When the American Dream becomes a mall in New Jersey

Gregory Floyd | 11/7/2019, 11:38 a.m.
Has the American Dream become just a mall in New Jersey?
President, Teamsters Local 237

Has the American Dream become just a mall in New Jersey? Right now, this $6 billion version, just 6 miles from Manhattan, in East Rutherford, is where private developers were able to leverage a stake in property abandoned by previous developers, along with the sale of $1.1 billion in tax-exempt bonds and $390 million in tax concessions. With $3 million-plus square feet that include a Nickelodeon Theme park, a DreamWorks water park, ice skating rink, ski slope, movie theaters, a live performance theater, high-end retail shopping stores and destination restaurants, this American Dream—which already employs 1,200 people directly with an additional 17,000 jobs expected to come—may actually come closer to embodying the concept of the “American Dream,” a term originally coined in 1931.

In his Depression era best-selling novel, “Epic of America,” writer and historian James Truslow Adams described America as a land where “each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of fortuitous circumstance of birth or position.” Simply: America is a land of opportunity where even if you are born poor, through hard work, you don’t have to remain that way.

New Jersey’s American Dream took 15 years to produce. The American Dream that Adams envisioned went on to produce programs during that same period of time that included a national infrastructure system for highways and utilities as well as a master plan for affordable housing such as NYCHA. Indeed, perhaps the most significant feature of the 1931 American Dream was that it triggered a public consciousness which acknowledged gross inequality in America and resulted in an outcry for the federal government to take action to remedy it.

Some might say that the American Dream mall is the exact opposite of Adams’ idea and that it’s actually a perversion of his concept—an ideal run amuck. To some, this high-end, high-cost American Dream is the embodiment of opulent entertainment and other over-the-top self-indulgences that are certainly not available and affordable for all. Now, nothing is intrinsically wrong with a place for Americans to have fun. But in the current political landscape, where progressives and social Democrats are critical of the great divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in our society and lambast as ineffectual those who have historically led the fight to level the playing field—members of the Democratic Party and unions—it leaves us to wonder how, if and by whom will economic equality ever come about? There are many who think that they have the answer: Just complain about it and you’ve done something. Even today’s Democratic presidential candidates have adopted a “woke” element to their campaigns. The strategy seems to be: Say it out loud. Then apologize for past offenses or actions that should have been taken and absolution is on the way.

Recently, former President Obama hosted a summit that challenged the “woke culture” for precisely that—complaining without activism. He told the audience: “There is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible…if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right….I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself…Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out. That’s not activism…That’s not enough.”

We’ve come to accept the importance of “See something, say something.” But that is only the start. “Doing something” really makes the difference. The American Dream is an evolving concept. It is mired in a time of great desperation; it held the promise of hope and the encouragement to accomplish. Today the phrase may be used to symbolize the fruits of our labor—proof positive that the American Dream is obtainable, with tangible results. But for those who are still feeling that the dream is still not theirs, being “woke” is not enough. To awake requires action.