Like many Americans, yesterday saw a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. Watching the inauguration ceremony and subsequent events throughout the day brought hope that truth, an actual dedication to public service, empathy and reasonableness will be our nation’s path forward.
I’ll leave it to the historians, pundits and psychiatrists (who are probably smarter than me anyway) to explain how our country not only elected he-who-shall-not-be-named-again unless it’s in a news report of an arrest, indictment, impeachment and/or conviction, but why so many Americans still believe he did any real good in office. Hopefully, our descendants will heed the lessons of the history we just survived, as well as those lessons going forward.
But I would like to touch on one point. One of the things that resonated with he-who-shall-not-be-named-again supporters was a phrase–“Drain the swamp.” While those supporters did not recognize that crocodiles were being populated within the swamp by their chosen one, there is a reason that phrase struck a core. Hearing that President Biden took action on Day 1, here, here and here, to actually remove some of those crocodiles made me hopeful.
Let me be forthright; you should be aware of where I’m coming from before you can understand where I am going with this post. I am a strong supporter of labor, reasonable government regulation, public education and equal rights. I have been called everything from a flaming liberal to a snowflake. I personally believe we should all be snowflakes and recognized as such–unique and beautiful, with more heft and power when we unite and band together.
I believe we should have clean air and water and should not have to worry about our children developing cancer from toxic waste. I do not believe most corporations or businesses have public safety as a priority or that they will do the right thing if there are no meaningful consequences for doing the wrong thing. I believe everyone should have access to education. I believe in free (and civil) speech. I believe in a living wage and that no one should have to live in poverty or worry where their next meal may be coming from. I believe everyone should have access to affordable health care. I believe there should be consequences for any institution that takes unfair advantage of anyone to make money. I believe in equal rights for all and equal pay for equal work. I do not believe children should be separated from their parents unless the child’s health and safety is at risk. I do not believe corporations should be treated as individuals. I believe we are a nation of immigrants and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous and harmful. I believe that by lifting up the lowest amongst us, we all rise up. I believe in our Constitution and I believe in our nation’s core principles.
We have always been a nation (and world) of serious issues; that will never change. As we progress and evolve as a people, as new technologies emerge and as we discover new frontiers, the issues may change, but the fact that we will always have something that can be improved to better serve all will not.
I was an air traffic controller for twenty-five years, most of that time spent as a union activist. There were many different philosophies touted during those years (Quality Through Partnership and Interest-Based Bargaining to name two) to better relations between labor and management. Most were pretty much the same thing with new names to pretend that the latest and greatest innovations were being taught to us. The truth is, it’s all the same. To be successful in creating a better agreement for all requires several things.
Each side should go into negotiations knowing what they need, as well as what they want. Need and want are two separate animals. Example: I need enough money to pay all my bills, feed and clothe my family and attend to their health, with some left over to save; I want enough money that I could afford to take multiple family vacations each year and never have to worry again about replacing a broken appliance or repairing the family vehicle.
Each side has to be able to communicate to the other what is needed, wanted and why. Each side has to listen to the other and work together to find a solution that will give everyone what is needed and some of what is wanted. The reason for identifying the whys is simple; the solution you think might be the best may not meet the other’s needs, but there may be another solution neither of you have thought of yet since you weren’t considering all the factors. But this requires you to be honest and it requires you to listen. No hidden agendas.
So let’s circle back to why “drain the swamp” resonates with so many people. Some think it’s because of career politicians caring more about their monied backers than they do their constituents. Others believe that our government overreaches or just doesn’t understand the problems experienced by those in our respective communities or professions. And I believe they are all partially correct. But I think the underlying reason is that people just do not feel heard. People feel there are those in power above them, making decisions for them that make their lives more difficult or who have no idea how it impacts their family, their profession or their community. The ones with the most consistent and repeated access to many of our politicians or their legislative aides are lobbyists and backers, not individuals. Maybe the individuals join organizations that are better able to lobby for them, but even then, an individual’s message is filtered and can be lost. So people turn to social media and protests to be heard, but they are not being heard by the people who can effect change. So they begin to yell louder and more often, but, in turn, fail to listen as well.
