- The Phoenix Congress invites Americans to form a more perfect Union, in order to vote as a block of independent voters. The American Union’s demands are an MLK-inspired legislative package, the Blueprint for a Better America.
- The crowdsourced legislation will end poverty, end mass incarceration, and end the endless wars. The American Union is not a political party, and will endorse both Republicans and Democrats who commit to enacting this legislative package.
- Individuals can opt-in to the American Union by participating in a national fast for peace on MLK’s birthday, January 15th, and/or the 15th of each month, through October 15th, 2020. The #fastforpeace is a fast of moral pressure on all candidates for federal office.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Three Evils
The two-party system is broken. In 2020, the American people will elect the President of the United States, leader of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on our planet. Yet millions of Americans are marginalized by the political process, reduced to spectators in our democracy. We can do better, by unionizing the electorate and negotiating a more equitable contract.
Among Republicans, the rank-and-file have no choice but to rally behind Donald Trump’s reelection, and for the Democratic nomination, the DNC clearly has its thumb on the scales, again. The veneer of accountability in Washington has worn thin; 90% of Congressional incumbents get reelected, despite a job approval rating that hovers around 20%.
This might be forgiven if it produced functional government, but it fails. Compared to our international peers, America lags behind in educational outcomes, average lifespan, and wealth equality, but exceeds at military spending, incarceration rates and per capita healthcare costs. Special interests in Washington DC have corrupted the legislative process, and Donald Trump’s goal of draining the swamp, if successful, would only leave a muddy hole.
The Phoenix Congress invites Americans to crowdsource a legislative package for a straight up-or-down vote prior to the 2020 election. Like all omnibus bills, no one will like everything in the Blueprint for a Better America, but writing clean legislation has proven impossible in the muck of Washington DC, so the time has come for the people to write a new social contract ourselves. We can do better.
The inspiration for this political coalition comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. In his 1967 speech The Three Evils of Society, he told a rapt audience:
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit, and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo…
The status quo of the two-party system in America cries out to be challenged. For 160 years, Republicans and Democrats have owned the political landscape. The voices of the marginalized middle in the American electorate have been smothered, drowned in a sea of lobbyist dollars and corporate interests. In 2020, we have the ability to unionize the body politic, and collectively renegotiate our relationship with the Republican and Democratic parties.
We can do this by first appealing to the conscience of America, calling on our countrymen to recognize a moral duty to address King’s triple evils in a principled and practical manner.
Second, we can apply this moral pressure against the 2020 candidates for public office through a monthly fast for peace, a shared self-sacrifice, inspired by national days of fasting observed by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and later used with great success by Mohandas Gandhi to unite his countrymen against their British rulers. This is nonviolent social change in the tradition of Gandhi and King.
The 2020 Phoenix Congress opens with a fast for peace on January 15th, on what would have been King’s 91st birthday. Unlike the Continental Congress in 1776, we are no longer chained to a physical location for collaboration. This is the 21st century, and Americans can crowdsource many things; this article was crafted in OpenOffice, and edited in a Firefox browser. If the Constitution is America’s operating system, legislation is the software, and the Blueprint for a Better America is an open source legislative package. By adopting a variety of proposals from 2020 Presidential candidates, we can address King’s triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism.
According to the US Census Bureau, poverty casts its long shadow of economic insecurity across 38 million people in America every day. This is more people than live in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, plus the entire state of New York! We can do better in the 21st century.
Both parties recognize the growing strain that wealth inequality puts on our nation; President Donald Trump tapped into it with a populist message, fighting for more American jobs, and on the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders has called for a Federal Jobs Guarantee (FJG) at $15/hour, so that working families can lift themselves out of poverty. But the nature of work is changing; automation is freeing Americans from increasingly complex tasks, leaving the future of work uncertain.
All Americans can share in the benefits of increased productivity; Andrew Yang is championing universal basic income (UBI) as a 21st century solution, similar to the guaranteed annual income that Martin Luther King called for. UBI is a regular cash payment to everyone, often referred to as capitalism that doesn’t start at zero. Yang’s version is $1000/month for each adult, which, according to ubicalculator.com, leaves 5.6 million Americans below the 2018 poverty threshold.
When asked to compare UBI to the FJG, Yang also raises valid questions; To what extent would government jobs be make-work? What if you don’t like the job you’re assigned? If you’re no good, can you get fired from your job?
