It's rare that everyday Americans take center stage in the presidential election. News pundits and political consultants are more concerned with the sex lives of the candidates than the real stories and real issues of voters. But this election, everything will change. Real people and real issues will be front and center. And if the candidates listen closely, they'll hear a new story of hope and possibility for the future of America.
The American people are tired of the politics of division and isolation. For too many years, politicians on both sides of the aisle have told us we're on our own, that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, that it's an us-against-them world and selfishness and greed are our best defense. But the politics of isolation have only led to a broken economy and a broken social safety net, division between nations and division between communities. We, the people, have had enough. It's time for a new politics in America.
This past Saturday December 1, in Des Moines, Iowa, more than 3,600 people packed a crowded hall in Des Moines, Iowa, to hear everyday Americans tell their stories to five of the top presidential candidates. At the Heartland Presidential Forum, Senators John Edwards, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton and Representative Dennis Kucinich did more listening than talking as real people finally took center stage in this election.
The regular people on the stage shared stories with the candidates about immigrant rights and health care reform and clean elections -- but no matter the issues, the theme was clear: Americans know we're all in it together and want a president who will put people over profits, communities over corporations, inclusion over division.
Mayte Rodriguez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant from the Southwest, told Senator Hillary Clinton of being a hardworking student, getting great grades, but fearing a dead-end future as undocumented immigrant with no path to citizenship and no means of employment. Then Larry Ginter, a white farmer from Iowa, talked about trade policies that have hurt family farmers like him and farmers in Mexico, too, forcing migration.
Ahmed Rehab, an Arab American immigrant from Chicago, talked about the discrimination facing Arab and Middle Eastern men in the United States today. Then Malik Whitaker, an African American man from the South, connected Ahmed's story to his own experience of racial profiling in the criminal justice system.
Community value voters know these issues and communities are connected, that we don't have to pit one group against another to get ahead. Community values voters know that, in our nation and in the world, we all do better when we all do better. The American story has been written by each of us looking out for each other and lifting each other up -- not keeping each other down and divided. Our hyper-corporate, hyper-consumption society hasn't changed a thing. As human beings, we still need each other. As a nation, we value all human beings equally. The 3,600 people at the Heartland Presidential Forum and the millions more they represent in communities back home across America know that the story of our future is a story of hope and possibility where we're all in it together. This election, community values voters are leading the way.
Community values voters are single moms who know that the economy should work for all families. Community values voters are factory workers who want good jobs and wages in America and in China, too. Community values voters are doctors and nurses who know that public programs can ensure high quality health care for all of us. Community values voters are homeowners who want the dream of homeownership but not the nightmare of exploited debt. Community values voters are teachers and parents who want public schools that work for all children. Community values voters are all of us who know that our nation can work for everyone, not just a privileged few. Community values are all of us who know that alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.
Community values voters are already the lifeblood of our nation. This election, they will be the pulse of our politics as well.
Sally Kohn is the Director of the Movement Vision Lab. You can watch video from the Heartland Presidential Forum here.