On The Pursuit of Happiness: A 12-Step Program and Platform For Retrieving The American Dream


On The Pursuit of Happiness: A 12-Step Program and Platform For Retrieving The American Dream his declaration is the result of much discussion in a multigenerational group of women, the youngest in their 20s, the oldest in their 70s. Inspired by events that occurred at home and abroad during the last several months, we eschew personal claim to the ideas and positions set forth here, preferring to regard ourselves as equal participants in collective work whose door is open to comments, suggestions and critiques. Please know, however, that we do intend to finalize this “guide,” sooner than later, and go forward with a modest plan of action. Thank you, in advance, for your thoughts and reactions. We wholeheartedly welcome, and look forward to, your feedback.


Looking In The Mirror

The founding documents of the United States of America contain several inspired and inspiring phrases, none more so than “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, which promises every citizen the right to seek fulfillment of their personal life’s dream.  The “pursuit of happiness” – accompanied by other principles in our Constitution such as equality before the law and the freedom of speech -- forms the centerpiece of the traditional, nearly official narrative that paints our republic as the grandest nation on earth.  Ours is a New World nation, the narrative goes, in which all are free to live where and as they choose, speak and worship as they choose, associate with whom they choose, do the work of their choice.  Moreover, we are all “created equal” to enjoy these freedoms, which were unknown in the socially, politically and religiously stratified kingdoms of the Old Worlds across the sea.

The founding of the United States was a major moment in the evolution of humanity, inspired, as the French revolution of 1789 was, by the ideals and concepts of the Enlightenment.  However, as we know from life experience the ideal and the real are rarely aligned.  So has it been with the birth and historical trajectory of our complex New World nation.  

From the very beginning, class and caste, wealth and poverty, justice and injustice, freedom and bondage prevailed. The European settlers slaughtered most of North America’s Native peoples, seized their lands and, from the late 1600s through 6 and-a-half decades of the 1800s, imported an estimated 15-to-25 million Africans to live and die as slave laborers.  When George Washington was elected president, only 6% of the total population -- a small, white male, propertied minority –- could vote into office the President and Congressmen who would formulate and establish the laws of the land.  Native people, women, Caucasian males without property and Africans were prohibited from voting and, thus, had no say.  In 1870, passage of the 15th Amendment ostensibly enfranchised the now emancipated black male population, but poll taxes, literacy requirements and violent intimidation kept most freedmen away from the polls.  Fifty years elapsed before all women were enfranchised (in 1920), and not until 1965 was the Voting Rights Act passed, granting all adults the legal right to vote and barring discriminatory restrictions on that right.  Yet even today, voter suppression tactics target various groups. 

And today, something new has been added: the huge and insidious influence of lobbyists, who, bearing gifts for politicians' election campaign coffers, are able to dilute elected officials’ duty to serve the people’s will and needs over the relentless efforts of the nation’s powerful elites to increase their fortunes. Billion dollar corporations fund candidates' campaigns and are paid back after elections in the currency of laws and policies that enable their capture of more money.  Which adds up to this: Overtly and covertly, interference with the peoples' right to be honestly represented by elected officials whose work bears directly on our quality-of-life prospects thwarts our “pursuit of happiness.”

Education is another area in which the real and ideal have diverged in our nation. In the colonial era, belief in the government’s obligation to fund schooling ran deep among the European settlers, as a matter of democratic principle.  Therefore, in 1866, after the Civil War and the end of slavery, the Reconstruction Congress established a nationwide system of free, compulsory elementary and secondary education.  When several states, including virtually the entire South, ignored that mandate, a federal Department of Education was created in 1867 to spur compliance. The following year saw the founding of the nation's first public institution of higher education: the University of California in Berkeley.

By the turn of the 20th Century, as European immigrants poured through Ellis Island, public education had taken such root that a school principal, Julia Richmond, was inspired to create the nation’s first bilingual instruction program – Yiddish to English -- to help speed assimilation of the immigrant children settling on New York's Lower East Side.  And by mid-century, the pioneering state university systems of California and New York had been replicated in almost every state of the union, attracting admiration from the entire developed world. 

Today? Steadily, Americans’ access to free, quality public education is evaporating.  As our political system deteriorates, becoming less democratic, more corrupt and generally dysfunctional; as extreme income disparity and rising poverty destabilize our society; as worldwide surveys of education place the U.S. embarrassingly low in the rankings, at the same time as the life prospects of poor, middle and working class young people depend more than ever on high quality public schools; as these problems mount, how is government responding? Instead of budgeting the refurbishment and upgrading of public grade schools, budget-slashing and even the dismantling of some schools are underway!  Numerous politicians, cheered on by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are promoting privatization, such as charter schools (modeled after businesses), and extensive standardized testing as the prescriptions for "reform." Moreover, today, while 80% of U.S. college students attend public institutions, the resources of those schools are being sliced to the bone.

