Forward-Thinking Politics of Roosevelt 2012 and the Legacy of Stéphane Hessel

Though started in 2012 in the context of the presidential elections, the political organization Roosevelt 2012 maintains an active political voice in today's policy reforms.Photo: Marc Goetzmann

Though started in 2012 in the context of the presidential elections, the political organization Roosevelt 2012 maintains an active political voice in today’s policy reforms.
Photo: Marc Goetzmann

Stéphane Hessel, the internationally renowned survivor of a World War II concentration camp and human rights activist, died February 27 leaving behind a legacy bearing great political and ethical weight. He translated his ideological passions into his support in the founding of Roosevelt 2012. Though this is perhaps not his most widely recognized contribution, the integrity of his thought manifests itself still as a living force through this movement.

Using Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal principles as a model, the Roosevelt 2012 movement was founded in March 2012 by a group of prominent economists, politicians, and other activists, including Stéphane Hessel and ex-Prime Minister Michel Rocard. Their rhetoric takes on a revolutionary tone, but serves as a source of well-articulated points on how to best reform French policy and ameliorate the economy. Ultimately the goal of this political activist conglomerate is to motivate citizens and policy makers to take action to avert the economic crisis.

The group’s participation in the labor protests last week demonstrates such desire for more active citizen involvement. Véronique David, one member present at the protests, explains, “It is called Roosevelt because what we put forward is Roosevelt’s voluntarism and all the measures he implemented against the crisis.” Each person has the responsibility to actively engage in implementing change, hence the participation in recent protests to voice dissatisfaction with labor policy changes that are splintering the unions.

David explains that while “some of our proposals are typical of Roosevelt’s way, others are more particular to France.” But, in the end, “[The movement] is based on citizens, in France and even abroad… it regroups different political sensibilities.” While they have universal ideologies, they are still maintaining focus on specific issues in France as they arise, such as, in David’s case, the threats against job security.

The organization puts forth 15 reform proposals organized within three “priority areas.” The three categories are 1) Preventing collapse, 2) Against unemployment, build a new society, and 3) Finally build a democratic Europe. The proposals enumerate the problems within the French economic system and propose solutions for everything from tax reform, to issues of unemployment and personal financial insecurity, from banking to the environment and even the organization of the European Union. But the fundamental goal is to reverse the trends of passive citizens, passive government, and unregulated capitalism.

The manifesto begins: “We can no longer remain silent. We cannot sit on our hands and do nothing. Our hearts and minds are bound to denounce and defy the fate that looms before Mankind.” It continues, “As Stéphane Hessel and Edgar Morin wrote recently: ‘It’s up to Society to choose; will it be metamorphosis or death?’”

But what is in store for the future of this movement? Rising prominence? A more global reaction to look back at this history of the New Deal? Increased relations and direct communication between Roosevelt 2012 and groups in other nations?

Already, the collective “Roosevelt 2012 Belgium” was started up last fall, proposing their own set of fifteen points for reforms to the Belgian crisis, laying the ground work for the movement to expand globally.

In the United States, the legacy of the New Deal has resurfaced in the past few years, though not in quite as organized a fashion as Roosevelt 2012. From the Occupy Wall Street movement and rhetoric surrounding the Obama campaigns to just this past Wednesday when The National Farmers Union divulged their support for reinstating the Glass-Steagall law, the New Deal is a relevant point of reference and lens through which many examine this economic crisis

But now, as people reflect on the life and passing of Hessel, perhaps more public attention will be directed toward this movement and the specific solutions it presents. “The aim of our group is simple: to trigger an awakening!” the manifesto concludes, and while Hessel’s legacy is resonating globally and the movement already has some international recognition, the extent of its expansion in the near future remains unclear.

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