Why Progressives Must Stay United

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A new report finds more U.S. children living in poverty than before the Great Recession. According to the report, released Tuesday from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 22 percent of American children are living in poverty (as of 2013, the latest data available) compared with 18 percent in 2008.

Poverty rates are nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians. Problems are most severe in South and Southwest. Particularly troubling is a large increase in the share of children living in poor communities marked by poor schools and a lack of a safe place to play.

Which brings me to politics, power, and the progressive movement.

The main event at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend was a “Presidential Town Hall” featuring one-on-one discussions between journalist and undocumented American Jose Antonio Vargas and presidential candidates Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

It was upstaged by ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter activists who demanded to be heard.

It’s impossible to overcome widening economic inequality in America without also dealing with the legacy of racial inequality.

And it is impossible to overcome racial inequality without also reversing widening economic inequality.

They are not the same but they are intimately related.

Racial inequalities are baked into our political and economic system. Police brutality against black men and women, mass incarceration disproportionately of blacks and Latinos, housing discrimination that has resulted in racial apartheid across the nation, and voter suppression in the forms of gerrymandered districts, voter identification requirements, purges of names from voter registration lists, and understaffed voting stations in black neighborhoods – all reveal deep structures of discrimination that undermine economic inequality.

Black lives matter.

But it would be a terrible mistake for the progressive movement to split into a “Black lives matter” movement and an “economic justice” movement.

This would only play into the hands of the right.

For decades Republicans have exploited the economic frustrations of the white working and middle class to drive a wedge between races, channeling those frustrations into bigotry and resentment.

The Republican strategy has been to divide-and-conquer. They want to prevent the majority of Americans – poor, working class, and middle-class, blacks, Latinos, and whites – from uniting in common cause against the moneyed interests.

We must not let them.

Our only hope for genuine change is if poor, working class, middle class, black, Latino, and white come together in a powerful movement to take back our economy and democracy from the moneyed interests that now control both.

See this story on Robert Reich’s blog.

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Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

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