The late-19th through the early-20th century was also the period when thousands of European immigrant men, women and children labored in the factories of a raging industrial revolution under hazardous and abusive conditions. At the same time, immigrant Chinese were building our cross-country railroad system, sometimes being blown to bits by the dynamite used to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains, while coal and copper miners plied perhaps the most death-plagued trade of all. Determined to achieve safe, fair working conditions and recognition of their human dignity on the job, male and female workers fought difficult struggles to organize themselves into unions -- which were the most effective means by which they could confront business owners and managers. Even in the Deep South, white and black farm workers joined forces in clandestine, union-building meetings – at the risk, for whites, of being beaten and ostracized; for blacks, at the risk of being lynched. 

The people who agitated and died bringing justice to the workplace gave our whole society such quality-of-life improvements as collective bargaining rights for private and public employees, higher wages, the 8-hour day, sick time, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions, Social Security and Medicare, and the overall empowerment of U.S. working people on every level. Union strength peaked in the 1950s, when 35% of U.S. workers carried union cards.  Sadly, during the same decade McCarthyism struck: The extreme right-wing purges orchestrated by Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin drove out most of trade unionism's most talented and committed leaders, leaving a malaise from which the movement has yet to recover.

Today, only 12% of public sector workers remain unionized, and a mere 7% are in the private 

sector.  The situation is worsened by the failureof unions to organize new worker populations.  Add the transnational corporations' unchecked outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries in the global economy, along with their co-option and corruption of some union executives, and we’re left with a seriously unempowered working class.  Consequently, all of the gains won by the sweat, blood and courage of our forebears -- Social Security, Medicare, even trade unionism per se -- are under fierce attack by those who would turn the clock back to a time when the majority of Americans had few rights the superrich at the top of society were bound to respect.  

Faced today with a greatly diminished ability to secure the wages and benefits necessary for the attainment of a decent life, hardworking Americans find enormous boulders blocking the road to happiness and fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations.

We, The People, Are The Solution 

The narrative of U.S. exceptionalism is very powerful. Most of us, except probably Native Americans, have internalized that narrative to one extent or another, even those of us whose ancestors experienced slavery, immigrant discrimination (yesterday or today) or other challenging aspects of life in the U.S. The harsh realities confronting us today -- widespread joblessness, home foreclosures, outrageously wasteful spending on wars, misguided under-spending on education, libraries and social services -- such realities, when held up to the light of our national narrative, can be disorienting: Could these awful things really be happening in "the world's greatest nation," we might ask ourselves.  And happening to me?  Self-doubt, desperation and hopelessness may kick in.  Many of us may ask, "What's wrong with me" that I've lost my job and could lose my home and my whole lifestyle? In the face of unexpected problems and sudden hardship, it's difficult for anyone -- whatever their country of residence -- to immediately summon the presence of mind to step back, look at the Big Picture and prepare a response.  For Americans it may be even harder, given the potency of our national mythology.

The fact is, however, that the Big Picture is worth a hard look because it reveals a lot.  Something fundamental changed in the United States, beginning in about 1970.  From as far back as 1820 up until 1970, every generation of U.S. white male workers saw their wages increase.  It was a given that one's children would make more money and have a better life than their parents.  Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, rising prices still lagged behind the continued climb in most white male wages, which meant the profits generated by labor were still sufficient to sustain a steady rise in the living standards of the employed. For 150 years, mainly white Americans experienced a reality in which individual effort, combined with training (often on-the-job) and steady work, could improve their lives signficantly.

Then, in about 1970, that steady rise in living standards ended abruptly.  Wages flattened out. Advanced communications technology now enabled transnational corporations to bypass homeland labor for overseas, low-wage workforces. As a result, corporate profits skyrocketed, followed by an explosion of unprecedented executive salaries and bonuses.  Wealth in the billions has been piling up at the top of our society ever since, as working people and the middle class lose ground. Indeed, the United States, once the developed world's most egalitarian nation, is today its least egalitarian.

These circumstances have caused a marked change in people's lives. Credit card debt is a fixture on the landscape, social withdrawal has become the norm: Having friends to dinner, joining bowling leagues, participation in civic work like Red Cross blood drives and PTA's, or engagement with grass roots politics and social issues -- these activities have fallen off sharply.

At a time when we, the people, need to join together and make our collective power felt by those forces which have tightened the screws on us, some of us are expressing our outrage and taking action, 

but millions more of us are feeling so ignored, alone, helpless, confused and fearful that we are de-energized, as if the wind has gone out of our sails.  Stunned that our dream of steady jobs, comfortable homes and bright futures for our children are dissolving into dust, we're retreating into the privacy of our troubled thoughts. Great numbers of us are standing at the edge of an abyss of self-negation and inertia, and finding it hard to step back from that abyss.

