I am withdrawing from an organization I have been very involved in for about three years. There is some sadness to leaving and some relief. This whole last half a year I’ve been stepping back big by bit. I wrote during the summer about my difficulty trying to care about things while still maintaining the emotional calm necessary for caring for the kids. Worries about the issues – poverty, environment, violence, destruction of democracy, etc – are hard enough. On top of that there is another challenge, that of trying to find efficient, effective methods of creating change. Different people have different ideas on how things should work. I have some ideas, but also a big muddle of questions.
For example, to what extent do we expect the government to implement the changes? I know some people who believe the governments are useless and that change will be made when people reclaim their power and shape their own lives. I disagree. I’m a big believer in having governments implement changes. I don’t believe charity is the solution to poverty, even if the charity is dressed up in the language of “empowerment.” I believe that we need laws that structure our economic systems to reduce poverty, and other laws that provide relief for what poverty remains. For example, I’d like to see more progressive tax systems, because I believe that taxes are the way we collectively buy things and a good thing, and at the same time that they are a way of redistributing wealth. I don’t believe that Canada’s top 100 CEOs deserve to earn $47,358 a year by January 2nd, 11:41 a.m., as they apparently do. I’m fine with some people earning more than the “average person does” but not that much more. A good progressive tax system can help prevent that sort of inequality – the type we see growing these days, partly because of the types of tax cuts governments have been granting. I like having governments run health care and social assistance. I prefer having governments to churches running homeless shelters, and I want governments to do more to create affordable housing and easy access to mental health services. I think there are a lot of ways in which governments can provide solutions to problems.
I’m a believer in government, but not necessarily the government we have.
Yet I can understand the arguments that government is horribly oppressive. Even well intended programs get carried out in oppressive ways. Moreover government is hard to change. It ignores the voices of too many people. Electoral politics distracts people from the real issues and makes getting into power the equivalent of a sporting event.
I don’t know what options work to try to make change. I have at different times in my life been part of organizations that advocate for letter writing and political lobbying. I’ve been part of organizations that advocate for direct action and civil disobedience. To me one doesn’t do enough and the other risks creating echo chambers and alienating supporters. I know of people working within political parties to try to make change, but have the sense that doing so my energy would just be swallowed up without the slightest return.
I know others who advocate abandoning political politics and trying to focus on creating good communities. Sometimes I don’t know what the slightest they mean other than that they want brownie points for having friends and gardens. Other times I can see the good that millions of people helping out with things, living caring lives and trying to create little changes.
Little changes. What little changes are game changers? Is a better world created one bike path, one solar panel, one free lunch for the homeless at a time? Or is that just sugar coating our world, washing over the oppression and leaving it where it is?
I believe in government, and I believe that taking an anti-government stance can do harm. I believe that when we start saying government is only oppressive, we play into right-wing ideologies that will help in dismantling the progressive things other generations have fought for.