Stop the Big Rip-off and Rebuild the American Dream

As a working class kid in the 1960’s, the rules of life seemed simple. For my parents, work hard, play by the rules, pay your taxes, share fairly in the wealth you create at work and have a secure retirement. For me, they were study hard, play by the rules, get an affordable college education, and reach for dreams beyond those of my parents. Continue reading “Stop the Big Rip-off and Rebuild the American Dream”

Telling Our Story Brings Hope: Fighting to Create and Keep a Secure Retirement

If I had $10 for every time I hear a young person say that Social Security won’t be around for them, I could pay for a round-the-world trip. These feelings are anchored in fear, hopelessness, powerlessness and ignorance of history. We are constantly bombarded with pessimistic messages that our country can’t afford to ensure that everyone has a secure retirement. This is nonsense. Continue reading “Telling Our Story Brings Hope: Fighting to Create and Keep a Secure Retirement”

Welcome to my website

My life is dedicated to building greater economic, social and racial justice and peace at home and around the world. My work and website are intended to help advance these goals. I welcome your comments and criticisms to help make my work more effective.

In past 4 years, I have spoken to more than 13,400 people in 210 speeches, presentations and workshops in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, British Columbia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida. My work is focused on inspiring, educating and encouraging people to get organized, stand up and move our country toward a brighter, more just and secure future for everyone. The audiences include unions, labor organizations, congregations, faith-based organizations, seniors, human services providers, immigrant rights activists, students, community groups and homeless advocates.

I have developed five interactive popular education workshops for leaders, staff activists and other entitled:

  • Making the American Dream Real for Everyone
  • Winning Big in Hard Times: Learning from Our Ancestors
  • Which Side of History Are You On?
  • Speaking from the Heart and Winning Community Allies
  • Train the Trainer

These workshops give participants a strategic and critically needed deeper understanding of how our ancestors built the American Dream by organizing a powerful labor movement, creating broader coalition movements and expanding our democracy. Restoring hope in our ability to take our country back is an important element of our work. Inspiring, motivating and educating participants about how our ancestors overcame tremendous obstacles to build the American Dream is foundational. If they could build the Dream, we can rebuild and expand it. We must also understand how Corporate America developed and implemented a decades-long strategy to roll back our movement and allies to create a new era of every growing economic and political inequality and injustice.

These workshops create the opportunities to do the following:

  1. Inspire participants with renewed hope that, like our ancestors, we can take our country back and create a better future.
  2. Deepen our understanding of Corporate America’s decades-long assault on our way of life and democracy.
  3. Teach participants important lessons from these long-term victories and defeats that will make them more effective leaders in rebuilding the labor movement and creating more effective and stronger labor/community alliances needed to take our country back.
  4. Explore key issues of how we can develop deeper ties with critically needed community allies for the economic and political fights ahead.
  5. Work on key questions like: “Which community partners would want to ally with us? Why would they want to ally with us? What messages and acts of solidarity should we bring to these efforts?

All three workshops combine using personal stories and experiences and finding our common ground of economic hard times, a deep concern about the future and a shared American Dream. Personal and family stories are woven into the fabric of the history of economic, political and social struggles as the foundation of learning critical lessons about how we move forward to change the course of our country.

The “American Dream” workshop focuses on the rise and fall of unions, working people and our allies over the past 125 years in our economic life. The “Winning Big in Hard Times” workshop explores the rise and fall of unions, working people and our allies in our democracy over the same time period. These stories and lessons are connected but it is important to explore them separately in some detail. The “Which Side of History Are You On?” workshop goes in greater detail of how Corporate America counterattacked in the 1970’s and 1980’s and effectively exploited the disunity between organized labor and many potential community allies and movements to reassert their domination.

Another major part of my work has been helping organizations develop their own economic and social justice education and training materials that they can use independently of my efforts. These organizations include:

  • IBEW Washington and Oregon State Associations
  • Seattle King County Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Washington Fair Trade Coalition
  • Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders
  • Working Washington
  • Washington State Faith Action Network
  • Church Council of Greater Seattle
  • Seattle Human Services Coalition
  • Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action
  • 21 Progress
  • Casa Latina

You may wonder why I am doing this educational work and trying to build a broader economic justice movement? Part of my motivation is based on how little working people and our allies understand the role that their ancestors, individually and collectively, played in creating greater economic and social justice and broadening our democracy. Many workshop participants acknowledge that their public school educations largely ignored the critical role played by their ancestors in these great victories.