Overcoming Passivity, Denial and Abuse 

As we write, thousands of public workers are battling government efforts to revoke their collective bargaining rights, lower their wages and hollow out their hard-earned pension accounts.  Apart from the obvious noteworthiness of these workers' determination to prevail, and the support they've attracted from around the country and around the world, their actions mark the first mass response to the injustices visited upon Americans by the global financial crisis and its recessionary fallout -- which were caused, not by us, the middle and working class people of the United States, but by obscenely rich bankers and brokers playing fraudulent games on Wall Street.  Many months ago, France's six trade union federations put 3.5 million strikers in the streets under the slogan, "Do not permit governments to make the mass of people pay for the failures of capitalism.” Greeks, Germans and other Europeans, too, turned out in huge numbers to challenge their governments' policies of indulgence for the rich and belt-tightening for the majority of people. At the time, one could only wonder why there was hardly a peep coming from Americans.  

Indeed, by comparison to our counterparts abroad -- and notwithstanding the admirable resistance that's finally rearing its head in various parts of our nation -- U.S. working people have responded to these hard times in ways that are largely personal.  Or, to put it another way, we have reacted in primarily individualistic, rather than collective, ways.  Some prior experiences of success with the personal approach may account, in part, for that tendency.  But we think this response may also reflect the influence of our national mythology, which champions "rugged individualism" and "taking personal responsibility" as the most appropriate reactions to adverse circumstances (even when the adversity has been caused far less -- or not at all -- by our personal failings than by the interplay of economic, class and political forces in our society).  Also in the mix is the mental deflation and emotional anxiety brought on by the rug of possible dreams and economic security having been yanked out from under us. 

Here's an example of the "personal" or "individualistic" response: Beginning roughly in 1970, millions of couples with children caucused in the privacy of their homes and decided the wives should join the labor force for the long haul -- unlike in the past, when wives sought jobs temporarily in response to divorce, or a husband’s sudden unemployment, disability or death.  Today, the vast majority of U.S. women work pretty much permanently outside the home to supplement, their partners’ depressed wages. This strategy has helped families, but it has also incurred new costs: the obvious costs of work clothes and transportation, the cost of domestic help to take on some of the tasks previously handled by Mom, as well as the costs of day care and/or after-school programs, which can be hugely expensive. Then there’s take-out food and restaurant dining, which cost a lot more than the home-cooked meals that are so much harder to prepare with both parents working. And of course, getting the laundry washed is more expensive when it has to be dropped off at a laundromat, and mending costs more if done by a commercial tailor instead of at home.  

The Great Post-1970 Societal Shift triggered some family and social relationship costs, as well:

A majority of women complain that they must work a “second shift,” the first at their outside jobs; the second at home.  As a result, millions of working women are both exhausted and resentful that their 

male partners are failing to assist with domestic chores.  Many men, feeling deflated by the loss of status that society attaches to their previous role of exclusive breadwinner, often make even more, rather than fewer, demands on their wives at home.  (The perception of domestic work as the "natural" province of women, and wage-discrimination against women, persist and must continue to be challenged. Space limitations prevent us from holding forth on the subject here, but note the sections pertinent to this issue in our “Platform.”) 

Marriage, under heavy pressure, is crumbling.  Today, a majority of U.S. women are single, 65 percent of divorces are initiated by women, and the U.S. divorce rate is the highest in the world.  Conversely, our marriage rate is the highest too as both men and women seek, in committed relationships, solace from the depressive psychological and emotional effects of vanishing economic security.

In response to the current recession, U.S. working people and the dwindling middle class use their leisure time quite differently than in the past.  As mentioned earlier, social withdrawal has become the norm. Overeating has soared, causing 1 out of 3 adults to be obese. The number of hours spent watching television has climbed: The average U.S. man watches 7 hours of TV a day; the average woman, 4-5 hours.  

Americans have turned to drugs -- legal and illegal -- to ease their psychic pain. The U.S., where 6% of the world’s population resides, consumes 66% of the world’s supply of psycho-pharmaceutical drugs.  In general, these expensive products (the economy's best-sellers) are minimally effective, and the positive effects experienced by 25% of the medicated population disappear if they stop taking the drugs. As one might expect, difficult economic conditions correlate with depression, precarious mental health, overeating, drug dependency and excessive TV-watching.

These changes in social behavior and mental health suggest that the U.S. population suffers from the abuse syndrome.  Here’s what we mean: It’s generally known that pimps and batterers are adept abusers. They lie, make false promises, threaten abandonment, demand -- and yet betray -- trust.  They abuse their victims in ways that break down the victims' resolve or will to push back.  Unable to face how humiliated and powerless they have become, victims can't bring themselves to admit that the people they trusted don't really give a damn about them.

