First of all let’s take heed of the fact that the term is governance, not government. Government is a noun, “A government is the system by which a state or community is governed.” -Wikipedia
But I’m talking about the process of governing, not the system. Governing is collectively figuring out how we are to live socially in our community. At the macro level it includes driving on the right side of the road. Most people adhere to that collective understanding. At the macro level we pay taxes for public education because we want our children to be able to comprehend the world they live in and, hopefully, they will be able to fend for themselves at some point.
That’s the federal level of governing. As individuals we have little or no impact on laws created and codified in Washington, D.C. And really, even though our national form of governmnent is supposedly a collective voice of the people being heard and implemented, in reality a only a few hew and hone their biases into what they deem best for others. Notice how corporations get their way over the objections of the people. Notice how the lobbyist have more access to the lawmakers than the average citizen. Notice how lawmakers don’t even have to follow the very laws they create. Even though the Gettysburg Address reads, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Those words have been quoted ever since as the supreme vindication of representative government. I wonder if we even have a government of the people [human beings] anymore. At any level. So many have abdicated their voice to the so-called ‘experts’.
The next levels of governance closer to home are the state and then the county. The collective needed at these levels is not across such a diverse area, so it becomes easier to have some say in how we use our taxes to give corporations tax breaks to keep their jobs around. Or whether we save the pocket gopher’s habitat or pave over it for more development. Still, a minority of opinions can hold sway over and above the collective if the voice of the collective is marginalized, scattered, and fragmented.
Now to the local level of governing. What happens in our community, mine and yours? Do we want to use the isthmus for a park or high-rise condominiums? Do we want to paint the lines on the streets every year or every two years? How do we want our police to interact with us? Do we want them to use intimidation and even physical force to keep us ‘in line’? Or would we rather they help educate and remind us of our lapses in judgement; except for the truly dangerous among us, those whom we would like removed from our public social life?
Governing does not happen by magic. Someone, somewhere has to decide on the rules that provide us with a sense of safety and well-being. Those who make themselves heard have a better chance at getting what they want than those who sit and wish….or complain. And those who rise to a level of leadership (aka power) have an even greater chance at implementing rules they deem necessary for the good of the community. The city manager, for instance, has only to convince the seven people on the city council that a person sitting/sleeping on the steps at the front door of city hall is dangerous and, voila’, a law is passed making that activity a crime. At this level of governance we, the people, are told that our elected officials are acting in the best interest of the people. What they mean is they are acting in the interest of some of the people, but they leave that part unsaid.
So, to paraphrase a comment bandied about in the media, we get the type of governance we are willing to sit still for. Because without your participation and mine, someone is still going to make decisions for the common good. Are those decisions you can live with? How do you want your community to be? Have you made your voice heard recently? Who governs you?
Terren F Zander is chair of the Social Justice committee of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation. He dislikes oppressive use of force by anyone, school bullies to bureaucrats to political dictators. He encourages citizen participation at every level of society for us to have our social world be the way we would like it to be.