On Monday, October 24, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a $4.4 billion trade deal with the worlds' fastest growing economy, China.
At about the same time, activists from Occupy St. Louis were meeting to discuss an up-coming Union Appreciation Day, where local unions and Occupy activists plan to barbecue, host educational workshops and collectively discuss the role of the labor movement.
What do these two seemingly different events - the China trade deal and the Occupy movement - have in common?
For starters, both in their own way, directly confront the most pressing issue of the day. Let me explain.
Governor Nixon's export agreement with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade is expected to spur Missouri's long-term economic growth by opening doors to the Chinese market.
According to published statements, the governors' motives are pretty cut-and-dry: This is about jobs!
As Governor Nixon, a moderate democrat seeking re-election next year, said, "When Missouri businesses sell more goods overseas, it creates jobs at home and moves our economy forward."
Nixon has also negotiated separate individual trade deals with various Chinese provinces; both the Zhejiang and Hebei provinces' have signed $200 million trade deals with the Show-Me-State, making the total trade deal worth $4.8 billion.
The Governor's initiative is a welcomed change, especially as the Republican-dominated Missouri Legislature has failed twice this year to pass jobs legislation.
First, the Republican-dominated House and Senate spent the entire regular Legislative Session (January through May) attempting to pass legislation that would hurt working families - anti-union, so-called 'Right-to-Work' and 'Pay-check Protection' legislation, attacks on Missouri's minimum wage, attacks on Missouri's Non-Discrimination Act, attacks on child labor laws, etc.
But, not one single jobs bill.
Second, the Republican-dominated House and Senate spent the past 50 days in Legislative Special Session (at a cost of $280,000 to tax payers), and have nothing to show for it!
Initially, hopes were high. Legislation creating incentives for the construction of a China Hub at St. Louis' Lambert International Airport and a 'Made in Missouri' jobs bill were both on the table. An estimated 15,000 jobs would have been created - many of which would have been good-paying union jobs.
Unfortunately though, the Republican 26-8 majority in the Senate and 105-54 majority in the House - the largest Republican majority in Missouri history - blocked the jobs initiatives, and dashed the hopes of thousands of Missouri residents desperate for work in these tough economic times.
Tragically, the Republicans aren't just obstructing the creation of jobs here in Missouri.
All over the country - in state Houses and in Washington D.C. - the Republicans and their tea party pals are standing in the way of progress, and in the process smashing the hopes and dreams of the American people - the 99 percent the Occupy movement represents.
As the Occupy St. Louis folks, and their union and community supporters would say, wealth is concentrated in too few hands. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. And the economy isn't working for working people.
In fact, I've personally talked with an unemployed carpenter, an unemployed Iraq War veteran and numerous unemployed youth at Occupy St. Louis. I've talked with union leaders who have seen thousands of their members laid-off. I've talked with families desperate for relief as they rally outside of Bank of America demanding a moratorium on foreclosures.
And every single person I've talked with wants the same thing. A J-O-B!
So while the connection isn't immediately apparent, the Occupy movement has at least one thing in common with Governor Jay Nixon's export trade agreement with China: Jobs!
Connecting this spontaneous grassroots upsurge - the Occupy movement - with the very real impact mainstream politics and politicians have on our families, our future and our lives is probably the most important thing we can do right now.
Channeling this energy, where possible, into the 2012 elections could make all the difference in the world. It could break the Republican and tea party gridlock on progress.
The Occupy movement connected to and collaborating with the labor movement, community organizations, youth and student groups, the African American community, and people of faith can take back our country and show the Republican and tea party obstructionists that we are the mainstream of American politics, that we are the 99 percent, and that we aren't going to take it anymore!
The wind is on our backs. The momentum is shifting.