So consider this: Employers and governments can also be adept at abusing the people they should respect, care about and treat fairly.  Examples:  X corporation, instead of giving a worker prior notice of dismissal, fires the man on the spot and gives him only minutes to collect his possessions; then a security guard escorts him out, as his former co-workers watch.   A for-profit "career school" rips off young people by falsely claiming (in ubiquitous subway, bus and TV ads) that its training courses give nearly all of its graduates access to available, high-paying jobs.  More often than not, the young folks who drink the Kool Aid end up with a useless certificate and deeply in debt.  A low-income family signs up for a city's subsidized housing program, then while awaiting their turn they learn a year later that the city had shut the program down without notifying its thousands of applicants. A private health insurance company refuses to cover the cost of a kidney transplant, resulting in the patient's most likely preventable death. A wholesale sports gear company pays reasonable salaries to its staff of sneaker designers, but doesn't pay for the overtime hours the sneaker staff has to work almost daily.   Deceitful mortgage lenders lure home-buyers into adjustable-rate contracts the buyers can barely afford and can't sustain, disappear the mortgages into a labyrinth of derivative sales and pocket millions while the clients eventually lose their homes to foreclosure. 

We could go on. The point is these are all cases of abuse that leave real scars on those seeking to put together viable lives in the nation they call home.  And just as the victims of pimps and batterers know they should walk away but can't in their mentally weakened condition, millions of American victims of employer, governmental and institutional abuse know they should join with others, fight back and demand their rights.  The problem is we can feel so beaten down, tired and fearful that we find it nearly impossible to take that step. 

What must we do to stop being passive and become active, to overcome denial and face reality, to refuse abuse, resist and fight back?  What must we do to make of ourselves a force so powerful that we cannot be ignored?

An Environment For Political Growth and Empowerment

We discovered through some research that in this time of social withdrawal, tension and emotional strain, 12-step programs are attracting more and more participants. In cities and towns across the country, the most famous original 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, (AA), has created a place for numerous offspring Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and amny othersits newest and most important development in Adult Children/Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families (ACA).  Anonymous 12 step programs like these are drawing millions of Americans who had previously resorted to self-medication with alcohol, drugs and/or food -- choices, people had discovered, that were making their problems worse.  Instead, by joining with others in small, admission-free 12-step groups, people are able to share and examine their pain and suffering with a supportive, non-judgmental collective. Participants choose one or more of their peers to lead the group, and each person selects a "sponsor" who helps him or her stay with the program. The 12 step program, Adult Children/Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families (ACA), works with all people who are traumatized by their families which means practically everyone. Why does the 12-step model work?

1) It enables members, to acknowledge that they have a problem -- thus, the well-known line, "My name is X and I am an alcoholic." 

2) It elicits from members the admission that they haven't been able to solve their problems alone; Having realized that they need a group's assistance, they quickly discover that however much they may have felt alone, they are NOT alone. Their concerns and problems are not unique.

3) The 12-step model recognizes and incorporates the importance of family.  The group functions as a second family that members can rely on for understanding and non-judgmental support.  This is especially important for people whose relations with their biological relatives have had an abusive or otherwise destructive dynamic, or who live far away from their families and can't easily be in touch with them.

4) Members listen to, validate and honor each other's personal stories, which enables the whole group to “own” the wisdom, insight and thoughtfulness that energize its discussions and engender solidarity. 

Given the popularity of 12-step programs, we began thinking … why not adapt this model to help people overcome the passivity and denial brought on by these tough times, so they can participate in, and contribute to building, a project of political development and empowerment? Americans' attraction to 12-step programs indicates that millions of us yearn to connect with others and share our experiences of anxiety, anger and uncertainty, which mark this era of crisis.  Wouldn't the holistic environment of a 12-step program, where an individual is listened to, supported, comforted and encouraged be empowering and conducive to raising her/his political consciousness?  A popular axiom of the 1960s was "the personal is political" – that’s true for all seasons. Why not connect and learn -- together -- from whence come the multiple threats to our common pursuit of happiness?  Constructing, with friends and neighbors, ways to repel those threats sounds to us like time better spent than struggling in isolation.  

 To illustrate our adaptation process, we checked out The Little Red Book (LRB) a popular piece of recovery literature designed for Alcoholics Anonymous. We borrowed its format but changed the content of its 12 steps to reflect our chosen goal of political growth and empowerment.  Below, we present each LRB “step,” with our alternative step (OA) underneath in bold italics: 

LRB (1) We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.

OA - We understand that one person cannot alone solve the chronic societal problems that are making our public and private lives very difficult to manage

LRB (2) We came to believe that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

OA - We have come to believe that only a collective, which is a power greater than our individual selves, can help move our nation forward to a healthier, more just and democratic place. 

LRB (3) We made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him

OA - We decided to commit some of our time, energy, will and belief in the future to work with each other for change. 

