Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Stronger Bond of Reasonable Unity

When we talk about being "for small government," what does that mean, exactly?

There are always laws that look silly, or loopholes that are found in complex regulation. But there must be limits, right? Government has some role, does it not? When looking at the problem of large or small government, I am always reminded of the famous small government proponent (ok, Anarchist), Emma Goldman.

If we want to examine "small government," look no further than Ms. Goldman, who believed in abolishing all "governmental regulations," including the personal protection of property:

"Property is robbery," said the great French Anarchist Proudhon. Yes, but without risk and danger to the robber. Monopolizing the accumulated efforts of man, property has robbed him of his birthright, and has turned him loose a pauper and an outcast. Property has not even the time-worn excuse that man does not create enough to satisfy all needs. The A B C student of economics knows that the productivity of labor within the last few decades far exceeds normal demand. But what are normal demands to an abnormal institution? The only demand that property recognizes is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave, to outrage, to degrade. America is particularly boastful of her great power, her enormous national wealth. Poor America, of what avail is all her wealth, if the individuals comprising the nation are wretchedly poor? If they live in squalor, in filth, in crime, with hope and joy gone, a homeless, soilless army of human prey.

It should be noted that I don't necessarily agree with Ms. Goldman on all counts. She advocated and apologized for violence quite a bit - something I don't think I'll ever accept as a means to change. But she did have some wonderful things to say about direct action:

Universal suffrage itself owes its existence to direct action. If not for the spirit of rebellion, of the defiance on the part of the American revolutionary fathers, their posterity would still wear the King's coat. If not for the direct action of a John Brown and his comrades, America would still trade in the flesh of the black man. True, the trade in white flesh is still going on; but that, too, will have to be abolished by direct action. Trade-unionism, the economic arena of the modern gladiator, owes its existence to direct action. It is but recently that law and government have attempted to crush the trade-union movement, and condemned the exponents of man's right to organize to prison as conspirators. Had they sought to assert their cause through begging, pleading, and compromise, trade-unionism would today be a negligible quantity. In France, in Spain, in Italy, in Russia, nay even in England (witness the growing rebellion of English labor unions), direct, revolutionary, economic action has become so strong a force in the battle for industrial liberty as to make the world realize the tremendous importance of labor's power. The General Strike, the supreme expression of the economic consciousness of the workers, was ridiculed in America but a short time ago. Today every great strike, in order to win, must realize the importance of the solidaric general protest.

As a historical exercise, I'd encourage everyone to study up on not only Goldman's writing, but the writing and theory of other major theories of government and society. It's as important to understand Ayn Rand as it is to understand Karl Marx, or Adam Smith, or Hayek (hypocrite alert: I've yet to read him!).

Why is it important? Why should any of us spend our time on reading thoughts on systems that we'll never adopt? Because in each of these, we can strip them down to a basic level, and uncover the intended and actual beneficiaries.

We all come to our political conclusions based on what we feel will benefit us personally. We choose systems that help us prosper, and to probably the same degree, our families and neighbors. It's common for people to declare enemies, justified and unjustified. Enemies unite us, it's true. But I think it's clear, in healthy relationships, that the bonds we form in vilification only take us so far. Our deeper bonds must be forged with love, appreciation, respect, and compassion.

I felt that love in Madison last month, and I feel it when I speak with others and receive emails from my friends, family, and neighbors. We feel it when we hear them suffer. My dad still works as an administrator in city government, and has led men and women on the front lines - sewer workers, snowplow drivers, mechanics - for his entire life. Tim Pawlenty's budget cuts in 2009 led to him losing his job in Minnesota. This was his response to Patricia's email last week:

I could tell you dozens of stories just like Patricia's... I have worked with them for 32 years.. they are my friends. I think the most devastating thing about being "eliminated " a few years ago was the sudden loss of those friends...and the anger, disbelief, and humiliation of having it happen, without as much as a thank-you. Sometimes you have to do the job for the self satisfaction, knowing you did what was right.

We don't bond together over this stuff because we hate Tim Pawlenty, or Scott Walker, though in many cases they make perfect villains. We do it because we know that our loved ones are deeply affected by these policies. We realize that without coming together to stand up for ourselves, we all lose. No one wants to see their family member go through the degrading feeling of lost wages, or the powerless fear that comes with losing their job. At the stroke of the pen, it's made clear that we're a commodity to be traded or reduced. Affirming that we're all men and women - folks who love, cry, laugh, celebrate, mourn - is among most important steps we can take as we unite to keep our voices heard.

Our neighbors who disagree with us on the union fight are not our enemies. They may be conditioned to see us as such, but we don't need to go that far with them. They will scream at us, they will attempt to rob us of our voices, and they will malign us when they get the chance. We must remain calm, and take heart that so many of us are already together. Our calm insistence of our own humanity eventually endears us to the reasonable in the bunch, until there's not a reasonable person left standing on the side of the billionaires trying to take our state away.

Yes, we need to work toward the common goal of keeping the middle class intact. Yes, we need to continue to assert ourselves in the debate. Yes, we need to stand up to injustices against our schools, prisons, and other public institutions that give our children a chance to grow up in a healthy and safe Wisconsin. As long as we remind each other that it's ourselves, our families, and our communities we're protecting, we will stay strong.

This is why it's so important for us to be aware of all of the past struggles humanity has faced. Our ancestors have worked hard, fought hard, scratched, and clawed toward the common benefit of our communities, and things have gotten better when good ideas have been implemented. We have our own ideas, in our own time. History will never fault us for the work we do to improve our lives. Our children and grandchildren will be proud of our struggles, admire our tenacity, and thank God that we spent so much time and effort in making Wisconsin ours, and keeping it theirs. If we stick together, make no mistake: Wisconsin will be ours!