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“Thanks For Asking”: How Do You Make Change Happen? Show Up

In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of “victory” and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?

Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.

Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.

This doesn’t require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we’re citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they’ll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.

OK, you’re too busy to show up at all this stuff, but try one, then think of going to one every month or two. And you don’t have to go alone — get a family member, a couple of friends, a few members of the groups you’re in to join you. Make it an excursion, rewarding yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a beer and some laughs afterward.

Then there are times (“in the course of human events,” as Jefferson put it) when citizens have to come together in big numbers to protest, to insist on being heard. Lobbyists are able to meet with officials in quiet rooms, but when we’re shut out, a higher form of patriotism demands that ordinary folks surround a public official’s district office or a high-dollar fundraising event to deliver a noisy message about the people’s needs.

This is especially necessary for officials who get a substantial or even majority vote from progressive constituencies… but still stiff us on such major needs as increasing the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, endorsing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators, and prohibiting the outrage of voter suppression. We have a right to expect them to respect our vote, and stand with us on the big issues. We’ve been too quiet, too indulgent with such office holders, and they won’t change until we start confronting them publicly.

Both in terms of having your own say and in demonstrating the strength of the grassroots numbers behind the policy changes we want, you and I are going to have to get noisier, more demonstrative, more out-front in demanding that elected officials really pay heed to those who elected them. Let’s make 2016 the year of reintroducing ourselves and our expectations to policymakers. At their every turn, we should be there, becoming a personal human presence (even an irritant) they cannot ignore.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Elected Officials, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Poisoning Of Flint”: A Nightmarish Example Of How Misguided Austerity Policies Can Literally Poison The Public

In early 2015, shortly after his victory in a heated reelection contest, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) began exploring a run for president. With his business experience and electoral success in a blue state, Snyder was considered a viable potential candidate, so he embarked on a national speaking tour and set up a fundraising organization. Its name: “Making Government Accountable.”

As Snyder was testing the presidential waters, however, his government was being shamefully unaccountable to constituents who were concerned about their water supply. The city of Flint switched its primary water source from Lake Huron, through Detroit’s system, to the Flint River in April 2014. Approved by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, the move was supposed to save the beleaguered city millions of dollars. But residents soon began reporting tap water that appeared discolored, smelled rotten and caused kids to break out in rashes. Today, Flint has become a nightmarish example of how misguided austerity policies can literally poison the public.

We now know that Flint’s water supply was contaminated by lead that it collected from deteriorating pipes. In recent weeks, Snyder has issued a public apology to the city, declared a state of emergency, activated the National Guard and requested assistance from President Obama, who declared the situation a federal emergency on Saturday. The state health department is also looking into whether an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed 10 people in the area is connected to the water crisis. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating the state and local government’s actions, while it could cost up to $1.5 billion to fix the city’s water distribution system.

All of this is the result of the Snyder administration’s stunning lack of accountability, beginning with the fateful decision to put Flint under the control of a political appointee who was unelected and unaccountable to the public. When the city’s residents initially reported their concerns in 2014, officials responded by pumping hazardous levels of chlorine into the water. When complaints persisted, officials assured citizens that the water was safe to drink, repeatedly disregarding clear evidence that it wasn’t. But when elevated levels of lead showed up in children’s blood this past fall, the government was forced to admit there was a problem. Snyder appointed a task force to investigate the crisis, which found, among other things, that legitimate fears were met with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit” the individuals speaking out.

“They cut every corner,” said Flint resident Melissa Mays. “They did more to cover up than actually fix it. That’s criminal.” Snyder’s then chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, acknowledged the administration’s deplorable response in a July 2015 email, writing: “These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

But the water crisis in Flint represents more than a catastrophic political failure. It is also a direct consequence of decades of policies based on the premise that government spending is always a problem and never a solution. Long before Flint tried to reduce spending by moving to a cheaper water source, the pipes that ultimately poisoned the water were neglected. Across the country, crumbling infrastructure is a pervasive threat that is creating serious issues in other cities and could produce similar crises . As Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone explained , “Flint is an extreme case, but nationally, there’s been a lack of investment in water infrastructure. This is a common problem nationally — infrastructure maintenance has not kept up.”

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacles to desperately needed public investments are politicians like Snyder who conflate “accountability” with austerity. For Republican technocrats in particular, more accountability almost always means less spending on government programs that help ensure the public good.

With less than a month until the Iowa caucus, the conventional wisdom is that voters are fed up and that their anger is reflected in the polls. That frustration and distrust of government is understandable when politicians like Snyder and their cronies are so blatantly unaccountable to the public. Indeed, when government is polluted by officials who put corporate interests above their constituents and cost-cutting above the common good, it too often fails to fulfill even its most basic functions, such as protecting access to safe drinking water. But instead of giving in to anger and austerity, in this election, we should be having a vigorous debate about how government can be truly accountable to the people it serves.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Austerity, Flint Michigan, Rick Snyder | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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