COMMENTARY: Government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as President Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg Address.
That’s a wonderful ideal, but it’s not reality, even today.
People throughout history – white men who didn’t own land, women, people of color – have had to fight hard battles to win the right to vote. Even today, when most citizens have that right, barriers discourage many from voting and engaging in other ways.
I’ve thought about this as the movement to combat sexual harassment and assault has toppled powerful men in politics, Hollywood and the news media. Too many women have been held down by men in power and the systems that protected them.
But something is happening. There’s a groundswell of unrest in this country. The women-led movement to combat sexual harassment and assault is just one example of how people are moving into action and forcing change.
Here’s some truth: Our nation is essentially an oligarchy. Those with the most wealth have oversized influence over public policy. The U.S. Senate’s passage this week of the GOP tax bill – which is full of provisions written by lobbyists, lacked solid analysis and wasn’t released in time for senators or the public to carefully read it – should put to rest any doubt that money determines policy in our nation’s capital.
Cultures and systems built by those in power hold down others who might challenge the status quo. Some examples:
- Policies that invite immigrants into this country when the economy needs their work – then toss them out when we’re done with them, or discriminate if they stay.
- Systemic racism that disproportionately fills our prisons with black men.
- Repeatedly taking from this continent’s original inhabitants until one of their most distinguishing traits is resiliency – the ability to survive oppression.
- Confusing local and state election systems that make it difficult for people to know when some elections are happening, let alone who the candidates are and what they stand for.
- Unreasonably restrictive requirements for anyone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican to get on the ballot.
- The joint effort by the Democratic and Republican parties, with support from the news media, to put restrictive requirements on third-party presidential candidates that essentially shut them out of debates.
These barriers don’t make change impossible, but they strongly discourage it. While the wealthy get wealthier, we’re pitted against each other in a battle over the leftovers. And the middle class is evaporating.
That’s why I’m glad to see efforts to change oppressive systems – like current push to combat the mistreatment of women.
Government needs a dramatic redesign, systemically and culturally. As the 2018 election approaches, I want to hear how candidates plan to enact change. Washington doesn’t have to be an oligarchy. New Mexico doesn’t have to be at the bottom of the important lists.
But to improve, we need the help of everyone in our diverse nation. Our systems must empower all people to participate in finding a better way forward.