LRB (4) We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

OA - We took a serious and thorough moral measure of ourselves, noting the ways we collude with societal forces in our own exploitation, and noting our embrace of practices and beliefs about ourselves and others that make us vulnerable to being manipulated and exploited. This is an important step: We need to be aware that we are not just victims, we are also collaborators.  We are not helpless, we can also act ... for better or worse.  What we need to do now is unite around basic principles and create programs to achieve goals for the benefit of all.

LRB (5) We admitted to God and to ourselves and to other human beings the nature of our wrongs.

OA - We have admitted to ourselves, and out loud to others, the ways we have collaborated in our own victimization.  

LRB (6) We are ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

OA - We are working to move beyond certain dysfunctional behaviors by taking action to better our own and others' lives.  Some members of our collective also take support from their religious or spiritual beliefs, as a private matter.  Everyone's contributions enrich our group's development and efforts.  

LRB (7) We humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.

OA - We ask for, and are ready to give, the much-needed support that will help us unlearn collusion and internalize the new knowledge and wisdom that comes to us through our efforts, and which is so necessary for our growth.  We also ask for, and will give, support to help us rebound from the disappointments likely to occur among our triumphs.  

LRB (8) We will make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

OA - We're studying to fill the gaps in our knowledge of U.S. history, the better to grasp both the similar and different realities lived by the diverse peoples who've populated our nation from the very beginning. We're studying the systemic arrangements: economic, political, social; the terrains of class and color, poverty and wealth, privilege and persecution, the marvelous and shameful, the horrible and the beautiful.  We do this not just to discover, learn and acquire knowledge for its own sake, but more to inform our thoughts about the dignity of life, creating change and building the future. 

NEW #9 OA - We will draw up a list of all persons we have harmed and make amends directly to them wherever possible, except if to do so would injure them or others.  We continue to take a moral measure of ourselves, and when we are wrong we admit it.

NEW #10 OA - We work to promote, and to demand from our government -- federal, state and local -- fair and just domestic policies that support Americans' efforts to live healthy and productive lives -- a well-lived life benefits our whole society.  We also work to promote and demand humane and non-exploitative foreign policies that encourage peaceful relations between nations and the well-being of all humanity and our planet Earth. 

LRB (11) We seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

OA - We seek -- through experience, study, meditation, imagination, discussion and listening to each other -- greater understanding, knowledge and consciousness of the human condition and all life, the better to connect with others in developing a well-functioning, life-affirming, democratic society.

(12)  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

OA - Having come to realize, by taking these 12 steps, that certain structural characteristics of U.S. society hinder Americans' pursuit of happiness; having also realized the ways in which some of our own actions reinforce those hindrances, we have experienced an invigorating moral, ethical, and political awakening.  Feeling the changes within ourselves, we are motivated to reach out and engage sympathetically and supportively with whomever we can.  We ask each other here to do the same.  Our collective plants hope and cultivates action.  Our collective is powerful.  We will reap a sustainable future.

On The Pursuit of Happiness:

A Platform For Retrieving The American Dream

Note: Variations of the policies we propose below on health care, the workplace, support-for-families and education have been in effect for years in France, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden & Denmark), South Africa, Australia, Japan and Spain, of the developed countries. Many of the developing, and even some of the poorest, nations also have these policies. Understandably, you may ask where would the money come from to fund the services we believe our government should provide. According to the National Priorities Project, the U.S. government has spent $815 billion of our tax money since fiscal year 2003 destroying the nation of Iraq.  For that amount the government could have provided

  • 417.7 million Children Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR 
  • 12.5 million Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR 
  • 14.3 million Firefighters for One Year OR 
  • 107.2 million Head Start Slots for Children for One Year OR 
  • 184.6 million Households with Renewable Electricity - Solar Photovoltaic for One Year OR 
  • 492.1 million Households with Renewable Electricity-Wind Power for One Year OR 
  • 104.5 million Military Veterans Receiving VA Medical Care for One Year OR 
  • 167.6 million People Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR 
  • 12.3 million Police or Sheriff's Patrol Officers for One Year OR 
  • 103.4 million Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR 
  • 146.8 million Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that we spend approximately $16 billion a month in Afghanistan, roughly equivalent to how much it would cost to employ 262,500 teachers; provide 1,995,000 children with daycare; and cover the annual health care costs for 5 million people -- and this is just for one month. When elected officials tell us our nation is bankrupt, we should tell them to bring our dollars home. For more information about the costs of war and the “bring our dollars home” campaign, go to www.nationalpriorities.org

 The problems with these liberals' logic are many.  First, if the government taxed corporations and the wealthiest individuals more, it could maintain high spending without having to incur huge deficits.  One recent calculation showed that if corporations and individuals earning over $1,000,000 per year paid the same rate of taxes today as they paid in 1961, the US Treasury would collect an addition $716 billion per year.  That would cut the 2011 deficit by half and likewise its interest costs.  Second, consider who lends to the US government.  Major creditors include the People's Republic of China, Japan, large corporations and wealthy individuals in the US and abroad.  The greater our deficits, the more of everyone's taxes go to pay interest to those creditors.  Third, consider the basic injustice of deficits: (1) Washington taxes corporations and the rich far less than it used to in, say, the 1960s; (2) Washington therefore runs a deficit; and (3) the US Treasury then borrows from corporations and the rich the money that the government allowed them not to pay in taxes.

