CNCounty News

McGhee: America prospers when it finds ‘solidarity dividends’

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Key Takeaways

Heather McGhee has been on the road across America searching for “stories of solidarity dividends,” stories of people using their collective power to gain the things that are precious to them.

What she has found, McGhee told NACo Annual Conference attendees July 22, has made her hopeful that “at the local level, there are people who are willing to fight for one another.”

“They are making things happen, they are winning,” she said. And what they are winning — for themselves and others — are things like “clean water, voting rights and the righting of historical wrongs.”

These victories are what she calls the “solidarity dividends” that can be won only when people come together. 

“I can’t accomplish it on my own,” she said. “That takes government collective action. That takes all of us. I find that there are ways that communities come together to gain things precious to them. It isn’t easy, but it is possible” when everyone rolls up their sleeves.

McGhee is author of “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” 

“The Sum of Us” is being adapted into a Spotify podcast by Higher Ground, the production company of Barack and Michelle Obama. 

A self-described “policy wonk,” McGhee has spent her career in public policy crafting legislation, testifying before Congress and helping shape presidential campaign platforms.

In 2002, McGhee joined Demos, a non-profit think tank that promotes an inclusive and multiracial democracy. She became Demos president in 2014. 

But she left Demos in June 2018 because she felt the country wasn’t working. It was mired in what she termed “the inequality era,” with half of American workers being paid too little to meet their basic needs.

“It was not that we didn’t have solutions but that we wouldn’t come together” to achieve important things like paid family leave, well-funded public schools and a solid infrastructure, she said. 

On her journey, McGhee said she found that the country’s collective economic progress has been held back by “the lie of the zero sum game — the belief that one group can win something only by causing another group to lose it.” 

White Americans have tended to believe the zero sum lie, she said, and  need to understand that such division has a steep cost for everyone.

The zero sum game is “a way of seeing the world as a fixed pie of wellbeing. If one group gets a bigger slice, another group gets a smaller one,” she said. “It’s a model that says we’re not all on the same team.”

But, “we need to recognize that it is not a zero sum game,” McGhee said. “We want all our players on the field scoring points for our team.” 

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