Meeting Jackie Lacey and Musings On the American Dream

The day after the California primaries I happened upon Jackie Lacey. When I say, "happened upon," I mean it. I walked into a building where I had other business to attend to and saw the open door to the press conference. There was Chief Deputy District Attorney Lacey, fresh off her primary election victory, heading into the runoff election against Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson.

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Lacey was articulate at the press conference and kind during our brief meeting. But this post is not about Lacey or her candidacy. Rather it is about something she said in the press conference. Lacey pointed out that what separates blue-collar workers and the second-in-command at the largest local prosecutorial agency in the nation is one generation. I have heard other people, in other places, make similar comments. Many of us have, I'm sure, have heard analogous stories. What those comments essentially boil down to is this: My parents (or grandparents) did not have the opportunities that I did -- I received an education, I achieved a certain position in my career. The implication being that catapulting up the socioeconomic ladder is possible here (and for our purposes today, "here" is Los Angeles).

But will these stories become fewer and further between? Is this narrative, in other words, soon to be a historical account?

We -- voters, citizens, Americans -- are told the story of the American Dream, which gives us hope, that if we obtain an education and work hard, we can have a better life than our parents and/or grandparents. But because of the problems currently facing our city (and indeed our state and our country), current and future generations may no longer be able to realistically think they can "do better."

Too many children lack basic necessities. Too many public schools are in disrepair. With the state, and so many counties and cities facing budget deficits, can we expect this to change?

The American Dream narrative is endlessly appealing. It gives us the optimism to try to reach farther. But we must look at whether we live in a place where that story will become nothing more than a historical anecdote.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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