Mohan Bhagwandas, Vice President of Initiatives of Change International, was recently in the US for two weeks with members of the International Council. He writes his reflections on their visit:
Ten of us from eight countries and five continents had braced ourselves for challenges at the US customs and border control as we entered the country. On the contrary none of us had issues and we were pleasantly surprised. Border control officers even welcomed us warmly and it was one of the fastest entries into a country I have ever had!
There is a vibrant energy in America that impacts you. In America, it is OK to stand out, it is OK to raise your head above the crowd, it is OK to succeed and shine. There seems to be an enthusiasm, passion and belief that things can and will always get better. The world needs this “spirit of America.”
The day after we arrived in Washington, DC, we were given a special tour of the newly established National Museum of African American Art and Culture. Through a brilliant combination of multi-media, photography and script, you walk through the eras of slavery, civil war and civil rights, that has shaped modern America. You cannot walk through the museum and come out the same person. The greatness of a nation is often signaled by its capacity to find redemption by telling its own story as it really happened. The museum does this.
Invariably, most conversations turn towards the new president, Donald Trump. Many theories are given as to how someone completely from the outside of mainstream politics, secured the top job in the United States. I have a theory. It is to do with capitalism itself, the system that gave birth to the American Dream.
My mind went back to the African American museum where I saw capitalism manifest in its most brutal form. Wealth was generated in that phase of economic development on the backs of enslaved Africans. It was cheap labor, low cost of production, servicing a massive export market for sugar and cotton. America became rich under this obscene form of capitalism. It was the injustice of this that fueled the civil war, which eventually ended slavery.
I write this in Richmond, Virginia, which was one of the hubs of the slave trade in the US. The International Council had the profound experience of walking the “Slave Trail” used by the shackled and chained human cargo, who were bought and sold at downtown markets along the James River.
Initiatives of Change has played a leading role over the past 30 years in acknowledging this history and creating space for honest conversation. We learned how its Hope in the Cities program has been at the forefront of this initiative.
There has been an unprecedented growth of capitalism in America and the world over 70 years since the end of WWII. What we are seeing now is the plateauing of an economic system that has delivered wealth and wellbeing to many but which has also resulted in a growing gap between rich and poor.
Today many white Americans feel disempowered and disenfranchised. This sense of loss, this sense of fear of the future in people, linked to the view that “the problem is immigration” became the “hidden” constituency that Donald Trump spoke to in his election campaign.
We should not forget that it is this same sense of fear and loss that is driving global migration. There are billions of people across the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arab world, who live permanently “outside the system” and who are disempowered and disenfranchised. It is these people who are trying to come into America and Europe, looking for a better life.
In my view, the old systems need to be refreshed and renewed. The real “American Dream” should be to initiate the transformation of the world economy and to improve the wellbeing of all of humanity. Spending millions trying to keep people out is futile.
America transformed Europe with the Marshall Plan after WWII and secured the peace and stability of Europe. America is perhaps the only country now that can initiate an investment of massive proportions to uplift the conditions of the human family. It has the vibrant energy, the passion and enthusiasm to give leadership to such a global initiative.
It will secure America’s peace and wellbeing for the long term. This should be “the new American dream.”
Photos: ©Karen Elliott Greisdorf