In the 1960s the wealthiest Americans were required to pay 91% of their income in income taxes. That amount was agreed upon by Democratic presidents, like Truman and Republicans like General Eisenhour. We had prosperity and were the most equal society in the Western Industrialized world. This year, according to the IRS, the richest individuals will pay 16.67% in income taxes ( Drucker, April 7, 2011). In addition many of our richest corporations like GE and Bank of America will pay no taxes.FNHERE That could be corrected. If we returned to our 1960 corporate tax level and cracked down on the tax cheating of the wealthiest Americans we could easily pay for the programs above. The US levys taxes on property in cars and homes. If we extended those taxes o what they call intangible property in stocks, bonds, hedgefund investments, etc we would enjoy equality of opportunity. All of this exists and is possible for us to enjoy.


(1) Universal Single-Payer Health Care  We agree with the majority of humanity and most governments, that health care is a human right, not a privilege of the affluent.  Thus, we regard the profit-based “managed care” system brought to us by the Clinton administration (and continued in the plan initiated by the Obama administration) as inherently discriminatory, as well as irrational in that its structural dependence on the private delivery of care disallows cost-efficiency. It is widely known that we spend more than any nation on care that falls short of being universal in its coverage and is very uneven in quality. It's urgent that we convert to a practical, public model that can provide high quality care for all. The advent of universal, quality health care would remove a huge burden of anxiety and economic insecurity from American shoulders.

(2) Maternity and Paternity Leave  In the developed world, paid paternity leave is the third or fourth  generation leave granted by both public sector and private workplaces for the birth of a child. In Norway, paternity leave is mandatory to prevent employers from offering fathers a salary bonus as an incentive for them to forego their leave, the point being to encourage father-child bonding.     

(3) Paid Leave for Family Care  Provide workers with paid leave to care for a sick child or other relative.  The Scandanavian version ranges from 30 days to 18 months. This saves people from having to choose between attending to emergency family needs and losing their jobs.

(4) Paid Vacation Time and Paid Personal Time  By law in France, both public and private employers must grant their workers 5 weeks of paid vacation leave.  Paid personal time is also a feature of some workplaces in several developed nations.  We favor establishment of both requirements in the United States.

(5) Single-Mother Subsidies  40% of U.S. children are born outside of marriage, and single mothers and their children are the poorest of all Americans. To meet basic human needs -- food, housing, health and education -- government assistance should be available for these families.

(6) Recognition of Emotional Labor With Appropriate Compensation  The time is overdue for our society to acknowledge the value and indispensability of emotional labor,* which is the active expression of sensitivity to another person’s needs and the effort, in a given moment or over time, to respond to those needs. Traditionally, emotional labor has been presumptively "women's work" and, thus, hardly noticed, even less valued and low-paid.  In the 21st century, emotional labor professionals deserve recognition, respect and higher pay for the essential services they provide. *Examples: early childhood care, infant/toddler daycare, social work, guidance counseling in schools, addiction counseling, executive assistance/secretarial, nursing, orderlies, physical therapies, et. al.

(7) Gender Equality In Workplaces And Households  In the United States, mothers are disproportionately the targets of discrimination against women.  Our mothers currently earn 73% of what American males earn, whether or not the males are fathers, while childless women earn 98% of what men earn.  Indeed, having a child in the U.S. is a predictor of poverty, and in no other wealthy nation are mothers as relatively underprivileged or as flat out poor as American mothers. Privileged upper middle and upper class mothers avoid the worst of gender bias by having the funds to leave their children in the care of usually Third World, often poorly paid women, plus their added ability to supervise their children’s care even without directly providing it.  Given society’s stake in having both mothers and fathers as available as possible to deliver a new generation of well-raised, hopeful people, gender-equality in wages and public programs especially supportive of mothers are sorely needed. 

(8) Democracy in the Workplace  Democratic principles should not disappear at the door to our jobs. Adult workers are qualified and competent to participate in decision-making that determines salary scales, the volume of production; what percentage of profits should be paid out in wages, allocated to consultants, reinvested in the business, etc.  Such a workplace arrangement is widely practiced not only in  foreign locations like Mondragon, Spain, but also in the U.S.  For example, in the 1990s, computer programmers fled rigidly-structured corporate bureaucracies like IBM and established small, non-hierarchical start-ups that became the most creative businesses of their time.  Their regular, inclusive meetings, held to address all levels of operation, also inspired and incubated new internet product ideas. This is not surprising: Dynamic work environments that empower all workers by giving everyone a say and, thus, engender mutual respect among workers of different education levels and skill sets, bring forth the best in everyone -- hard work and commitment to excellence.