The Phoenix Congress offers a solution that ends poverty by combining all of these positions. Under the Blueprint for a Better America, every citizen gets an American Union job. Paying $15/hour for adults and $5/hour for children, an American Union job is any 20 hours during the week that fits your schedule. Every adult will earn $300 a week, or $1300 per month.
Many people are uneasy with the government dictating work requirements to every American. This is not a frivolous concern. But Americans already have duties; we laid out our job description for ourselves in the Preamble to the Constitution. Reminding ourselves of them with a regular paycheck will strengthen our nation.
Way back in 1787, the people acknowledged five duties as part of their more perfect Union. Those duties, which still hold today, are:
- establish justice
- ensure domestic tranquility
- provide for the common defense
- promote the general welfare
- secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity.
These are our duties, as Americans, and everyone will be paid to act on them in whatever way they see best. There are no strings attached to an American Union job; no one can get fired by America. Universal basic income will provide economic stability and security for all Americans, and help us fulfill our fourth duty, promote the general welfare.
The general welfare is our economy. America is a land of plenty, and capitalism has been a boon for hundreds of millions, but wealth inequality has left many without enough resources to meet their basic needs. We can do better. When 15 million children go to sleep in poverty each night in America, we are failing in our duty. Childhood poverty carries a lifetime of costs, estimated at over $1 trillion dollars each year. American Union jobs will lift every single American out of poverty.
For everyone who currently has a job, there’s no obligation to do anything new. Employment is promoting the general welfare, so an American Union job is essentially a $300 a week raise. These are the same duties that we have always had as citizens of the wealthiest country in the world, and always will under our Constitution. The only difference is that now we’ll be paid for them. If Americans are inspired to take our constitutional duties more seriously, this is the land of opportunity.
Toward the end of his life, King advocated for basic income as a way to address poverty. In the 1967 speech Where do we go from here? he recognized the societal benefits it offered:
[W]e are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own.... a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts among husbands, wives and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on the scale of dollars is eliminated. Now our country can do this.
UBI brings many choices to the table. Studies show that the economic security it brings can increase entrepreneurialism, reduce crime, and encourage greater civic participation. Stay-at-home parents ensure domestic tranquility; this is work that has real value, even if it’s not generally thought of in terms of dollars. Likewise, an American Union job can support caretakers, as well as provide additional resources for elderly or disabled family members to stay at home, as an alternative to more expensive living assistance options.
Americans do many other productive things without being paid. They volunteer for the PTA, write blogs, or coach Little League teams. UBI recognizes the value in all work, even when no cash changes hands, and provides the freedom to do more of it. Wikipedia has about six million articles in English — that has tremendous value for us and future generations. One might even say that it is a blessing of liberty for our posterity.
America has the ability to end poverty, and a duty to promote the general welfare. If we choose not to, it is a moral failing on our part. We can do better.
End Mass Incarceration
Our first duty is to establish justice, and we are failing in that duty.
Since Martin Luther King Jr. highlighted racism as one of his triple evils, America’s prison population has increased eightfold. Over two million men and women wake up behind bars every single morning, and they are disproportionately people of color. Over decades of the drug war, while getting “tough on crime,” the United States has positioned itself the world’s leader in incarceration.
The criminal justice system suffers from systemic racial bias. A 2017 study by the US Sentencing Commission found that, on average, Black men received sentences about 20% longer than white men for the same crime. In her book The New Jim Crow, civil-rights-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander catalogues many ways that incarceration status has become a proxy for the overt discrimination of Jim Crow laws, permitting legal discrimination in employment, housing, and many other areas. We can do better.
King, who was arrested 30 times during his life, wrote about racial bias in the law in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority….. [it] is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful.
An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote.
America differs from most of the rest of the world in disenfranchising felons, generally defined as those who serve more than one year in prison. A 2018 report by The Sentencing Project found over 6 million Americans disenfranchised, with about 40% of them Black. In a few states, nearly 20% of the Black adult population was barred from voting. King’s long-ago words remind us that just laws uplift the human personality. We can do better in the 21st century.
Just before Christmas 2018, Donald Trump signed the First Step Act into law. This bipartisan legislation was hailed as a major accomplishment for criminal justice reform. Among other provisions, it expanded compassionate release, provided more resources for rehabilitation, and allowed for the early release of thousands of federal prisoners sentenced under a crack cocaine disparity. (91% of applicants were Black.) Fox News described it as a “signature policy victory” which Trump touted in his State of Union address.
