I attended an event yesterday. The opening speaker began his remarks with this statement; “Michael Brown’s shadow is in this room.” It was a conference on fair housing and community development. After all of the panels and speakers–all excellent and informative–I left the event believing that we must do more than talk.
This morning, I listened to Bill Moyers interviewing Senator Elizabeth Warren. She, as always, made a cogent, powerful argument for the power of the vote over the power of money. Those of us who know the Michael Browns of the world understand that they, like Michael, may very well live a life in segregated neighborhoods, isolated from the larger community, and deeply discounted if not completely written off as inconsequential by those elected to do the job of representing them and representing us.
I now find myself on the verge of believing that I am no different. I am not Michael Brown or anyone whose life resembles his. Still I wonder if my status as a citizen of the United States matters. It seems that now, in America, you do not count unless you are represented by lobbyists and PACs with enough money to influence politicians and therefore, public policy. In a democracy, public policy dictates the context in which we live our lives. It is clear that the context absent of responsible, thoughtful and meaningful public policy designed to create a context that protects and serve us is instead working against us.
Where is the domestic social policy that once mattered in the United States? Congress does not seem to have any interest in advancing it. They have no ideas to rebuild the domestic policy context that has been systematically dismantled over the last 30 years. Where is the policy on jobs? Where is the policy on infrastructure? Where is the policy on immigration? Where is the policy on youth employment? Where is the policy on the safety net for those who fall on hard times? Where is the policy on legal services for the poor? Where is the policy on modernizing transportation and air traffic safety? Where is the policy on a minimum wage that is a living wage? Where is the anti-trust policy that protects us from propaganda that cloaks itself as news on the airwaves? Where is it? Nowhere.
We are now a nation without coherent public policy. A nation without responsible, responsive governance. We are now a nation of bought and paid for representatives available to the highest bidder. As Robert Reich @recently observed:
“Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother? As Robert Reich Recently observed @http://robertreich.org/The Disease of American Democracy.” Monday, August 18, 201:
“Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election.”
“A new study scheduled to be published in this fall by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page confirms our worst suspicions.Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens. Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
So, what are we to do? The only thing we can do–vote. Show up in unprecedented numbers and vote in the upcoming mid-term election. Vote out of awareness and consciousness–not just emotion. Vote not only for your own, best self-interest but our collective self-interest. Vote so elected officials understand that we are here, our lives matter and we will hold them accountable for failing us. Vote to represent the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who are blatantly disregarded and dismissed by Congress, state houses and council chambers across this nation. We are a nation in a state of increasingly widespread, suffering and deprivation. We are hungry and homeless. We are segregated and jobless. Our roads, bridges and air traffic control are crumbling and obsolete. Our cities and citizens and dying before our very eyes.
I have concluded that, true enough, “it takes a village.” But now it will take a movement to put the ship that is our country back on a course that represents and acts in the best interest of all its people–the ninety-eight percent that are losing economic and social ground at an alarming pace.