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From Oregon to Iowa, progressives can take back our country

From Oregon to Iowa, progressives can take back our country

We must take our country back during this critical time. That’s why I’m rallying progressives around the nation, including with Progress Iowa on September 10. Here are my thoughts on how we win.

I recently stood a dozen yards away from North Korea in the demilitarized zone separating north from south — one people, but two countries bristling with artillery pointed at each other.

These days, our own divisions feel deep. Urban-rural, liberal-conservative, coastal-heartland. It seems our habits, values, and world views grow further apart.

Our political system hardly seems up to the task of bridging those divides. And the president seems dead-set on pitting Americans against each other, on politics, race, ethnicity and religion. It’s not a surprise that plenty of people feel pretty despondent about the state of America.

But I’m not one of them.

Just before I left for Asia, I did a bunch of town halls back home in Oregon. Every year, I do one in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. The tenor of those conversations varies plenty year to year and county to county, but this year they were completely different. In the very red counties, instead of being greeted by skeptical audiences suspicious of anyone with a "D" after their name, I saw the biggest crowds I had ever seen in these communities, eager for solutions. And in progressive and more heavily populated counties, I was overwhelmed by the masses who overflowed high school gyms and crowded around speakers outside to hear the discussion while holding homemade signs of support.

What I witnessed in Oregon was one people with more in common than what divides us and looking for change.

Back in D.C., everyone breaks out into their tribes girded for battle, but at home in Oregon (and in Iowa, too, I imagine), people just want answers. They want a health care system that is easy to understand and there when they need it. They want a job that pays a decent, living wage. They want to go to college without mortgaging their future and a fair shot to make their mark, without having to jump through extra hoops because of their race, gender, or anything other than work ethic and talent.

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A lot of people feel like those quintessentially American aspirations are further out of reach than ever, and unfortunately they’re not wrong. But I saw in those town halls, and in the deluge of phone calls and emails that my Senate office has received this year, and in the protests and pressure campaigns that helped save 24 million people’s health insurance, the opportunities in front of us. The beating heart of our political system is found in the first, very large, words of the Constitution: We the People. If we embrace the powerful forces that unite us, we can create an America that inspires hope and optimism again.

That’s why I'm excited to come to Iowa for the Progress Iowa Corn Feed on Sept. 10. Iowa’s got a long, proud populist tradition. From family farmers to blue-collar workers in factories along the Mississippi, Iowans have shown what a hard-working, middle-class life can lead to in a country that puts We the People first.

Growing up, we didn’t have much, but on my dad’s salary as a millwright and mechanic, he and my mom could afford a modest house, an occasional camping trip, and a retirement. They were able to see me become the first in our family to go to college, even if a lot of my meals were ramen noodles.

Iowa has some big elections coming up in 2018, a chance to choose what kind of state it wants to be. And because of Iowa’s outsized role in national politics, its example matters.

I don’t profess to know your politics, but I know this: We share some big challenges. An economy that keeps producing more billionaires, while it’s harder to reach or stay in the middle class. Catastrophic climate disruption that is already wreaking havoc on farms, forests and fishing and costing taxpayers billions. Working-class Americans struggling to cover health costs, child care, and rising rents and home prices. And a political system rigged to enable the special interests and extremely wealthy to keep feathering their nest at our expense.

We can meet those challenges, in Iowa and across the nation, if we rise up together to take back our country in the name of We the People. The people of South Korea and North Korea haven’t had the opportunity to so much as talk to each other for more than 60 years. We have the opportunity, so let’s take it. Let’s talk about our shared dreams, not our divisions. We received the greatest gift any people was bequeathed: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It’s ours for the taking back. Let’s do it.

~ Senator Jeff Merkley

Posted on September 8, 2017.
Connect with Jeff Newas & Updates
Meet Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley was born in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon, the son of a sawmill worker.Jeff Merkley and Family As an advocate and a state legislator, he always fought hard for working families in Oregon. And now, as U.S. Senator, he's working every day for families in Oregon and across the country.

His progressive commitment is clear - working for economic recovery and family-wage jobs, clean energy that puts Americans to work and combats the climate crisis, affordable health care for all Americans. Learn more about Jeff Merkley.

Connect with Jeff Meet Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley was born in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon, the son of a sawmill worker. As an advocate and a state legislator, he always fought hard for working families in Oregon. And now, as U.S. Senator, he's working every day for families in Oregon and across the country.

His progressive commitment is clear - working for economic recovery and family-wage jobs, clean energy that puts Americans to work and combats the climate crisis, affordable health care for all Americans. Learn more about Jeff Merkley.