“This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” Trump explained on Feb. 5. “The First Step Act gives nonviolent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, states across the country are following our lead. America is a nation that believes in redemption.”
Senator Cory Booker, who suspended his presidential campaign just before this article was published, was a cosponsor of the legislation. After it became law, he filed the Next Step Act, which would end the crack cocaine disparity, pare some mandatory minimums, legalize marijuana on the federal level, and expunge the associated criminal records. As part of his campaign, Booker had pledged to use his power as President to grant clemency to 17,000 drug offenders in federal custody. These are all good steps toward reestablishing justice.
We must end the failed war on drugs. Countries like Portugal have improved public health outcomes since they stopped jailing people for drug possession. Although drug use is not harmless, true liberty is the freedom to make meaningful decisions in one’s life, even those with negative consequences, and our fifth duty is to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Tens of thousands of Americans have died from drug impurities; we can do better by legalizing, taxing, and regulating those products, and lifting up the underground economy.
Ending mass incarceration requires more, however. The dichotomy of violent and nonviolent crimes must be addressed. Booker has pointed out that “saying ‘violent offenders’ and making these distinctions means that you don’t think someone is worthy of redemption.” All humans have the capacity for change; in the 21st century, we have the data to critically analyze which rehabilitation programs are most effective, and establish sentencing review panels.
These panels must be impartial; the Mississippi Supreme Court recently upheld a 12-year prison sentence for a man charged with felony cell phone possession in his jail cell, despite the fact no one had taken it when he was booked on a misdemeanor. The judge even had the temerity to tell him he should “consider himself fortunate” that the sentence wasn’t harsher. America’s prison industrial complex, which just destroyed the life of this husband and father of three, can not be its own reformer.
Deterring crime is just as crucial, and economic insecurity is a large factor; Jean Valjean flees from Javert throughout Les Misérables after stealing bread for his family. By ending poverty and ensuring American Union jobs for the formerly incarcerated, we can address a root cause instead of the symptom. Ending mass incarceration will reunite fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and demonstrate to the world the truth in Trump’s words, “America is a nation that believes in redemption.”
America has the ability to acknowledge our errors in mass incarceration and a duty to establish justice. If we choose not to, it is a moral failing on our part. We can do better.
End the Endless Wars
Our third duty is to provide for the common defense, and America has exceeded its mandate.
America was attacked on 9/11, and we will never forget. Since launching the War on Terror, we have spent or obligated ourselves to $6.4 trillion dollars, according to a 2019 report. As a result, over 800,000 direct deaths are estimated, with an additional two million or more indirectly “caused by loss of access to food, water, and/or infrastructure, war-related disease, etc.” The pain that America suffered when the Twin Towers fell has literally been paid back a thousandfold. It is time to end the endless wars.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, has spoken out against the regime change wars which have categorized so much of our activity in the Middle East. Although we may not like the leaders of foreign nations any more than they like ours, America has a duty to respect their elections. Gabbard’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is hindered by her 2016 endorsement of principled peace advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders over the more hawkish Hillary Clinton. (Sanders has written eloquently about ending the endless wars.)
Donald Trump also recognized America’s weariness with war during the 2016 campaign; last year he tweeted over a dozen times about the need to end the endless wars. Although his negotiations with North Korea have not been successful, he deserves credit for being willing to initiate deescalation talks. Just as important, Trump has not started any new wars. Had the 2016 election gone to Hillary Clinton, it seems probable that that would not be the case.
Indeed, Trump has tweeted support for withdrawing troops from the Middle East. The Cato Institute observed, “His failure to do so tells us something about Trump’s preference for stagecraft over statecraft, but also about the powerful inertia of American foreign policy and the politics of national security.”
The Phoenix Congress desires to rise above the politics of global war and create a mandate for peace. With countless dead as a result of our bombs and bullets, we must recognize the value of all humanity, shifting our thinking in what Martin Luther King called “a true revolution of values.”
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
One of the first steps in a true revolution of values will be to repeal the 2001 AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) [PDF]. Although the plain language only permits force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks, it continues to justify a wide range of military actions across the Middle East. Any replacement for the AUMF should include specific geographic locations and targets, as well a sunset date, so that Congress will have to reauthorize it in accordance with their Constitutional duty to declare war.
Downsizing our military will free up resources for needs at home. The Poor People’s Moral Budget identified $350 million in spending cuts, which would still leave us with the largest military budget on the planet. Besides ending the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, they suggest closing most of our 800 foreign military bases, cutting funding for obsolete and and ineffective weapons, and dismantling nuclear weapons.
