The Way Forward in 2017

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By Felicia Wong |

It is an understatement to say that 2016 is not ending as many of us had expected or hoped. Instead, we are seeing fever-pitch conversations six weeks after Election Day, perpetual post-mortems, and an anxious effort to figure out what went wrong and shape a better future.

We are all looking for a path forward. Conceptually, that path is increasingly clear. Together, we must defend the best of what we, as Americans, have built. And we must continue to push for a stronger economy, a stronger politics, and a new bench of leaders who embody the courage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for the 21st century.

We have reasons to believe that the path is possible. Despite setbacks, none of us in the progressive space should discount the work we’ve done or doubt its continued necessity. I take comfort in knowing that the Roosevelt Institute’s efforts over the last year have made a real impact, laying the groundwork for many of the important fights ahead. The progressive economic story actually is our American story. It is easy to miss this amid the bitter rebukes and the parade of billionaires being appointed to cabinet posts. But even 60 percent of Trump voters support tough corporate reform, and a majority support tax increases at the top, for those who can afford it. The vast majority of Americans know that trickle-down has not, and will not, deliver material goods to their fellow citizens, or to them. This story goes well beyond partisan divides. It is essential and still needs to be told.

In 2016 alone, Roosevelters did a lot of work on the fundamental ideas and narratives that comprise this story. We crafted a policy agenda to level the playing field for all Americans and tame corporate, financial, and monopoly power; mapped the racial rules that drive unequal outcomes for black Americans, launched some of the first research, nationwide, on the economics of a universal basic income and a worker-centered portable benefits model, and pioneered a crowdsourced vision for addressing the economic, educational, and human rights issues that matter most to young people.

Make no mistake; progress will not be easy. Progressives hold precious little political power, and what remains is under siege. But we also know, from our own history, that change is possible. All of us at Roosevelt hope that Franklin and Eleanor provide clear examples of moral and political courage, from Franklin’s banking regulations and the economic bill of rights to Eleanor’s fights against Japanese-American internment and school segregation. But we also recognize that we are in uncharted territory. Past victories for everyday Americans—increased health care coverage, public servants dedicated to fighting for consumers in today’s confusing financial markets, basic retirement security—are in the crosshairs. And worse, deep racial divides are being exploited by the powerful for their own political gain.

So what does that mean going forward? In 2017 and beyond, we will work even harder to develop a vision of the economic future that is compelling to Americans from all walks of life. We must defend important policies and institutions, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that are in grave danger. And we must even more forcefully articulate an economic agenda that provides jobs and a path to middle-class stability for everyone—from Youngstown, Ohio, to Oakland, California.

The Roosevelt Institute has always promoted an enduring vision of America as a place where hard work is rewarded, everyone participates, and everyone enjoys a fair share of our collective prosperity. This is the way forward for Roosevelt and, I believe, for the progressive movement.

Felicia Wong is Roosevelt's President and CEO, seeking to reimagine the social and economic policies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for the 21st century.