The government isn’t going to help you … so get over it!

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.”

Money posterize

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.

neighbors posterize

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+.


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2 thoughts on “The government isn’t going to help you … so get over it!

  1. I was drawn to the excellent image you offer to support your your “Share…” post. From there I came to this article (“The Government isn’t ….”) and read it. Wonderful continuity of thought. A match for my passions.

    I differ significantly, I suspect with what I take is your support of the Affordable Care Act, possibly as a ‘toe in the door’ to a universal national or state-x-state universal approach. I am personally enraged (still) that the WH arbitrarily refused Single Payer proponents a place a the “all stakeholders” pre-reform conference. IMO, because of this rejection, the American public “by decree” was denied opportunity to learn and consider single payer. The public had no data-confirmed glimpse of how non-profit universal health care that would cover absolutely everyone might work. They still have no idea: no deductible, no co-pays, no bankruptcies; all ages, all conditions in one pool; approximately half the cost to taxpayers. On the heels of shutting out Single Payer, a public option was briefly suggested. Yet IMO, these two approaches were the only ones rooted in the value of ‘community’ and common weal.

    As the controversy over the Affordable Care Act heats up – I read articles outlining costs. As one with much experience in Canada’s system, I reel at the range of categories into which “Citizen A” and “Citizen B” are cast, (age, gender – ‘levels’ of options with varying deductibles. Bronze, silver, platinum – ‘relative value’ of a plan is linked to market dollar value of metals. Punishment of smokers (while knowing tobacco’s addictive power) is an ever popular cultural pastime – so they are singled out for ‘special’ condemnation.

    I read comments posted below the articles and catch a steady, angry refrain: “Why should I pay for your poor health” (often of course with accusations that anyone with poor health who has not lived the life of a saint deserves to suffer). None of these commenters indicate any awareness or interest in any alternatives to for-profit, corporate-driven, health care delivery. They are enraged at cost to themselves. Possibility that dollars forced from their clutching fists might go to someone undeserving is more than they feel they can tolerate.

    The full mentality is “me/them”. Lectures by proponents that these angry thoughts should be “reframed” to a community responsibility context are ‘off flavor’ given that the system itself has limited relationship to genuine community. In fact – “supporting needs of one another” is scarcely mentioned. Probably because it would quickly cause “What about those who remain without coverage?” to come to mind. IF Single-payer proponents had been able to present their information, or IF the public option had been given due airing and consideration – then the seed of “Hey, maybe it makes sense to approach heath care cooperatively” would have been sewn. The present fierce (and ignorant) fighting over the Affordable Care Act might never have developed.

    I guess my point is that it’s not only Washington that is detached and disinterested in common weal. Ordinary citizens, themselves often anxious and struggling, are uninformed, uninspired. Day to day they live immersed in a range of policies and beliefs that promote blame and anger. Ordinary citizens in this nation do not demonstrate awareness of a link between thriving individual, thriving community, and common weal.

    Within pockets, perhaps especially of hard-hit communities, cooperation as a principle of community development may be strong. I hope so. This nation needs the principle of cooperation to re-emerge from somewhere within our midst! Community cooperative ‘self-help’ movements *are* happening – America needs the sentiments to sweep the nation.

    An image in my mind this morning is one I saw frequently as a child. I think it was used in annual fund drives for an Oklahoma “Boy’s Ranch”. The image was of one young boy (perhaps age 12 or so) carrying another young boy piggy-back. The slogan was: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.

    Your promotion of people coming together to discover and develop local solutions, followed by your lovely “Share…” image are perfect. A solution ‘here’ will be inevitably networked to the larger population ‘there’ – seeds of possibility sewn, reminders of our creative potential. Thank you for these, and thank you also for a ‘place’ for me to speak out on Americas health care “reform journey”.

    (I should have set this up as a post for my own blog but need to do other stuff this morning and needed to express these thoughts somewhere to get them off my chest!)

    1. Thanks for the comment Maggie. Even though I mentioned the ACA in my post it wasn’t really as an endorsement, even though I do like parts of it.

      The mention was more of a dramatization of government dysfunction. Congress’s efforts to defund it are futile at best. It’ll never happen. It just goes to show that they have no interest in actually accomplishing anything.

      And also, I’m glad I can provide a forum for your vents. As you know you’re welcome to anytime 🙂

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