To quote George Santayana:

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.”

Working people today have been systematically denied a deep understanding of the potential power that they possess based on the history of their ancestors and people like them. Those victories helped created a country with greater opportunity and security for many of them to pursue their dreams and offer a brighter future to their children. At the same time, our American Dream has not been realized by millions who were denied real access to real economic opportunities and security due to racism, sexism, union-bashing, homophobia, anti-immigrant bigotry, other forms of intolerance and discrimination and systematic corporate attacks against our economic and political interests.

The great lesson of our collective history is that working people and their allies can win a long struggle to make the American Dream real for more people. We must be guided by a deeply held vision, core values of fairness, justice and unity, and a comprehensive agenda and strategy that can unite our diverse nation. When we are disunited, we will not move forward. When we are united, we can move forward.
Again please use any of the materials on the website to move forward our collective efforts to create a more just, secure and hopeful future for all people.
Please let me know what you think of these materials and any suggestions you have for improvements and additions.

Many of you have asked for copies of my PowerPoints, videos and other materials and resources they can use. This website is a direct response to your ongoing requests. It provides multiple PowerPoint presentations and videos, articles that I have written, and websites and written materials that you might find helpful. Some of the materials are focused on secular audiences and others on faith-based audiences.

4 Part Video Series – Making the American Dream Real for Everyone – 2012

A four part history lesson of the struggles of working people to create a brighter future for all.

Part 1 of 4

Part 1 of 4: Making the American Dream Real for Everyone from Mark McDermott on Vimeo.

Part 2 of 4

Part 2 of 4: Making the American Dream Real for Everyone from Mark McDermott on Vimeo.

Part 3 of 4

Part 3 of 4: Making the American Dream Real for Everyone from Mark McDermott on Vimeo.

Part 4 of 4

Part 4 of 4: Making the American Dream Real for Everyone from Mark McDermott on Vimeo.

The ‘tax gap’ scandal: Make corporations and the rich pay their taxes!

At an inspiring rally in Renton in support of striking Walmart workers, one slogan stuck with me: “We’re fired up and we won’t take it any more!”

This needs to be one of our national slogans as we fight to reclaim the American Dream. In my earlier articles I have been stressing the critical need for the many progressive movements to come together in a more strategic long-term way. Here is a clear example.

As I write, the President and Congress are struggling over a possible “Grand Bargain” to prevent an alleged federal fiscal crisis. The debate is largely framed by how much to cut versus how much to raise taxes, with program cuts dwarfing tax increases.

What needs to be done? How about forcing every person and business to pay the federal taxes that they owe? How many times have you heard President Obama, Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Harry Reid or other elected leaders or pundits raise this issue? Why isn’t this the centerpiece of every proposal?

On January 6, 2012, the IRS posted “The Tax Gap for Tax Year 2006 Overview.” What’s this? Every five years the IRS conducts a study to determine the “tax gap” which is the amount of federal taxes that are owed and not paid either before (gross tax gap) or after enforcement actions (net tax gap).


Ask yourself what $385 billion in additional revenue would pay for.

This is not new information. The tax gap study for 2001 conducted by the Bush administration showed a gross tax gap of $345 billion and a net tax gap that remained uncollected was $290 billion. Over the years 2001-2006, the annual uncollected total rose by $95 billion. The President and Congress are prepared to cut needed programs and let the cheaters go.

In 2011, my wife and I paid 20 percent of our adjusted gross income in federal income taxes. We paid a higher percentage than the Mittster. We pay our taxes as part of our patriotic duty to our country. We can argue about how much businesses and individuals should pay. But everyone should pay what they owe! Any disagreements here?

So who is cheating? 83% of the unpaid taxes were due to illegal failures to report income. Hmm? Guess what, over half of this underreporting ($189 billion) was business income. Are you surprised? The amount of unreported corporate income taxes avoided grew 92% between 2001 and 2006.

So who pays and who cheats? The vast majority of taxpayers get the vast majority of their income from wages and salaries which are mandatorily reported and taxes withheld to the IRS. The compliance rate on this income is 99%. Working people aren’t cheating and the system is set up to prevent it.

Many people have income from pensions, Social Security, unemployment insurance, dividends, and interest which is subject to mandatory third-party reporting. The compliance rate is 92%.

Income with little or no reporting requirements has a compliance rate of 44%. The system is set up to help the non-reporting cheaters.

