In this essay, Bill explores the power to imagine a more just society, and a few who’ve taken strides to bring it about. To help, he asks some classic Journal guests to weigh in on the American dream.
BILL MOYERS: Finally, last Saturday a viewer stopped me in our local supermarket with a question. She had seen several editions of the Journal dealing with how big money constantly undermines the public interest, and she wanted to know, "How do you keep reporting what's happening in Washington without totally losing heart?"
I'll try to answer that more fully next week, on the final edition of the Journal. For now, I'll just say that I owe what sanity that remains - what hope I have - to acts of the imagination inspired by others. Think about what we learned from Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa - when few believed nations in the soviet orbit could free themselves from its heavy gravitational pull, they imagined a different Czechoslovakia, a different Poland.
Think of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - when even our own American government was supporting apartheid in South Africa, they imagined something different.
Abraham Lincoln imagined the end of slavery and the preservation of the union. Theodore Roosevelt imagined victory over the money trusts; his cousin Franklin imagined a new deal for people like my father.
The philosopher and critic Theodor Adorno, after his own escape from Hitler's Germany, wrote about this power of imagination. In the face of despair, he said, you must try to "Contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption."
This is not romanticism. It's not even idealism. It's our power to imagine alternatives - and to wake up every morning day to try to do something to bring them about.
This is one reason we have asked every guest on the Journal to pause before they leave and share with us their vision of the future of the American Dream. Here are just a few of their voices. Take heart.
ELLEN SPIRO: My American Dream is about freedom from fear. It's about possibility and hope.
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: My vision is for an America that is not colorblind, but rather an America that cares deeply for people of all colors.
THOMAS FRANK: I want democracy. This country is about equality. And it's about everybody having a voice.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The notion that a rising tide lifts all boats presupposes that you have a boat. In my American dream, everybody has a boat.
ROBERT KUTTNER: Unless we take care of people's economic needs, we rob them of their private dreams.
BRYAN STEVENSON: I want the American Dream to embrace broken people; people who are suffering.
MARILYN YOUNG: I would like to see a country which feels safe inside itself, in part because it deals justly outside its borders.
DR. JIM YONG KIM: We can settle for no less than America being the force of good in the world.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: My understanding of the American dream is that this is a country where people have rights to equal opportunity, freedom and justice for all.
MICHAEL ZWEIG: I think the American Dream is going to have to be based and fulfilled through collective action and it's going to be one hell of a fight.
BILL MOYERS: Those voices and all the others -- will remain on our site at pbs.org when the Journal comes to a close after next week's broadcast… give us your vision of the American Dream and be sure to sign up at our website so we can remain connected even after the Journal has left the air.
I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next time.