I recently came across a piece I wrote in 2003 about my vision for the USA in 2020. Enjoy!
-- Nathan Day Wilson
The future can be better than the present and each of us has a responsibility to make it so. This is a guiding principle for my life and the premise to my vision for the United States in 2020.
Security is the single word that best describes this vision. Security includes concerns about terrorism and national defense and it also includes concerns about the economy and education because security is both about how the United States relates internationally as it is about opportunities for and expectations of its citizens here at home. In fact, we will not have a secure world until we take care of our own citizens. Doing so requires visionary leadership that strives to include all people.
Terrorism and National Defense
My vision is influenced by biblical writers such as the prophet Micah. Micah 4:1-7 reads, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall there be war anymore." Then Micah says, "They shall all sit under their own vines and their own fig trees; and no one shall make them afraid."
Micah suggests that there will be no security for us until there is security for others. When more than half the world lives on less than two dollars a day, there is true no security for any of us. When poor people in the United States are denied tax cuts and even basic services while the rich are given thousands of dollars, there is no true security for any of us. When thousands are dying from AIDS without relief, there is no true security for any of us.
According to Micah, weapons of war become tools of production when everyone has their own vines and fig tree, which is their own share in the economy. Sharing in the economy, then, produces a sense of security.
In terms of national defense policy, recognizing this necessary interdependence means that the United States can have both strong and tough practices to keep Americans safe as well as procedures smart enough to build alliances to make the world safer. It is simply deceptive to suggest that we must choose between the two.
My vision for 2020 is one in which the United States incorporates, rather than rebuffs, the interdependence required for us to live securely.
Since I already named taxes, I'll start with them for my economy vision. I do not think taxes should be used to soak the rich. I do think the rich should pay their fair share. Often, especially with the changes enacted and proposed by the Bush Administration, the wealthiest of our nation do not pay their fair share.
The issue is not about raising or lowering taxes as much as it is about reforming the tax code and changing the system to better assist hard-working, middle class families. These are the families that make our nation run. They are the ones who provide labor and purchase the goods. They are the ones who raise children, participate in community events, and attend houses of worship. These are the families who need and deserve tax reform to educate their kids, afford quality child care and take care of aging or disabled relatives who need long term care.
Beyond the tax system, it must become an ethical imperative in this country to truly lift all working families out of poverty and completely eradicate child poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit helped significantly. Expanding it and educating the public about the credit would boost its usefulness. Increasing the minimum wage as well as support for child care, housing and transportation programs would also benefit working families. And all of these initiatives must be accompanied by more direct and accessible responsible parenthood training programs and a demand for greater accountability from poverty stricken adults to help themselves.
Like my vision for national defense, the dominating question here is what type of society we want in 2020. Essentially, is it each one for him or herself? More specifically, is it one where capital incomes should be exempted from taxation while labor incomes are taxed excessively? Should we abolish a graduated income tax structure altogether? Should we ignore the poor and pretend their plight has no bearing on our own?
My vision for 2020 is one in which the United States rejects this false individual autonomy at all costs and instead exemplifies that even, perhaps especially, in our economy we express our connection to, appreciation of, and responsibility for each other.
My education vision for 2020 begins with preschool and full-day kindergarten for every child. I have seen firsthand, and studies validate, the overwhelming benefits of preschool and full-day kindergarten for young children. In a local school on whose governing board I serve, our scaled literacy rate for full-day kindergartners is over 97%, whereas for half-day students the rate is 84% (which is still considerably higher than the average). Full-day programs allow for greater quantity, variety, and perhaps quality of instruction. Available preschool and full-day kindergarten is critically important and is the foundation to my vision.
My vision also includes an apprenticeship program for high school students who do not want or are unable to go to college but do want good jobs. It includes a loan program where money borrowed for college could be paid back either as a small percentage of income or through some form of national service. It includes making college tuition tax-deductible. Finally, my vision for education includes raising the pay of public school teachers and developing a continuing education program that further equips teachers with the skills, information and encouragement they need to perform one of the most important jobs in our society.
President Bush used to talk about leaving no child behind, a catchy phrase he permanently borrowed without giving credit to the Children's Defense Fund. (Soon, it became apparent that the theme more consistent with his actions was to leave no defense contractor behind, a phrase I'll borrow from a friend without giving him credit.)
My vision for 2020 is one in which the rhetoric of valuing education is matched with corresponding actions of investing more money, energy and effort into education and demanding more of all the participants.
Leadership and Participation
Obviously there are other areas of concern. Access to health care with reasonable fees, extending the life of Social Security, modernizing Medicare, and developing new technologies and sources of alternative energy are key ones. Each is a part of my vision for 2020, but to address them here would double the length of this essay.
Instead I will conclude this vision paper describing what I think is most needed in 2020: visionary leadership that strives to include all people.
I envision a leader who will not give away money the United States does not have. I envision a leader who will not just tell his friends what they want to hear, but instead will ask more of all Americans. I envision a leader who has the fortitude and advisors to tackle the big problems and take on entrenched interest groups. I envision a leader who believes and practices equal opportunity for all people.
I envision a leader who works to bring all people to the decision-making table. The image of a table is especially appropriate. It is the table where (at least some) families gather for a meal. It is the table of loved ones that sometimes marks a reunion or a holiday celebration. It is the table where we have conversations light and lively and sometimes difficult and uncomfortable.
At the table we are reminded of the ties that bind us regardless of race, religion, economic or social status. At the table we rededicate ourselves to who and what we are meant to be. At the table new political visions can be born.
If there are not enough chairs for everyone at the table, we get some more. If there is not enough room, we will make the table larger. Even the shape of this table will change as we discover who we are and who we are becoming.
A visionary leader brings diverse people to the table to share the history and lessons unique to each of us. These are lessons that will teach us that a better 2020 depends on all of us and on each of us. Each of us is like an individual trickle of water, which, when they come together, turn into streams and then merge and become rivers. And with enough energy and force these rivers can become mighty rivers, so mighty that they could have the power to shape or reshape the very landscape around them.
Today, in 2003, our public landscape could use some new shaping. Let all of us, a whole bunch of little trickles, form together into streams that become a mighty river to shape 2020 into a time when we all can enjoy true and lasting security at home and abroad.