The torture and indefinite detention which has taken place at Guantánamo Bay is a moral stain on our nation. Although 93% of the prisoners collected after 9/11 were eventually released, dozens remain at a cost of $540 million in 2019, or about $13 million each. “It’s crazy,” Trump told reporters about the cost, but pointed out that Barack Obama was unable to keep his campaign promise to close the military prison. In 2009, Congress tucked an amendment into a must-pass appropriations bill which blocked his effort; the Blueprint for a Better America will fix this.
Since the War on Terror began, more than 7,000 American service members have lost their lives. With an increased use of drones in recent years, that rate has fallen, but new moral questions have been raised. A recent drone attack in Afghanistan killed or wounded more than 60 civilians. Whole populations are being traumatized by the fear of death from above by American missiles, including an entire generation of children. Our drone policies must be revisited; we can be a better example for the world.
For civilians, economic violence can be more deadly than military force. The use of sanctions against Venezuela, for example, have led to an estimated 40,000 deaths. The malnourished population of North Korea is visibly shorter than their relations in South Korea as a result of being cut off from world markets. The US sanctions against Iran are escalating inflation, impacting family budgets across the nation. Like a reverse UBI, those with the least resources can be hurt the most by broad economic sanctions.
Targeted sanctions, though, can protect innocent civilians. Legislation introduced by Sanders to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen passed in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, only to be vetoed by the White House. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where an estimated 233,000 people, mostly children, have died since 2015, prompted several European countries to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but not the UK or US. The laser-guided bomb that killed 40 pre-teen boys in a school bus was built right here in America by Lockheed-Martin.
The greatest killer of children in Yemen isn’t the cholera epidemic, but starvation. It takes commitment to reduce a nation to such extreme poverty, and America is a willing participant. To those employed by companies making record profits from war, the Phoenix Congress offers fair warning: If you feed your family by making the bombs that kill other families, start looking for a new line of work. The Blueprint for a Better America will guarantee your household American Union jobs while you do.
America has a duty to provide for the common defense, and the ability to look out for the marginalized people of the world. If we choose not to, it is a moral failing on our part.
Building the Blueprint
There are millions of Americans who have been marginalized under the current political system. If we’re going to unionize, the Blueprint for a Better America is our list of demands.
End mass incarceration.
End the endless wars.
But who will build the nonpartisan Blueprint? The Republicans and Democrats have a stranglehold on politics. While there have been suggestions to break them up and promote third parties, the two-party system is too entrenched to make this practical.
Every American’s second duty is to ensure domestic tranquility, and the duopoly is failing in theirs. Manufactured outrage over any action the other party takes fuels partisan rancor, leading to a hyperpolarized and angry electorate. The most extreme voices get the most attention. Virtually nothing gets done in Washington’s gridlock — and it’s been this way for years!
There’s a marginalized middle in the American electorate, hungry for solutions and justifiably frustrated with partisan politics. While 38% of Americans reject party labels and identify as “independents,” most of them vote with one party or the other. It’s a two-party system, what other options are there?
We can unionize and burn down that system. And like a phoenix, something better can rise from the ashes. We can be the functional government we want to see in America.
In January 2020, a half-dozen candidates gathered on an Iowa stage, hoping to persuade potential caucus goers that they had the best plan for healthcare. This dysfunction is the illusion of choice; no plan will become law as described. At best, it will be the starting point for negotiations with 535 other people, all of whom promised their constituents something completely different.
This system of writing legislation is a throwback to 1776, when the people had to elect their representatives, who would gather in one room and debate the merits of proposed legislation. Under that system, we needed champions who would fight persuasively for our goals.
This is the 21st century. We can do better. With instantaneous communication — ironically, the same technology that facilitates manufactured outrage — we can have simultaneous debates across the nation before the election, write the legislation, and then elect the candidates who will enact it. With all due respect to our founding fathers, there were a lot of voices excluded from the Continental Congress.
Joining the American Union is simple; dues are voluntary, but does require a small personal effort. Those willing to take on the underlying duties — establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, ensure the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity —and cooperate to implement them can join the fast for peace. It’s a water only fast in the Gandhian tradition; abstain from food for any 24-hour period that’s mostly on the 15th of each month. For those new to fasting, Gandhi recommended a dinner-to-dinner fast.
