Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Don’t get mad, get busy.

Seems like, lately, there are a lot of people angry at the government. Pull up your facebook page and read the raging debate about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and you’ll see that all of your friends are spreading angry information about the issue from both sides. Open a newspaper and you’ll see that government recently became so angry at itself that it shut down. Turn on the news and let your blood boil over the fact that a cyber thief was able to get your personnel information from the state’s databases. Open your mail and see your tax bill or your utility bill. Angry yet?

I started to think about our attitudes towards government as a society, be it state, federal, county, school district, or city, as I drove back from a regional government meeting late one evening. In the dark, as I cruised over two lane roads that connect our community to our neighbors, I wondered if the disconnect between our communities and our government could ever be bridged. My thoughts were disturbed when, out of the darkness, the two way radio in my car crackled to  life. A car, probably somebody just trying to get home like I was, had gone of an embankment and our Public Safety personnel were mobilizing to try and find it. The citizen who called 911 had seen the crash, but wasn’t exactly sure where along the road that they happened to be.

It’s easy to dislike your government. You get your power bill and think “How can this possibly be so expensive?” You get your tax bill and think the same. Meanwhile, a fire truck screams through the night and your tax dollars are being spent on the diesel fuel to make it roll.

Whether you like the decisions government organizations make or not, your government – and it is your government (remember what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “government of the people, by the people, for the people”) – is working for you. Your neighbors are working hard for you all day, every day. They might be in a ditch working on a water line. They might be hanging from a light pole trying to get your power back on, or watching your street for you while you sleep, or sitting in an office trying to balance the rising costs of doing business with the desire to keep your utility rates and taxes as low as possible. They might be sliding down an embankment in the dark of the night towards and overturned car.

There are many difficult decisions that will face your city in the coming years. The face of our community has changed and will continue to change. We’ve got to decide what our city looks like years from now. What do our recreation program look like? What level of services do we provide? How do we address the rising costs of fuel, electricity, and utilities? How do we afford to repair our water and sewer systems before it is too late? How much can you, the citizen, afford to contribute financially towards the cost of providing government services through your tax payments and utility payments? Do you want your fire and rescue personnel to have all the tools they need to safely extract the injured person from an overturned car, or are you willing to gamble a bit and not buy the best equipment or replace the equipment as often as it needs replacing? Are you willing to buy the equipment at all? Do we pay for the city to become the city we want our children to inherit, or do we accept the city we are currently paying for – which is short of our dreams?

The answers to all those question depend on you, not some mystical secret society known as “the government” because you are the government. Your neighbors are working for you trying to create the city you want Clinton to be. You have the keys. You are in the driver’s seat. Don’t just get angry at government, but instead take the time to learn about the issues and make your opinion known. Don’t miss the key part of the previous statement. Learn about the issues. In the words of a famous politician, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Spreading misinformation, or assuming what you read on facebook, twitter, or heard in line at the grocery store is true and basing your views on it doesn’t do anything but hold the rest of us back. Those firefighters working at the bottom an embankment to save a life don’t need you holding them back, and your neighbor who is counting on them doesn’t need to be held back either.

As I pulled into my driveway, I listened to the calm voices of our firefighters as they communicated with a helicopter pilot from a Greenville area hospital. They are not strangers, they are your neighbors and they are just working hard to try to create the city that we all want to be proud to call home.