Progressive symposium tackles the Wall St.-Washington connection

Last night, the Lannan Center Spring Symposium and Literary Festival hosted its first event, proposing a “Blueprint for Accountability” to address the destructive effects of “The Wall Street-Washington Connection.” The event featured a panel of progressive leaders, dramatic readings, and short documentaries that tackled the economic crisis and the relationship of corporate and political power.

The panel was supposed to be moderated by MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, but due to a last-minute cancellation, MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney led the dialogue. Panelists included former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Rolling Stone political reporter Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist and author Ron Suskind, environmental advocate Van Jones, liberal policy advocate Heather McGhee, and Occupy Wall Street protester Jesse LaGreca.

Each topic for the panel was introduced by a short documentary, ranging from “Crash,” which highlighted the causes and effects of the economic crash of 2008, to “Conflict of Interest,” which discussed the tension between Wall Street and Washington and proposed ways to move forward. In addition to the films, actors Anna Khaja (of True Blood), Charles Parnell (All My Children), and Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) performed dramatic readings during the evening. Khaja theatrically read the story of a woman unable to receive loan modifications in order to pay her mortgage. Pasquale’s performance stressed the importance of voter awareness to understand both sides of the current economic divide.

Parnell’s dramatic reading addressed the issue of poverty, in which he exclaimed:

This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gap between the haves and have nots, the question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

During the panel discussions, LaGreca, the comedian of the group, compared the idea of Wall Street self-regulation to letting zoo animals regulate themselves. Jones stressed economic justice for both sides and the impact of economic decline on the middle class, stating, “The very pillars that we were told were the pillars we were supposed to use to get out of poverty, to build the middle class, those are the two pillars that are being used to crush us—home ownership and a college education.”

His proposed solution to the housing crisis is to remove Ed DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and overseer of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from the Obama administration. Jones made the bold statement, which was greeted by a thunderous round of applause, “This is not class war, this is war against people who have no class.” Suskind described the current economic situation as a “bubble-bust economy, one that’s built an enormous debt trading machine.”

The fire-breathing Jones also confronted the idea of liberty and justice for all, claiming, “I’m beginning to wonder if it’s possible to be libertarian and a patriot.” He argued that justice without liberty is totalitarianism, but liberty without justice is corporate tyranny. In defense of government intervention, he declared, “The government is not trying to take over the economy, corporations are trying to take over the government.”

LaGreca’s populist view of accountability was summed up in his statement, “Screw shared sacrifice, I wanna see the billionaires go first.” Parnell claimed that GDP measures everything except what makes life worthwhile, and therefore, we must reevaluate what it is that makes us proud to be Americans. Jones joked that after Obama’s election, America went from “hope-y to mope-y” because the two ways out of poverty, housing and education, have become the two ways into poverty.

Nevertheless, the progressive panel still came to an optimistic and hopeful conclusion, expressing faith in the American people’s ability to close the gap between the rich and poor, and to enforce accountability on both Wall Street and Washington.

Photo: Julia Jester

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