Invoking one of the greatest executives of the 20th Century, self-described Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders is calling on Americans to embrace a new Bill of Rights – which includes the right to a living wage, the right to health care, the right to an education and more. Sanders’ speech, delivered at Georgetown University on Thursday November 19th, made it clear to the audience that “true freedom does not occur without economic security.”

It’s not just political leaders like Sanders and FDR that understand this. Psychologist Abraham Maslow realized it when he developed his famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” That hierarchy shines a bright light on how upside-down our government’s priorities have been for the past generation. The system demands that its citizens be productive or face homelessness and hunger, denying them their most basic needs. It’s a system that further discriminates by robbing citizens of the means to be productive, through off-shoring, downsizing, discrimination in employment (often based on economic factors such as the all-mighty “credit score” –  creating a downward spiral from which there is little chance of escape – and a criminal record, which can destroy a person’s chances for a lifetime). It’s a system that has been rigged in a particularly cruel and vicious way.

At the same time, Wall Street, global corporations and the billionaire class get away with murder (in some cases, literally). In fact, the “2%” has been the beneficiary of socialism for decades, in the form of a tax system that favors unearned dividend and investment income over wages and salaries and allows the wealthy to dodge taxes altogether, as well as taxpayer subsidies, bailouts of the financial industry and corporate giveaways. For the poor and the working class, however, it’s supposed to be all about “rugged individualism” and “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” – even when the oligarchy cuts those bootstraps.

In short, it’s all about socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else; and Bernie Sanders, along with a rapidly growing number of Americans, are demanding change. Quoting a statement from a speech delivered by FDR in 1944, Sanders reminds us that “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.”

Sanders adds:

Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.

He points out that virtually every other advanced democracy on the planet guarantees health care and free college education for all of its citizens. Does poverty exist in socialist democracies? Yes, but as a Danish leader pointed out to talk show host and author Thom Hartmann a few years ago, it’s not the kind of “grinding poverty” one sees in the United States. Social safety nets, funded by tax revenue, prevent citizens from going hungry, homeless and without medical attention, should they find themselves unemployed. At the same time, many of these countries provide free job training and education.

Are taxes high in socialist democracies? Compared to those in the U.S., they certainly are. But what many Americans fail to realize is that we all wind up paying the costs when people go without food, shelter and health care. We do not pay them directly to the U.S. Treasury on April 15th, but we pay them nonetheless in terms of medical costs, law enforcement, lost property and personal well-being. Working longer and harder for fewer rewards than anyone else in the industrialized world, Americans suffer a wide range of stress-related ailments, resulting in a lower quality of life and shorter lifespans.

The entire issue, which Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has brought to the front and center of this presidential campaign, has been summed up by Thom Hartmann quite nicely in one rhetorical question: “Are we a ‘me’ society or a ‘we’ society?” The socialist democracies of Northern Europe proudly identify themselves as “we” societies. For the past generation, the U.S. has been unabashedly a “ME” society. How’s that been working for you?

As a nation that has been hailed as the greatest on earth, America can do much better. Bernie Sanders is calling upon all of us to make that happen, and more of us are hearing that message every day. But more of us need to hear it – and more of us need to get involved. Sanders himself has said that he cannot do it alone:

Electing Bernie Sanders as President is not enough…we need a mass grassroots movement that looks the Republicans in the eye and says, ‘If you don’t vote to demand that your wealthy people start paying their fair share of taxes, if you don’t vote for jobs, raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security, we know what’s going on, we’re involved, we’re organized, you are outta here if you don’t do the right thing.

In the words of Thom Hartmann: “Tag! You’re It!” It’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and get to work.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.