Solstice dreams of getting back to where we were

Sunset today will be at 4:16 p.m. Sunset tomorrow is at 4:17 p.m. Each afternoon after the solstice, Dec. 22, the sun sets a little later, and gradually light returns to our state.

Ancient Rome celebrated the winter solstice with the pagan festival called Saturnalia, meaning “the birthday of the unconquered sun.” Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. On Dec. 24, Muslims celebrate Milad un Nabi, the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

It is easy to forget about the seasonal cycle of light and life that accounts for the placement of all of these holidays in the very darkest days of the year. We are more focused on shopping! But underneath the presents, and the tree and the menorah, we can unearth the reason for the religious and secular celebrations. It’s the first nudge for the return of light to our world. We can hope to build on good things that happened in 2015, and leave the bad things behind. We can dedicate ourselves to bringing forward optimism and good works in 2016. We share the hope and will that our dreams don’t end in the darkness of December, but burst forward anew with the return of the sun.

What are the dreams we as a people hold together?

We want our children, all of our children, to have the opportunity to access and ability to pursue their own dreams for education. The financial barriers now faced by students who want to gain higher education were not in place 35 years ago. In inflation-adjusted dollars, tuition now is five times what it was. This is the stark math resulting from taking public money out of higher education. We have the resources to go “back to the future” for our children. What’s missing is the political will.

We want our smallest children to thrive in the arms of their parents as newborns, thanks to universal family leave insurance, now common in California and Canada. As they grow into toddlers and pre-schoolers, we want to make sure that they are in the care of competent, well-paid and well-educated teachers and caregivers, as is modeled in Seattle.

We want today’s workers to retire into economic security, not into poverty. We started this journey during the New Deal, with Social Security and private defined benefit pensions. Corporations have dismantled defined benefit pensions over the past decades. We are left with Social Security. We have to build on that for all workers.

We want a transportation system that enables a person to get from Everett to Seattle in less than forty-five minutes. We had that in 1910. The Seattle-Everett interurban ran every 30 minutes with train speeds of up to 60 mph, and 150 passengers in each rail car. So let’s go “back to the future” again, with a Sound Transit system that gets you down to Seattle at least close to the same time it would have taken a century ago!

Why don’t we have these things now? We certainly have a more prosperous state than 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 25 years ago. But that prosperity has been cornered, for the most part, by the already wealthy and privileged. For the majority of workers, wages and income have just sat still for almost a decade. With a tax system that encourages that private accumulation of wealth and does not tax it, we are continually on the short end of the stick for public services. So rather than opening the doors to educational opportunity, family prosperity, rapid transit and secure retirements, we whittled away at these foundations of our democracy. The need deepens, as we shirk the political will to meet it.

What are the dreams of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the Prophet’s birthday? They embrace hope, light and love. These are not the dreams of the self-indulgent. These are the dreams for the betterment of our shared humanity, to make all of our lives a journey of exploration, innovation, creativity, love and shared joys, sorrows and progress. These are dreams of commonwealth. These are dreams of the winter solstice, looking to a new rebirth of light, of wonder and of hope.

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, Email him at

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