If you want a picture of happiness, you just had to look at the faces of the Egyptians as they stood up for their rights! And the same for the faces in Wisconsin and in state capitals all over the country. No doubt about it -- standing up for your beliefs brings some of the greatest satisfaction in life.
Why is that? The most essential human need is being cared for, being treated with dignity and respect and equality -- in a word, democracy. Joining with others to assert the right to democracy is vital to the happiness and well being of people all over the world.
Research shows that happiness is rooted in trusting, caring, social ties, and the bedrock of social ties is equality -- something on a precipitous decline in our country. A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244. The richest 10% controls 2/3 of our wealth.
The irony is, of course, that wealth inequality affects everything. It is the biggest predictor for longevity, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, obesity, mental illness, and teen age pregnancy. Some of these make sense -- inequality would obviously breed more crime. But why longevity? It’s not just the longevity of the poor that declines, but so does the longevity of the rich. A rich man in this country doesn’t live as long as a rich man in a more equal country, like Denmark or Holland.
Why? Because a wealth gap undermines social ties. When there’s wealth inequality, we have a culture of “every man for himself.” No one really feels cared for. You certainly don’t feel cared for when the government cuts essential services as they are doing around the country.
Caring and equality have gradually slipped away from us without our realizing it. Fore instance, in the Fifties we had the greatest longevity in the world. Today we’re 49th. Why? Because of the increase in the wealth gap.
It many be hard to understand how inequality affects longevity. But we know that our life span is affected by stress, and most Americans complain about stress. In fact, a Gallop Poll found that out of 151 countries, the US is 145th in terms of the amount of stress we have. Stress comes when you’re worried you’ll lose your home or your job; when you’re worried a health crisis will bankrupt you; when you can’t afford college tuition. These problems exist because inequality in wealth translates to inequality of political power which strips us of funding for public welfare, as is happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Wealth inequality means the government is prevented from caring for its people.
Ultimately a wealth gap threatens democracy, and last year our democracy suffered a tremendous blow in a Supreme Court ruling called, in a diabolic fashion, Citizens United. This ruling gave corporations First Amendment rights, saying that corporations are persons and allowing them to donate as much money to political campaigns as they want. In last November's midterm election, the amount of money spent by outside groups was almost 400 percent higher than in the midterms of 2006. About half of that money was untraceable, from groups that did not have to disclose where the money came from.
People understand this wrong: Polls show that Americans oppose Citizens United by about 4 to 1, and that 82 percent of voters believe Congress should limit the amount of money corporations can spent on elections. To get involved or find out more check out a film on the internet: The Story of Citizens United v. FEC: Why Democracy Only Works when People are in Charge at . Or come together with others in a national organization like Public Citizen, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way or Move to Amend. For outstanding coverage, take a look at YES Magazine .
When you get involved with others in standing up for your rights, you are claiming your inherent dignity, that all people have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That we all deserve to be respected and cared for. When we stand up for these principles, we’ll experience the happiness and dignity we saw in the faces of the protesters.