Note: I originally wrote this post two years ago but with the recent shenanigans in Congress, it is might be even more relevant now than ever. This last Thursday, the Republican led Congress voted to cut $40 billion out of the food stamp program (SNAP) over a period of ten years. And if that wasn’t enough, one day later they voted to defund the Affordable Health Act, forcing the Democrat led Senate to follow suit or they’ll shut down the government.
It would be hard to write a fictional account that would be anymore farcical. Needless to say, Congress continues to ratchet up their level of uselessness and outright disdain for the American people.
For literally thirty years, I voted in every election. It didn’t make any difference what was on the ballot. It could have been a presidential election – or even just a local bond initiative. Regardless, I voted. I even spent three years as my precinct head when I lived in Orange County, California.
There were two things that were mandatory television viewing in our house when my daughter Alex was growing up – both days of the NFL Draft and every election. I even took Alex’s 6th grade teacher to task when she assigned math homework on the night of the Clinton / Gore election. Election day is to learn about elections, government and all things related - not math.
Election day is a big deal for me and it started early. I cried when I was a fourth grader in 1968 because Humphrey lost to Nixon. “If only the blacks in the south side of Chicago would have come out and voted, then Illinois would gone Democrat and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives which would have voted in Humphrey.” Needless to say, I was into elections.
The last two (now four) years have saddened me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t need to go in detail the reasons why. Let’s just say government has become a “useless abyss of self-centered attention grabbing clowns.” They have completely lost their way and I see no hope in sight.
But probably more than government itself, I’m saddened by the people, the people who have come to rely on government – and those people who have championed their causes. The safety net so many have depended on, is rife with holes and the seamstress in charge has been laid off. But yet I hear the same chorus sung to the same audience. “Please fix the net.”
I read an article in Harvard Business Review (read the article here) last week about the plight of inner city youth and the success the program, YouthBuilders, is having. But as with so many of these government assisted programs – funds are being cut and their survival are in question. The author made the comparison of the benefit of funding YouthBuilders rather than incarceration (the likely other alternative). His solution is to further inform the voting public of the benefits of the former over the latter, in hopes they will vote for candidates that favor the preemptive assistance strategy.
In theory all this makes sense. If you give the people the information, then of course they will make the right decision. This theory assumes government works, though. This is a big assumption and most likely a wrong one. Below is the comment I submitted on what it’s going to take to fix the things that need fixing that government used to fix but isn’t interested in fixing anymore (wow, that was a big breath).
Charles, I feel for you and the others who have obviously spent much time and energy pondering our county’s urban dilemma – the state of urban youth. Unfortunately I disagree with your approach.
In your closing, you posed the question – “Would more information help sell the public on the benefits of the programs you described?” I believe it’s your hope that by providing detailed analysis, the light will be turned on in the pubic’s head and we will be on the road to “making the right decision.” The problem is – people seldom make decision based on rational and analysis. They make decisions on emotion. Just take a look at the insanity we’re witnessing with our political bodies throughout the country. If anyone actually looked at the implication of these “half-backed” scorched earth ideas, there would be revolution in every state and locality, in addition to D.C.
The public assistance pendulum has swung past the reach of those who truly need it. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. There needs to be a different approach – a different plan of attack.
The power to solve our urban woes does not lie in Washington nor even in a state capital. It lies in the streets – in the streets of the neighborhoods you’re trying to change. For any meaningful change to take hold and have staying power, it has to come from within the community. And no matter where the community is, it has resources. The solution lies in maximizing these resources.
When all we do is obsess over why the government isn’t there to help prop us up, we lose the focus to help ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean the community as a whole – not just us as individuals. Everyone has resources to offer … and I don’t mean money. Around every corner there are mentors, there are tutors – there are role models. They may not be as easy to find as in the suburbs – but they’re still there. You just have to look a little harder, and be a little more creative.
Rather than fight and obsess over what probably won’t be there – find the answers in your neighborhood. Take the components of successful projects such as YouthBuild and figure out to implement them yourself as much as you can. They may start out abbreviated – but with time they will end up larger and stronger than ever. The strength is there. The resources are there. But it will take resolve and focus to solve decades of old problems.
But maybe this is the time – the time when it looks as if the light is dimmest. Maybe the solution is just around the corner … with our friends and neighbors.
As Tip O’Neal said: “All politics are local.” So lie the solutions to our problems. The solutions lie in our neighborhoods. It’s where we live and it’s where help is … at least where it should be. The future I want will lie in the neighborhoods, not in the capitols, not in the boardrooms. The problems we have, as well as the opportunities, will be addressed by us on the ground floor. Nobody in the silos of conceit and self-indulgence has any interest in anything but themselves. (They demonstrated that two years ago, and it’s even more evident today.)
Some may think protests or demonstration may be effective in changing the status quo. I don’t. Direct action is though! We are going to have to band together, as stakeholders in our future, and fix things ourselves.
The faster we admit it … the faster can get going and do something about it.
You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.