Thursday, April 19, 2012

Government Can't and Won't Save Poor People

On Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 I had the pleasure of accompanying my company, which I will refer to as a large non-profit in the metro Chicago area, to Springfield, IL. with the express purpose of lobbying on behalf of the health and human services industry.

To briefly give you some background on why it was important to make this trip to our state's capitol, the state of Illinois currently has $8.6 billion in unpaid bills. To help alleviate this shortfall, Gov. Pat Quinn and his budget director have proposed significant cuts in the state's expenditures in areas such as medicare, assistance for job seekers, day-care subsidies and other benefits that the poor and working poor depend on to sustain their existence.

My company is the second largest provider of funding in the area of health and human services, second only to the state of Illinois itself. Significant cuts to health and human services expenditures by the state (on top of the reimbursements that the state has yet to dole out to local service providers) could have catastrophic consequences to our citizens who are already struggling to survive and make ends meet in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

This was my first trip to the capitol city in my entire life. I didn't have the seemingly normal class trip to Springfield that most elementary school and/or high school students have. The first thing that I noticed was how far Springfield is from the Chicago metropolitan area. It is a little over 3-hours both ways. This may feed into the apparent disconnect between the legislators and the effects that the laws they pass have on their constituents.

When I arrived at the capitol, I was astonished at the sheer number of people moving at a frantic pace throughout the expansive structure. There were students taking in the Greek Revival architecture of the capitol dome. There were HIV/AIDS activist with signs in tow holding a rally in the main foyer, flanked by the news media. The most significant group of people that you see are the hoards upon hoards of lobbyist close on the heels of the legislators, yelling, speaking softly, and handing literature to the state Representatives and Senators about whatever issue they happen to be championing at that particular time.

I mentioned to one of my colleagues that the best way that I could describe the mass of people that I saw was organized chaos, emphasis on CHAOS. For many years, I wondered why it appeared that our legislators seemed to be ineffective at passing bills for the greater good of the citizenry. The image of lobbyist, activist and legislators running every which way finally painted a very clear picture as to why. It also became evident that the government WANTS to operate this way.

We brought lunch for the Conference of Women Legislators (COWL) on the Senate side of the capitol to thank them for their support of a bill that would codify the Illinois Human Services Commission Act that Gov. Quinn created by Executive Order, thus making the entity a permanent fixture and not subject to dissolution by future governors (In what can only be described as political posturing, the governor has taken a stance AGAINST the very executive order that he signed into law).

Most of the Senators sent their administrative aids to shake our hands quickly before grabbing their free lunch. A handful of legislators actually appeared in person to greet us before claiming their meal and leaving the room with the same gusto in which they entered. In one of the more ironic moments of the day, one of the two Senators that OPPOSED the legislation actually stopped by and spent a few minutes with us. This was akin to a family member or close friend stabbing you in the back and then asking you if you needed medical assistance as you lay on the ground bleeding to death.

We spent most of the day talking to various legislators, either thanking them for their support or asking them to champion pieces of legislation that our organizations feels are important to the social safety net in these trying times. The climax of the day was a meeting with the head honcho, Gov. Patrick Quinn.

Before the emperor entered the room, his budget director primed us with overtures of how the legislature was hopelessly gridlocked on the budget deficit. He assured us that Gov. Quinn cares about the least of Illinois' citizens but severe austerity measures, mostly on the backs of the poor, were absolutely necessary to balance the state's budget. In keeping with the paternalistic patriotism that has come to permeate national politics, the budget director boasted about expanding nursing home coverage for our returning veterans. Caligula would've been proud. While the director gave this moving overture, Gov. Quinn blithely slid into the room, blending in remarkably among the hoards of his star struck synchophants.

Gov. Quinn practiced his stump speech, using the code words that career politicians frequently use to convey absolutely nothing while covertly shattering the hopes and aspirations of his constituents. Once the governor was satisfied with his 5-minute monologue, he hurriedly encouraged all of the occupants of the room to gather around a portrait of a remarkably youthful-looking Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates for a photo op.

After shaking a few hands (with minimal eye contact), one of the members of our contingent pressed Gov. Quinn on why he suddenly took a position against a piece of legislation that he wrote himself. None too happy with this confrontation, Gov. Quinn whirled out of the room with a trail of smug following closely behind.

My inaugural trip to the seat of power taught me a myriad of things about the functions of our representative government.

  1. Our state and national government is many things, but what it certainly is NOT is REPRESENTATIVE.
  2. Taxation without representation is not just a motto on the District of Columbia license plate. It is a very apparent reality of the modern day government power structure.
  3. The organized chaos that I witnessed is purposeful. The government could be more efficient and effective if it wanted to be but, if it were, there would be great transparency in the methods that the robber barons that we call representatives use to amass great wealth for themselves and their friends at the expense of the increasing ranks of the severely impoverished, impoverished, poor and working poor.
  4. There are no longer any such thing as political parties. There are just a myriad of pressure groups and the lobbyist that work as power brokers between these various pressure groups and the representatives that hide deep in their extravagant offices deep in in the recesses of the capitol building.
  5. You don't have to be smart, intelligent or wise to run for public office. You just have to be good-looking, personable, a tremendous psychologist, and an effective organizer of men and fundraising events.
The sustainability of any semblance of our republic rests not in the halls of power but in the schools, community centers, and public squares in our respective neighborhoods. Insidious forces have made exorbitant amounts of money by dividing us into various factions - whether it be Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Women's Rights, Veterans Rights or any other right that the powers that be decide to fracture the masses into.

As I explained to some of my colleagues as we made our return trip to Chicago to continue the work of ensuring equal justice under law for the disenfranchised, until we realize that the only pertinent "rights" are individual rights we will continue to grovel at the feet of men and women who have no interest upsetting the status quo.

The New World Order that President George H.W. Bush and many of our leaders have proclaimed openly over the past decade is the same world order that has always existed warmed over. We are reaping the seeds of division that we have sown ourselves. The fruit that those flowers are bearing is the transformation of inalienable rights into temporary privileges. Our government is now beginning the process of recalling those temporary privileges.

As the prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us,
"Now through our ethical and moral commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. This is the great challenge of the hour. This is true of individuals. It is true of nations. No individual can live alone. No nation can live alone."
 Government can not and will not save us. Jesus can not and will not save us. We have to save ourselves. I've now witnessed this fact and the urgency of the moment firsthand.