How many of you knew these facts before you read this article? Do they bother you? Why didn’t President Obama and the elected Democrats hammer away on this growing outrage over the past 4 years? Why isn’t this a topic on every new show talking about the impending fiscal crisis? We have a news blackout on this issue even though the information is readily available on the internet.

Why do I raise this issue? Obviously it is critically important to the national debate which may result in deep hurt to the American people as important programs are threatened.

I also raise it because I believe it reflects some of the major weaknesses in the ways the progressive movements are organized and working together. This tax gap scandal is public information. Why haven’t our many progressive movements, individually and collectively, been hammering on this issue over the past years?

I’m sure that we could all agree that everyone paying their taxes should precede any discussion of cutting programs or benefits. We are allowing our political enemies to set the terms of this fiscal debate while $450 billion in owed taxes go uncollected.

If you agree this is a problem, how do we need to change up the ways we organize and work together across movements? More on this.

(IRS Tax Gap Study –

A tough, self-critical assessment to clear the way to a better future

The outcome of the 2012 election is extremely important, but even a victory for President Obama and the congressional Democrats will not ensure that our nation moves toward a new shared prosperity and genuine economic opportunity and security for all. For more than years, corporate America’s relentless attacks and its economic and political domination have been growing and will not stop regardless of the election results.

What is the way forward? First and foremost, we progressives from many movements need to do an-depth self-criticism of how we are organized and carrying forward the fight for a better future. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about our vision, values, agenda, strategy and collective organization. I include myself in this tough self-critical examination.

I submit that the progressive movements lack the critical collective organizational capacity to the develop an overall coherent vision of a better future and to proactively map the road forward. We are a multi-limbed organism that lacks a well-developed brain and central nervous system. If hard work, dedication, and a deep commitment to justice were all that were needed, our nation would look very different. Unfortunately much more is needed.

What does this deep self-criticism look like? Major league professional sports teams study game films every week. They study the offense and defense on every play. They analyze the strategies, tactics, timely adjustments, quality of the players, and the role of random luck. Their study leads to decisions to rebuild the team, to fundamentally shift strategies or tactics, to add a few new players and/or persist with the current strategy.

For political and economic movements, history itself is the game film. Let’s look at the 30-plus years of the game films of the origins of the financial collapse and the Great Recession. Most importantly we need to look hard at what we, the progressive movements, did to combat the financial deregulation origins of this economic catastrophe.

For decades, Corporate America, its Republican and Democratic allies, and many elite economists and commentators aggressively pushed deregulation of the banks and financial industries. President Carter and the ruling congressional Democrats started the process in the late 1970’s. President Reagan and Congress continued. President Clinton and most of Congress delivered massive deregulation in the late 1990’s. Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and their cronies mismanaged the weakened regulatory protections in the 2000’s.

It added up to a largely bipartisan selling out of the American people. Final score: Big banks bailed out — for the people, massive pain.

Studying the game films of our opponents is easy. Deregulation took place in broad daylight. We know what they did if we care to look. Here comes the uncomfortable part for the movements and for me personally. What was our collective offense and defense over the past 30+ years?

Our offense and defense were largely non-existent. If you doubt this, try to recall how many demonstrations and protests of any size took place across the country in opposition to deregulation and the need for greater regulation. I can’t remember any. Why? Deregulation took place publicly. Brilliant progressive economists and some progressive Democrats warned us of the great dangers. Let me be blunt. We were not paying attention. We can’t blame our opponents for this. Why were we so unprepared?

The progressive movements are splintered up into literally thousands of organizations focused on single issues. We have labor, health care reform, immigration reform, hunger, poverty, human services, senior issues, reproductive and gay/lesbian rights etc. etc. etc. What mass movement is in charge of ensuring that we don’t have unnecessary economic collapses? None. More importantly, we lack a central organizational structure to discuss these matters across movements to ensure an effective vision and strategy to prevent crises and lead us forward to a better future. The institutional Democratic Party failed miserably in this historic task.

All progressive movements and their constituencies have been hit hard by the five-plus years of economic hard times. For decades, we have lacked the collective capacity to ensure that economic policy and financial regulation serve the people and not the wealthy elites. When the collapse came, we were both powerless and largely clueless regarding what to do.

All of us want a brighter, more secure and sustainable future. We must recognize our collective strategic organizational failure as the first step in laying out our positive vision for the future and how we will get there. More on this in later articles.