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We are the government

06/23/2011

By Robin Lehman

I was talking with a young woman the other day, as we were hearing Senator Bernie Sanders on the radio giving his filibuster speech in the senate, and she said, “I’m not into politics but I love Bernie.” I said something silly like I AM into politics and I love Bernie too.  But I have been bothered by the conversation ever since.

Politics is the voice of governance and we, the citizens, are that government. Government is not out there, this huge bureaucracy that takes our money and makes rich people of otherwise unemployable people. Government is us talking to each other in our disparate voices, through politics, to come to agreements by the majority. Government is not against the private sector. Government and the private sector compliment and contain each other. We, the citizens, are both. We are producers and consumers. We are the governors and we are those governed. We are the creators of law and we must follow those laws.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the private sector was much too strong. There were booms and busts that devastated working people. Children were working 12-hour days in factories. Citizens were working six-day weeks at 12 hours per day and still couldn’t afford the basics of life. Our food was poisoning us on a regular basis. This and worse while a small segment of our society lived the proverbial life of Riley. The final culmination was the Great Depression of 1929. We had to do something and we did.  Some of our grandfathers died getting it done, but they got it done.

We started regulating businesses over the next few decades. We instituted an income tax.  We started agencies to oversee food production. Unions bargained for and got the 40-hour workweek and an end to child labor. We wanted no charity from the rich. We are a self-sufficient bunch. We just wanted to make sure they paid their fair share and that we, in our retirement, could lead decent productive lives. We introduced the progressive income tax, Social Security and Medicare. These are things we do for ourselves and we pay for them up front as we pay to keep up our society. We pay our Social Security and Medicare taxes because we don’t want charity and we know the private sector doesn’t have the ability to maintain these structures in any cost-effective way.

We are at a point in history where these progressive measures are under threat. Large corporations and the Republican Party are out to dismantle these reforms. They are telling us that we should give up our control of society. The way the Republicans are doing it is by telling us that the government (us) is evil. It is out there taking all our money and stopping progress. We must stop the Republicans from stealing our right to control our destinies. We must enlarge and reform health care to include all Americans, not just the rich.

So don’t just be consumers of government largess. Be an active part with us. At least vote but maybe give money or time to a cause or candidate. Write a letter. We can be in control or we can opt out. Opt in.

Robin Lehman lives in Warren.

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