Whose Values?

The "Values Voters Summit" kicked off last week in Washington. But whose values were they talking about? Bashing gay people? Denying the basic humanity of immigrants. In what twisted world are those values to be proud of?

For too long, the Right wing has peddled us-versus-them values, pitting all of us against each other to distract us from the real problems. The problem in our society, we're told, is the gay folks or the Muslims or the immigrants. The solution is to wall ourselves up, launch endless wars, abolish Affirmative Action.

This story, of course, is meant to distract us from the real problems in our society: that we're bleeding good jobs on all sides of our borders because multinational corporations just want to pay the lowest wages to seek the biggest profits; that few American families can afford the skyrocketing costs of health care and college tuition; that we're spending more on the military and prisons than public education and social services... The list goes on. How can the Family Research Council think it's talking about values when these issues are not front-and-center in the discussion?

Maybe it's time we start talking about real American values, where we take care of each other and respect each other and recognize that we're all in it together. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. That is the way the world is made." He didn't exclude immigrants or gay people or people of color from that web. Nor did the Jesus. "Have we not all one father, has not one God created us?" The passage doesn't read, "We all have one creator and are equal except for this list which I shall now read..." The Right wing has force-fed us the idea that we must compete with each other, that your rights infringe on my rights, that justice is a zero-sum game.

But the Right is wrong. The story of America is, and has always been, that we're all in it together. Native communities spoke of the interconnected web of community long before Martin Luther King. The pioneers built their communities not through go-it-alone individualism but communal wagon trains and cooperation. Most everything that anyone has ever achieve in our country has been with the help of others, from the family and community that support us to the government which educates us, paves our roads, provides our drinking water. American values are based on mutual need and mutual respect. These are the values we should be talking about --- and making the candidates listen!

On December 1st in Des Moines, Iowa, several local community organizations are hosting the Heartland Presidential Forum where presidential candidates presidential candidates will face real people with real problems, who care about community values and want to know if the candidates share their beliefs. Members of community organizations from across the United States will ask the candidates about community values and their vision for health care, immigration, worker justice and more as they hold the candidates accountable to what we the people really value. It's just one example of how, this election, we're all in together.

Maybe the Republicans struggle to find a frontrunner is emblematic of the fact that their politics of division and isolation are no longer working. The country has wised up. We know that the economy is crumbling, jobs are evaporating, we have more enemies abroad then friends, and racial discrimination is continuing to rear its ugly head in Jena and beyond. At the moment where our ship is sinking, we realize that we're all in this boat together. The politics of isolation and exclusionary values will only sink us further. But if we work together --- and value our connectedness and shared fate --- we can turn this ship around!Sally Kohn is the director of the Movement Vision Project, working with grassroots community-led organizations across the United States to identify our shared, long-term vision for the future.

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