Bill Whitaker

Bill Whitaker

What does a ‘fair and just’ society look like?

Everyone wants to live in a fair and just society. Key documents of the American experiment in democracy reflect our struggles for fairness and justice.

The Preamble to the United States Constitution states, “We, the People of the United State, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Amendments to the Constitution document our journey toward achieving a fair and just society. The first 10 amendments — our Bill of Rights — include political and civil rights including freedom of speech and the press; freedom of religion; our right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for a redress of grievances; the right to fair, speedy and public trial by jury; due process of law; and protection against unreasonable search and seizures, double jeopardy and self-incrimination. 

The Bill of Rights, however, left many gaps — rights later guaranteed through further amendments to the Constitution. After the Civil War, slavery was abolished. Black men could vote. Senators were elected directly by voters. After a long struggle, women too could vote. Presidents were limited to two terms. Poll taxes were outlawed. Eighteen-year-olds could vote. Political and civil rights were strengthened.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt advocated a “Second Bill of Rights” — as next steps toward a fair and just society. We have made far less progress on these social and economic rights. Updated to current circumstances this would mean that every citizen would have the right to a good education; to adequate protection in the event of extreme need stemming from illness, accident, old age or unemployment; to have access to adequate food, shelter and health care; to employment that pays a living wage; and to freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad. In a fair and just society, Congress and state governments would take reasonable legislative and other measures to achieve the universal realization of these rights.

We will have a fair and just society in the United States when we achieve for everyone both the political and civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution as amended and the social and economic rights proposed in the Second Bill of Rights, when every person is guaranteed the rights to equity and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, when all Americans have equal protection under laws fairly enforced, and, if those rights and liberties are not fully realized, we commit to ensure that everyone within our borders achieves or regains them. 

We will have a fair and just society when each of us recognizes our rights and responsibilities as citizens of our local communities, our state, our nation and the global community. We must stand firmly opposed to any attempt to compromise those rights and liberties and assert that, as citizens, we are the government and promise to uphold the protections granted to us by our state and national constitutions. 

We will have a just and fair society only when we understand, admit to and, through our government, atone for the genocide that decimated the indigenous nations of North America and for the enslavement of Africans who built our nation’s Capitol and generated much of our nation’s wealth. We will have a fair and just society only when control of government is reclaimed from corporate interests, representative democracy prevails, each of our votes is equal, and fair taxation funds the public programs that benefit all of us — education, transportation, public safety, health care, retirement security, parks and safety nets.

Through people’s struggles and social movements, the United States has made, by fits and starts, considerable progress toward achieving a fair and just society. As Democrats and progressives we are committed to continuing the struggles to realize all the ideals of a fair and just society. 

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