(9) Subsidized Cleaning and Laundry Services for Two Working-Parent Families  A lot of New York condo buildings offer their affluent residents the option of housecleaning and laundry services. Providing those services to all would lighten American women’s load and provide employment for thousands.

(10) Free Quality Public Education From Daycare Through College Day Care: Cities or states should subsidize highly trained day care personnel for children from birth to four, for all families above the poverty line.  For poor families, the service should be free.  Subsidized/Free After-School and Summer Programs in the Arts, Science and Sports for families with children age four and up.


(11) Reproductive Education / Birth Control Instruction and Information  In the early grades, children could study plant reproduction (as in Sweden) as the first components of a comprehensive reproduction curriculum that continues, age-appropriately, up through the grades. Pre-teens would learn about human anatomy, human reproduction, and gender and sexual orientation differences. Teens could learn about personal relationships, sexual responsibility and family planning/birth control. Teens should also learn that the morning-after pill and abortion are reasonable, available options when birth control has failed, but that these options are not intended for use as alternatives to contraception. Such a comprehensive curriculum empowers young people to exercise control over their lives and behave responsibly.

(12) Relationship Education  Free courses should be available, beginning in the teen years and throughout life, to individuals wishing to develop skills for relating constructively, responsibly and empathetically to partners, their children, friends, co-workers and/or others. Such courses help facilitate people's healthy connectivity to one another at home and in society, as well as raise consciousness about the harmful effects of sex and gender discrimination.

(13) Whole Family Counseling  Community-based and otherwise accessible counseling centers should be available free of charge to the poor, at low cost to others, where family members can address problems, seek solutions, develop self-awareness and learn or improve social skills with the guidance of a trained professional.

(14) Addiction Counseling  Fortunately, 12-step programs already exist free of charge in our society (although long waiting lists indicate many more are needed), and as noted earlier are quite successful.  We do, however, suggest that 12-step participants be asked to consider what covert role authoritarian-type families and profit-driven industries -- for example, the highly advertised liquor, diet supplements, fashion, pharmaceutical, pornography and junk food industries -- might play in encouraging various addictions.

Valuing And Compensating Emotional Labor


Emotional labor is the act of expressing sensitivity to another person’s needs and trying, in a given moment or situation or over time, to respond to those needs.  It's one of the primary ways that we express love and concern for a parent, child, lover, spouse, friend, co-worker, or on the street it’s the polite assistance we give to a stranger who’s seeking directions.  Even though all human beings are often called upon to "be sensitive," traditionally emotional labor has been associated with femininity and expected of women in their presumably "natural" roles as mothers, wives, keepers of the home, nurses, caregivers. Unfairly, because it was "women's work," emo-tional labor was hardly conceived of or noticed, much less valued.


So what does emotional labor in action look like?  A perceptive parent senses, in one instance, that her/his infant needs to be held, rocked and cooed to; or in another instance the parent senses that the baby is over-stimulated and just needs to be held quietly, without interaction.  Emotional labor can entail responding to a friend's needs in an indirect way so that the person in need doesn't feel like a burden.  Here's a challenging situation: A man comes home from work angry and upset but is trying to conceal his feelings.  His partner senses that something is wrong and quickly comes up with a strategy for soothing him.  He/she asks the children to give them some time alone so they can discuss each other's day.  Or he/she suggests that they take a walk together, or says "I'm so glad you're here because I desperately need your advice about something" -- which distracts the upset person and suddenly reminds him that, at home if nowhere else, he's important and appreciated.


Three things are very important to understand about emotional labor.  First, like other kinds of labor, it can be time-consuming, tiring and even exhausting.  Second, emotional labor is indispensable to sustaining the family life, social life and public life of humans because we are social beings who need each other to survive and thrive. Third: Following logically from point #2, emotional labor must not be regarded, and thus devalued, as naturally "women's work."  Concern for other people, whether for the stranger who needs directions or for one's family members, friends and co-workers, is a necessary and admirable quality in humans, male or female.


In society today, people at all points on the sex and gender spectrum are calling for an end to pre-ordained sex role assignments and demanding equal rights across the board: shared responsibilities and such human rights as marriage equality for same-sex couples. In the 21st century, people are realizing there's no excuse for women not to receive equal pay for equal work, or for two parents not to receive paid leave and paid "personal time," or for daycare workers trained to care for infants and toddlers not to command respect for their professional skills and be compensated fairly, or for our elected officials not to respond to U.S. parents' desperate need for subsidized / free child care -- preferably "on-site," in workplaces.


