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By Rhonda Grossman
American citizens are given the edict to go out and spend our hard earned money to stimulate the economy. We are told the road to success is built with our large homes and expensive cars combined with high achieving positions earning top income. The American Dream defines a nation obsessed with individual achievement at the price of an equitable society. But what if we're wrong?
Annie Leonard’s discourse on our culture in The Story of Stuff highlights a society that is obsessed with products, stuffing our mouths with overindulgence and still not satisfied. We are a nation teeming with anxiety as our children are drugged to deal with the demands of our neverending search for more.
What if contentment, happiness and the American Dream were built from community and collaborative consumption? What if our current trajectory of growth is unsustainable? The recent economic collapse has caused many of us to pause and re-evaluate the value of our consumer culture. Collaborative consumption and technology have changed the face of “personal ownership” to a new ideal of community sharing by “disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing not just what we consume but how we consume.”
In the last twenty-five years, hunger and poverty have tripled and the disparity between the classes has broadened, not weakened. Obesity and overindulgence is evident when one out of every three Americans are obese, but hunger and food banks are overflowing with recipients.
Our unsustainable model shows our world as a linear system reaching upward towards an infinite frontier with endless possibilities. Yet the seeds of change are evident as a growing percentage of the population recognizes the need to transform.
Van Jones, the social activist, has recently initiated a movement to reclaim the American Dream. The American Dream in its essence is not about purchasing power, but opportunity; not about wealth, but about community and hard work for all people. Americans have always reached for the new frontier. Exploration is part of our innate culture. The challenge today is to redirect our adventurous spirit towards a more just society that fosters sustainable growth and far reaching social equity.
We are at an historical turning point where we can shift the conversation. The depression of the 1930s showed us a society willing to reduce, recycle and conserve because there were no choices. Somewhere along the way we forgot that lesson.
The promise of the “sustainable green” movement is a society that understands the interrelationships between social justice and the food, health and environmental systems for all living organisms. We are at a crossroads with an opportunity as a nation to rebuild our brand and show the world that it is possible to regain our sense of self and community and truly capture the American Dream. The Occupy Movement has our attention, but whether it will wake us up, is up to you.
Rhonda Grossman is currently a student in the MBA program in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, California.
image: squeakymarmot via Flickr cc