Are the Presidential Candidates in Touch with America?

Ironically, the things that matter most to our country are not the things that matter most in politics today. Politics has become a playground for the wealthy elite, with lobbyists, corporate CEOs and big donors holding more sway than regular people. Meanwhile, in towns and cities across the United States, community organizing groups work with regular folks to identify shared problems and work together for solutions. Even back in the 1800s when de Tocqueville defined democracy in America, he said these local associations are the heart of our political tradition. But in the lifeless, corporate politics of our nation today, politicians can't seem to find America's pulse. During elections and in between, we hear more about the politics of elites than the politics of the people.

With their fingers in the wind instead of on the pulse of our democracy, politicians can't find our true values. Americans in every corner of the map believe we're all in it together and share community values of compassion and shared responsibility, knowing that we all do better when we all do better. Yet politicians and the media continue to represent fringe Right wing ideas of isolation, hyper-individualism and us-versus-them competition as the only values in America. Politicians and media allow the phrase "values voter" to be defined by that fringe minority --- rather than the community values the vast majority of us share.But we, the people, know better. We know that the politics of our hearts, our homes and our communities are more important than corporate lobbyists. We know that the community values that we all share are the real values of our nation. But are the candidates listening?

On December 1st in Des Moines, Iowa, over 5,000 grassroots leaders from community organizing groups across the United States will join five of the leading presidential candidates for a conversation about real issues and real values with real people. At the Heartland Presidential Forum, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd will take turns sharing the stage with everyday Americans dealing with the consequences of inadequate health care, immigration raids, sub-prime mortgages and the loss of family farms. Organized by the Center for Community Change, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the national Campaign for Community Values ---supported by over 300 grassroots organizations from Maine to Hawai'i and everywhere in between --- the Heartland Presidential Forum is an historic, one-of-its-kind event this election season to finally hold the candidates accountable to the people.

At the Heartland Presidential Forum, real people will ask real questions, not just about nitty gritty policy proposals but the broader moral vision each candidate would bring to the Oval Office. Does our future president believe we're all in it together? If so, what is the role of government in meeting our shared needs? How do we value communities on both sides of the border? How do we create economic opportunity for all of us? How do we put people back in charge of our democracy?

This is no dog and pony show. And the real people in this presidential forum won't be pumped in through the internet. They'll be standing live, next to the candidates and asking them the hard questions we all want to hear about the values we all share.

This election, we can change the conversation. Already, all across the United States, people are joining together in local community organizations because they share a vision for a nation and a world that values all of us. The politics of division are finished. The politics of the people are the politics of connection. Are the candidates listening? On December 1st, join us to find out!

Sally Kohn is director of the New York-based Movement Vision Project, working with grassroots organizations across the United States to advance our shared values of family, community and humanity. She has interviewed progressive leaders across the country on their vision for the future.

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