Laws are large and can be unwieldy. In essence a law is an agreement that comes about after negotiation, just as a union contract is. Just as a union contract isn’t perfect on each iteration, neither is a law. We just attempt to improve each time and meet changing needs while still allowing for some wants.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was and is needed. But it is huge and could use some improvement. I have a friend who’s a physician who now has difficulty providing some of his patients with needed care because of unnecessary requirements within the law. I don’t know enough about it to offer a potential solution, but he does. My husband is an excavator and I sometimes hear him complain about an OSHA regulation that doesn’t actually improve site safety, but instead creates busywork for no benefit. Does either situation warrant repealing ACA or OSHA in their entireties? No, but they both show there is room for improvement.
So what if the federal government started a national bulletin board system for the American people? Start small with one topic and work out the bugs, before going wider with more topics. (Think climate change, law enforcement reform, educational reform, common sense gun laws, poverty, electoral college reform, etc.) Users would have to provide identifying information for security reasons (as well as to weed out those bot farms, foreign governments and ne’er-do-wells), but could choose more anonymous user names for public consumption. Though, lobbyists and spokespersons for large organizations/businesses should be always publicly identified. No PACs allowed.
There would have to be some disclaimers and protections for anyone to post (maybe have to check them off every time before a post is allowed). Whistleblower protections for public and private sector employees, respectful discourse and lawful prosecutory consequences for those who attempt to share classified information or non-disclosure agreements, etc. Legislators (or their aides) can post questions to a topic, but absolutely no opinions, solutions and definitely no campaigning–in fact, all potential questions from a legislative office should go to a moderator for approval and/or compilation with other questions to ensure the questions are being asked for informational purposes rather than slanting an issue. No private chats allowed. No pictures or files allowed without moderator pre-approval. And, unfortunately, it would have to be heavily moderated, because there are those who have forgotten how to respect reasonable boundaries and civil discourse. Let it be known and enforced that the goal is to identify actual and potential problems and find workable solutions to current issues as well as improve what we already have in place. Let it be viewable by all for transparency. An American citizen can have access to post to the bulletin board, but it is a privilege, not a right. Play by the rules and you’ll have the opportunity to be part of the solution and possibly sway more than your own elected representatives; ignore the rules and see if you can get your own appointment with your Congressional representatives because you will no longer be able to post to the bulletin board.
If the topic is the Affordable Care Act, put sections of the bill up for threads and ask for what works and what doesn’t. Professions should be mandatory in addition to type of environment they work in. (i.e. a nurse in a rural southern area may have different experiences than a patient advocate or specialist in an western urban area). Everyone would have access to other’s viewpoints of why something works well or why it doesn’t. Let the unintended consequences of a law’s language be widely shown so the language can be improved. Follow up questions could be presented to posters if needed to get a better sense of where the difficulties lie, i.e. type of facility, general demographics, age range of patients, etc.
President Biden is choosing some very competent people for his administration, but they are not in the trenches dealing with the day-to-day effects of the laws. We need a way to trickle up our experiences and ideas to those who can do make positive changes from them. Instead of an individual making their case for some improvement to one legislative aide to one Congressperson, they are making their case to all. What if a solution to one smaller problem is simply a slight tweak in bill language? It’s progress for everyone, regardless of originating district. What if 250,000 people report a problem that legislators never realized was an issue they could easily be addressing? What if someone can articulate a problem, but not a potential solution, but someone else (or multiple people) can help them brainstorm that solution? Positive change does not have to be large; it can come in smaller increments, so long as we keep moving forward. People who have feel they have had meaningful input and contributed in some way to a change are more likely to support that change in the future.
There are enough people in our country that care enough to fill the gaps, whether it’s addressing food insecurities within their community, setting up child care/schooling pods during a pandemic or any number of smaller, more focused solutions locally. They are motivated, they are creative and they are willing to work for a greater good. We need outlets to push that creativity and motivation outward and upward to positively affect our nation as a whole.
We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people, yet too many people feel overlooked and unheard. They should be able to be heard without protests, petitions, votes or lobbying. Let’s start using today’s technology to allow them to be heard in a manner that has a defined goal of finding solutions together rather than using technology to divide, placate or simply inform. We have a huge pool of resources available to us–smart, caring people with a diverse set of experiences and viewpoints; let’s find a way to now ask the people and unite them in a way to continue to form a more perfect union for us all.