Fasting has roots in the Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — as well as the Eastern traditions like Buddhism. Fasting is free, and has benefits for our mental and physical health. (Ask your doctor if you’re not sure that drinking water for 24 hours is safe for you.) In a nation 3,000 miles wide, a group fast is a shared self-sacrifice that can bring America together, regardless of class, color, or creed, just as Gandhi did a century ago.
Citizens who want to collaborate on the Blueprint as we work out the details can also apply to be delegates in the Phoenix Congress. The more perspectives, the better; we’re going to fix a few other things, guided by our duty to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Burning down the two-party system means rising above fear that has divided America; there will be no bans on abortions or guns.
The fast for peace is a fast of moral pressure. Which candidates seeking Congressional office will acknowledge our shared duties, fast with us, and join the American Union? A new Congress can enact the Blueprint for a Better America in January 2021, but incumbents can do better; they have the ability to pass legislation immediately. We can pressure them month after month across social media with the #fastforpeace.
The American Union is not a political party. A union doesn’t seize the means of production, it’s a mechanism for producing equitable treatment for everyone. The two-party system has marginalized too many of their constituencies and pitted them against each other. We can form a more perfect Union, dissolve the political bands which have connected us, and ignore party affiliation in favor of focusing on better outcomes for all Americans.
2020 is our year to strike.
In the fall of 2019, there was an internet proposal to storm Area 51 in Nevada. It went viral, and two million people pledged to participate. That critical mass framed the debate, and the government had no choice but to plan accordingly for what they would do if the people acted in unison. Unlike clicking a ‘like’ button, the fast for peace takes more commitment, but the principle is the same as any social media campaign: use #fastforpeace and invite friends, family, public officials, even incarcerated Americans. As the American Union grows, so does the pressure on the candidates, knowing our self-sacrifice demonstrates our intention to follow through and elect those who will build our Blueprint.
We’re writing a better social contract, similar to what the Republican Party did a quarter century ago with their Contract for America. In September 2020, the Phoenix Congress will submit our final offer to the the 1000 candidates running for federal office. All of America will have three weeks to analyze the merits, costs, and outcomes of the Blueprint for a Better America. The moral pressure culminates on October 15, 2020. On this day, all citizens willing to pledge their votes to enacting the American Union agenda will fast for peace.
Consider Rose, a hypothetical Congresswoman. She and her opponent, Dave, are fairly evenly matched; a swing of 2% could decide the winner. Will Rose fast for peace on October 15th and pledge her vote with everyone else? This is a 21st century twist on the prisoner’s dilemma; if all candidates refuse the Blueprint for a Better America, the two-party system could retain power. But a small margin will be the decider in many swing districts; if Rose fasts for peace, she will win with the American Union votes. If she declines our block of independent votes, she has no idea what Dave will do. As the challenger, Dave has a strong incentive to fast. And if both of them agree, that’s even better for our American Union. Nonviolent direct action can build a better America.
This scenario plays out with the Presidential race as well. Let’s be brutally honest, as an incumbent with the largest re-election war chest in US history, Donald Trump is almost certain to win. But the support of the American Union would seal the deal. Will he fast for peace on October 15th? On one hand, he’s advocated for ending the endless wars, he’s said “America is a nation that believes in redemption,” and he’s concerned about the economic situation of his base. The $300 a week income from American Union jobs will disproportionately benefit the red states with lower costs of living. On the other hand, there will be taxes involved. The American Union has all year to persuade him we insist on a president who can build the Blueprint for a Better America.
It’s a take-it-or-leave-it offer, and if Trump is willing to walk away and risk losing his reelection, that’s okay, since a Democratic opponent will be more likely to fast for peace. Who will want to go down in history as the US President who ended poverty, ended mass incarceration, and ended the endless wars? Whoever is behind in the polls in October has a big incentive to endorse the American Union offer… which means the front-runner does also. Instead of being marginalized by the political system, the American Union can be the most powerful block of swing votes in US history.
The American Union can defeat the two-party system by withdrawing our consent.
We can be the deciders between the Republican and Democratic candidates. The American Union can elect a Congress that will put the Blueprint for a Better America on the desk of the President we have selected.
We can to re-establish justice in our country and end mass incarceration; we can provide for the common defense, bring our troops home, and end the endless wars; we can promote the general welfare with an American Union job for everyone; $1300 a month for adults, and $433 for children. We will eradicate poverty.
The marginalized can unionize in 2020. Who will pledge to fast for peace?