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  • Agua Tofaceit
    commented 2020-12-02 11:16:04 -0500
    HI THIS Our Alternative 12 Steps is EFFECTIVE.
    It is WORKING ALREADY .!!! Great work. CAN BE USED BY MANY. Form your own way in a traditional track or an Open track as we have created. THANKS SO MUCH. We NYC folk, who are conscious and in other 12 step fellowships support these steps. We have ties to others in Maine and California etc have established a PHONE CONFERENCE call meeting on Thursdays. Harriet Fraad, I bumped into you at the conference that Dr. Kim Westcott was co ordinating. It was in Autumn of 2019 NYC. It was titled Participation is A Human Right.

    This year 2020 it was I believe online and RD Wolff gave a video online talk?
    RD Wolff was online with conference I believe in 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhxF1tgsL0Q

    In 2019, I found out from you about these Our Alternative 12 steps on this very site. Our Thursday group on the phone uses them and have found folks from many other traditional 12 step fellowships can easefully hear and share in the meeting on their identification. thanks Lupe
    PS OA in traditional 12 step means Overeaters Anonymous. Suggestion: Refer to this fellowship in a short form as OUR ALT. (for Our Alternatives) not OA Gracias
  • Stephen Schleis
    commented 2018-01-03 14:05:27 -0500
    “On the effectiveness of 12-step programs:

    Dr. Lance Dodes: "They have about a 5-10 percent success rate. I wouldn’t say they are useless for everybody, they’re useful for 5-10 percent. The problem is not those people who, by the way, should stay in AA if they’re doing well, the problem is that the other 90 percent of people who are referred to AA — and that is almost everyone with an addiction — are being hurt by being sent to a program that can’t possibly help them. Besides wasting time doing that, there are many other things that they could be trying, which they’re discouraged from doing because AA — even though the individual people in AA may be kind and compassionate — AA itself is never wrong, according to AA. People are told, if you’re not doing well then you have to work the program harder, go to more meetings, go to 90 meetings in 90 days. That would make sense if it made a difference to go more, but in fact that isn’t the way it works. To encourage them to return suggests that if they’re not doing well it’s their fault, it’s not AA’s fault. Incidentally, that’s the same problem the rehabs have and we all believe it. When celebrities go in and out of these expensive rehabs, we blame them. We say, ‘Seventh, eighth, admission, what’s wrong with these people? They’re not staying with the program.’ But no one says, ‘Maybe the treatment is lousy.’ Which is much closer to the truth.” Source:


    Another source on the failures of the 12 steps program.


    The only reason the 12 steps programs exist is for profit. The 10% of people that stay in the program have a greater chance of being tithing members of the church that they are attending and since the church pays nobody to start these programs it is free capital for the church.
  • Kath Surbaugh
    commented 2017-08-29 16:39:18 -0400
    Here are a draft of proposed 12-Steps for The Pursuit of Happiness Program:
    1. We are powerless over lies we believe are true and our lives have been unmanageable.
    2. We came to believe that the Power that gives us life can also free us.
    3. We made a decision to turn our life and our will over to the care of this Power as we understand it.
    4. We made a searching and fearless total checklist of the lies and false beliefs we’ve internalized or acted out.
    5. We admit to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of the falsehoods that guided our beliefs and actions.
    6. We became entirely willing to allow the Power that gives us Life to remove our false beliefs about ourselves and others and the planet.
    7. Humbly asked our Guiding Power to strip away the lies that have made us blind to our own gifts and to the value of all of those around us.
    8. Made a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them.
    9. Make direct amends to all such persons, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10. Continue to reexamine our outlook for lies and false beliefs and, where we have acted on them, promptly admit it.
    11. Seek through reflection and mindful effort to improve our conscious contact with our Guiding Power, as we understand this Power, asking only for life-affirming goals and for the ability to carry these out.
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we try to carry this message others and to practice these principles our lives.
  • Kath Surbaugh
    commented 2017-08-29 14:35:42 -0400
    What I am seeing here are two tracks—one a social movement and the other a support/self-development fellowship. Just as AA has several loosely associated forums—Alano Clubs (separate entities, but existing only as a social setting for sober activities that range from renting space for 12-Step meetings, to holding dances, bingo games, picnics and coffee bars), National Counsel on Alcoholism (now renamed Substance Abuse), Hazelden and other medical model in-patient treatment facilities—what I’m seeing here is a club/union organization for member activists that addresses the goals outlined (which would be “its own thing” in terms of committees, staffing, etc.) and a more traditional 12-Step program focused on each person as a whole being. The Pursuit of Happiness 12-Step Program could (and probably should) be a forum for people coming out of jail, battered wives, service people with PTSD, recovering addicts and family members—all those, in a word, dealing with the impact that growing up in authoritarian households and culture.