Open Letter to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown – A Democratic Infrastructure Program for the Future
Dear Senator Sherrod Brown,
You recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, “When Work Loses Dignity,” and in it you argued, “When we devalue work, we threaten the pride and dignity that come from it.”
We couldn’t agree more, and we strongly believe that work here in Ohio has been devalued and replaced with the values of selfishness and greed, just like it has throughout the industrial Midwest.
President-Elect Donald Trump and his soon to be Chief Strategist Steve Bannon have promised the American people, especially those living in the great manufacturing state of Ohio, that they will “make America great again” by way of massive infrastructure spending.
It is imperative that we present a Democratic branded infrastructure program to the Trump Administration, the Republican Congress, and the American people.
In it we should outline our vision and demands of how such a massive infrastructure program should be implemented. And we should do so much in the same way Newt Gingrich presented his 1994 document, “Contract with America,” that outlined Republican values and ideas at a time when there was a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress and then President Bill Clinton occupied the White House.
We too must voice our values and ideas, particularly as they pertain to making sure that the dignity of Ohio workers and their families – and the dignity of all Midwestern workers and their families – are put at the center of a comprehensive plan to rebuild America.
If Trump and Bannon are able to push a substantial infrastructure bill through Congress, it will have the potential to economically and socially transform our nation. Democrats must ensure that the distribution of work and wealth stretches across races and classes, and from city to country.
We cannot let the values of selfishness and greed eclipse American workers again. A new Democratic coalition – of moderates and progressives – for massive infrastructure spending must unite in one unity of economic purpose, and that means in a spirit of solidarity with the American worker and his or her family, particularly those in the industrial Midwest.
We propose the following key points to ensure that a Democratic branded infrastructure program will benefit not just workers and their families, but the un- and underemployed and from local to national levels:
1. Community Revitalization
First and foremost, massive infrastructure spending must be comprehensive at the community level. This will ensure that low income persons, high unemployment areas, high poverty neighborhoods are invested in. For example, the investment in public schools and public libraries.
A comprehensive community revitalization plan means we must organize a city-country infrastructure coalition, and make certain that major cities and small rural towns are invested in. Both are equally suffering from a lack of infrastructure today.
2. Jobs and Skills Development
Massive spending on infrastructure should microtarget the un- and underemployed from the ground up. Within a broader city-country coalition, it must focus on areas where we can develop skills for those persons who are now on the economic margins of our communities. With the help of local institutions like community colleges and union apprenticeship programs, we need to actively recruit workers from those deindustrialized areas that the American economy has left behind – from Chillicothe to the West End of Cincinnati.
3. Innovative Transportation Technologies
Infrastructure spending should look towards the future, not to the past. Federal spending committed to infrastructure projects can stimulate innovative technologies, particularly transportation technologies, that have the power to transform the American landscape and make American workers more competitive in the 21st century global market – not to mention the personal and national affects of such innovation on the “pride and dignity that come from it.”
Instead of looking outwards for the newest innovative transportation technologies, for example Colombia’s Metrocables and China’s Shanghai Maglev, we should be out in front of these machines, turning the eyes of the infrastructure world towards us.
4. Green Technologies
If infrastructure spending looks towards the future, it necessarily looks green. A Democratic infrastructure program must only commit to infrastructure spending that stimulates technological advances for and good stewardship of the health of our nation.
The American worker and the well-being of their family is directly linked to America’s environmental security over the short- and long-run. Being in solidarity with the American worker means that government places society’s environmental security at the center of its infrastructure projects.
Green innovation and technologies restores more than the pride and dignity of work. It also restores what work should always provide the American worker: well-being. Massive spending in greening will jump start infrastructure projects that have the power to interdependently restore relative well-being to the American environment and the American workforce.
5. Repairing the Homeland
Restoring health to our environment includes restoring health to our post-WWII national infrastructure that is in desperate need of repair.
Part of any massive infrastructure spending must not neglect the heavily abused and inadequate infrastructure that we now have in place. Repairing the infrastructure that we already have should be a priority. We need to make sure that our 20th century infrastructure is brought up to 21st century safety standards and can withstand contemporary use for generations to come.
6. National Connection
Lastly, we must build up that 20th century infrastructure and transform it into a 21stcentury national grid. We must demand a new infrastructure coalition of the whole.
From coast to coast and border to border, we must insist that any massive infrastructure spending include a transportation and communication system that allows full connection of our nation. From airports, to interstate transportation, to the electrical grid, we need to unite our nation in the hope and spirit of a 21st century American unity of economic purpose.
In conclusion, thank you Senator, for inspiring us to look forward, and towards a new Democratic coalition that refocuses our energy on the economic needs of American workers and their families.
The dignity of work and workers is a founding principle of the Democratic Party. Workers are Democrats because we believe that it’s not wealth that makes you worthy, but your God-given dignity and the dignity of your work.
We need to make sure that massive infrastructure spending doesn’t enrich a few in monumental projects that display one name across the top.
We hope that you share this with your colleagues in the Senate, and we look forward to working with you in the future.