unfortunately, during the debate on the draft platform in St. Louis, we were not able to include a number of important provisions. Here are just a few.
We fought to make it the policy of the Democratic Party that:
• The Trans-Pacific Partnership should not receive a vote in Congress during the lame duck session and beyond. This disastrous unfettered free trade agreement would make it easier for corporations to ship jobs to low-wage countries, threaten the environment, increase the price of life-saving drugs, and reward some of the worst human rights violators in the world. It must be defeated.
• We need a carbon tax. Scientists have told us that a carbon tax is the best way to make sure our planet remains habitable for our children and grandchildren and that if we do not act soon there will be more droughts, more famine, more acidification of the ocean, more rising sea levels, and more extreme weather disturbances. The Democratic Party needs to be the party of science. It is not good enough to be better than Donald Trump on the most important issue facing our planet.
• We need a ban on fracking. Environmental regulators in New York have told us that no regulation, none, can make hydraulic fracturing safe. If we are serious about clean drinking water, clean air, and the future of our planet, we need a national ban on fracking.
• The federal minimum wage needs to be increased to $15 an hour and indexed to inflation. While the Democratic Platform includes language calling on all workers to make at least $15 an hour, it is silent on how much the federal minimum wage should be raised. That needs to change.
• Earned pension benefits must not be cut. If we do not act soon, the pension benefits of more than 1.5 million Americans in multi-employer pension plans could be cut by as much as 60 percent. When someone is promised a pension benefit we cannot allow that promise to be broken.
We will be working as hard as we can to include these planks and more into the party platform in Orlando on July 8-9 when the 187-member Platform Committee meets.
Now, I have heard people say what difference does all of this make? The platform, after all, is non-binding. No matter how progressive it is, there is the fear that the Democratic Party will just ignore it after the convention, bury it on a shelf to collect dust, and continue establishment politics and establishment economics as usual.
Guess what? That is exactly what the establishment wants us to believe. They want us to lose hope. They want us to feel powerless. They want us to believe there is nothing we can do to prevent billionaire campaign contributors from getting virtually everything they want. But despair is not and can never be an option.
Real change never happens from the top down. It always happens from the bottom up. The reality is that if we are to succeed we need a strong grassroots movement that demands that Congress and the president represent us, and not just the one percent.
Just like the American Revolution was not won overnight, neither will the political revolution of 2016. It will take constant struggle against the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world.
But the most exciting thing about Bernie's campaign is that it has inspired an entire generation of young Americans to take these issues on in 2016 and beyond, to get engaged in the political process, and to hold our elected leaders in government responsible for the actions they take.
In other words, the political revolution of 2016 will continue. It cannot and will not fade into the night.
On to Orlando.