What are the Commons and why are they important to civil society? We don’t speak of our public sector too often as The Commons anymore so many citizens don’t understand the term or what is included or why The Commons are such a vital part of our society. One of the keys to understanding The Commons, is first understanding the framework of our nation, the Constitution and its key structures, this is seen first in the Preamble;
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
And then next in Article 1, Section 8:
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
With this in mind, what are The Commons? I suspect if I asked ten people I would get very different answers, these would be tinged by their political leanings, their understanding of history maybe even their age. We have forgotten though, truly failed in our memory in the past forty some odd years the meaning of the gift of The Commons we give to ourselves. We have failed to preserve the community that is The Commons and failed to
preserve the meaning of nation that is also The Commons. In this forgetting, we fail both what is the illustriousness of our past and sustainability of our future.
What are The Commons? These are what I think and in many cases what our Founders thought and earlier, greater presidents thought.
- National Parks, I do believe the preservation of great swaths of our nation is indeed vital to our heritage in our future. Some of these wonders of the our nation house also wonders of the world, worth our care for our children and their children; Theodore Roosevelt
- Food & Drug Administration, indeed I want the food I eat to be safe. I want there to be standards for cleanliness, packaging, distribution and telling me what any food product contains. I want these standards to be across the board and not-for-profit. I also want them to be up on the latest scientific knowledge not years behind! Similarly, I want pharmaceutical companies to have to follow tight guidelines when putting new drugs on the market, I don’t want them to be able to put just anything on the shelf with a warning label so long and in such small print even my glasses can’t help read it; Theodore Roosevelt
- Social Security, oh yeah I know it’s an ENTITLEMENT. No, no it is not unless you are thinking of an Entitlement as something you or I have paid into for our entire working lives and are now ENTITLED to collect in our retirement. Should we consider some reforms? Yes, we should but those reforms should not include anything even faintly smelling of privatization, this is part of The Commons, something we gift ourselves with to make our own and our fellow citizens lives better for: Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Roads, Interstate Highways, these are important not just for our driving pleasure but as a means of moving goods across the country. The Interstate Highway system not only provided a massive works program, it connects us to this day despite its terrible disrepair; Dwight Eisenhower
- Endowment of the Arts, no nation can call itself civilized that does not support the arts, that does not provide for theater, museums, music, writers to flourish. History tells us no civilization has ever flourished without art; Lyndon Johnson
- Medicare / Medicaid, one of the most despised but necessary of The Commons, especially needful for our aged and our young where the programs are most focused; Lyndon Johnson
- Environment Protection Agency, there was a time we held a first Earth Day. Many understood with rivers on fire, children dying of strange cancers and city skies black with smoke we had to do something to change our direction, to take care of our world. We didn’t call it Climate Change back then, we simply called it pollution and despaired; Richard Nixon
- FEMA, recognizing the need for federal intervention and support where Blood Drives, volunteers and the local first responders could not cover all the needs this agency was created and funded; Jimmy Carter
These are just a few that have recently been in the news mostly because they have been under fire. There are those who believe they should either be privatized or simply eliminated entirely. Here are some others though,
some you may not have considered;
- Privatization of Local, State and Federal Jails and Prisons:
- This is already underway in many states, the privatization of the prison system leads to fraud. Private systems will only build or take over systems with a guarantee of 90% occupancy rate. The Drug War and the crackdown on Illegal Immigration has been a boon for the private prison profit margins.
- Privatization of Voting Machines:
- This one is frightening but the states buy their voting machines from private industry. They are programed in closed source, the states cannot service them and do not understand the operating system or the programming that counts YOUR vote. There are no random spot checks, there is no validation there is no Transparency and SCOTUS determined in 2000 in Bush v. Gore, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote”.
- Privatization of Education:
- Public education and schools have been a cornerstone of our Commons since 1647 when the Puritans established the first schools, albeit these were primarily for the teaching of Puritan values and the reading of the Bible. Beginning in 1785 the first land grant schools (University) were being established, open to all. In 1790 public education was being offered to all families who could not afford to send their children to private schools in Pennsylvania. By 1820, public education was the standard in all US cities and in 1851 Massachusetts is the first state to make education mandatory.
- Privatization of City Water Utilities / Supplies:
- It has been predicted by 2025 Water will be the new oil, with shortfalls worldwide. With this in mind it shouldn’t be a surprise the private sector is looking to privatize city water utilities. What does this mean to you or I? This would depend on where we live and how much we can afford to pay for our water I would suppose. My recommendation would be if your city is planning to privatize plan on rate hikes, degraded water quality and parts of your city with little to no service as infrastructure also degrades through ‘structural adjustment’.
Those are just a few, there are many more. The one thing the first list shared, there was a benefit to all citizens with their implementation, no person was left out. The one thing the second list shares, those who are already living in poverty, already struggling just to get by are far and away more harmed by their implementation. Is this a race issue? Only so far as today poverty and race remains closely linked in many areas of the nation. To ignore this is to turn a blind eye on facts. We cannot ignore where benefits are gained and who is harmed by any action or by our failure to act.
Tomorrow is our last day to vote in this election cycle. Tomorrow some will stand in very long lines and hopefully say NO to the dreams and hopes of the PRIVATIZATION crowd. Tomorrow perhaps, if enough people say no,
we can begin to heal some of the wounds this election season has opened and begin what I think will be a slog through the muck toward a more civilized social dialog about how to fix what is broken. Tomorrow we elect our next President, several Senators and House members; all I can say I hope it is President Obama and enough new members in both houses of Congress to break the log jam of the past four years.
What is The Commons? It is the gift we give to ourselves to maintain a civilized society. I personally like paying taxes for the benefit of a civilized society that includes good roads, great art and a government that actually functions properly.
I leave you with this thought, voter suppression and repression isn’t this years fancy it was a long time in the making, listen to what Paul Weyrich said in 1980. Don’t know who he is? Mr. Weyrich is the founder of the Heritage Foundation, Alec and several other far right organizations.