Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We the People

Today is Blog Action Day 2012 - an annual online event that brings together bloggers around the world to write about a single topic of global importance all on the same day. This year's theme is "The Power of We."

In trying to decide what to write here that would fit in with my usual themes and obsessions, I considered writing about the importance of voting in the upcoming election. You know, all "We the People" and all that stuff. But that's too easy a mark.

Instead I thought I'd go for something broader, and talk about the different levels of We.

Yes, on this blog I tend to talk about politics and government as the mechanism of We the People, and our individual roles in selecting, electing, detecting, and rejecting our [hopefully] representative leaders. But, as many of you know, I have made my career in the nonprofit sector, which is another primary way that individuals organize to put the Power of We into action.

The question here then, is if each of these sectors represents how We cooperate with each other to benefit the community, what is the proper role for each?

For me, the simplest answer is that it is frequently a matter of the scale of the problem, and the minimal level of support that will be guaranteed.

First the scale question. No Federal operation or bureaucratic process will ever turn the vacant lot next to the neighborhood elementary school into a gardening nutrition program. For that, you need a partnership of local leaders, working together with local businesses and nonprofits to organize the volunteers and materials needed. Meanwhile, nothing short of Federal intervention was going to save the auto industry. Volunteers and bake sales would not have resulted in GM reclaiming its mantle as the largest automobile producer on the planet.

As to the minimal level of support, I believe that in a country where we like to brag about being the richest nation on Earth, it should be a matter of national honor that we don't let our fellow citizens starve - regardless of how productive or "worthy" they have been. The Food Stamp program exists to fill that need, but the amount of food you can purchase that way is minimal. Getting beyond guaranteed basic survival is where other partners have to step in. That becomes the role of regional food banks, and local nonprofit programs to work with clients one-on-one to help lift them out of poverty.

Regardless of whether we're loosely organized into grassroots groups to solve neighborhood troubles or looking to Washington to guide us on national issues, the unifying thread is that the individuals work best at problem solving is when we work together. That, at whatever level, is the Power of We the People.

Have a happy Blog Action Day, people. You've earned it. Oh, and don't forget to vote.

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