As the many facets of the public health emergency in Flint, Michigan, continue to come to light, they reflect poorly on Governor Snyder and the increasingly common practice of government take-overs of municipalities, school districts, and other locally controlled functions from police departments to utilities. In the case of Governor Snyder, his reprehensible disregard for life and well-being of the residents of Flint should result in his immediate impeachment followed by criminal prosecution.
I hope we will see some class action suits against him and the state of Michigan very soon. I would even be fine with Medicare, Medicaid, and United Health Care suing the state because of increased payouts to cover treatment of rashes, coughs, stomach problems, and developmental delays. I would hope that had this happened in Milwaukee, that I would have the wherewithal to sue him for the loss of home value and the increase in anxiety.
Less clear to me is what to do about these too frequent take-overs of local control. On one hand, I recognize that emergencies happen in government and big course corrections are necessary. However, on the other hand, I am often left wondering if that decision is too frequently made while other options are not seriously considered. For example, when the Wisconsin legislature landed on a sweet deal for Chris Abele, the current Milwaukee County Executive, to earn his philanthropic trophy by appointing a special administrator to take over failing public schools.
Abele’s selection for special administrator seems like he might be a good one, but the fact remains that these guys just vacated our local election results by circumventing the school board and stole the property we paid for with our tax dollars. In Wisconsin counties do not have schools, municipalities do.
They are our schools. We are accountable for them. These guys are not. We will not be able to hold them accountable when these laws fail us and our children.
If the legislature were interested in our schools, they would be supporting them instead of gutting their budgets, closing their options to raise funds themselves, and removing the very limited teacher protections that were still keeping qualified people coming into the profession. In a recent argument with a proponent of voucher programs and school take overs (be careful about what you say to me on a train, by the way), he said it would be easy to get people from Teach for America. Don’t get me started! I am sure that some well-intentioned young adults have jumped on that railroad car with hopes of making a difference. But the anti-teacher, anti-professionalism, anti-public school engineers of Teach for America have a very different idea about where that train should be headed.
Yesterday I wrote that Tuesday’s Wisconsin State of the State address by Governor Walker previewed what will emerge in 2016 and 2017 as fuel to further abandon working people. When he said that in the near future everyone who wants to work in Wisconsin will have a job, he tipped his hat that the plan is to blame unemployed workers for their situation. I suppose we ought to be happy that the Koch brothers gave us the lubricant of time before Wisconsin workers were screwed again. One only need to see the scores of people energetically showing up to job fairs where fewer than one in a hundred will actually be hired to know that people want to work. Each of us has seen a family member or friend react to the fear of a lay-off or geographic reassignment that might happen to them. Think what it means to be the person who has sustained that reaction to loss for months or even years. Among my friends there are some who have never had a job that is not an entry-level position. Economic downturns, layoffs, temporary work, and eventually a spotty work history keep them near the exit door in every job they land.
Whether it is the environment, failed experiments in schools, or chronic unemployment, many in office refuse to be accountable until they are held accountable by us. The problem is that we cannot hold anyone accountable. We can only be accountable.
Accountability requires that we understand situations as they are, consider where we have power and control, form a plan for successful resolution, and take action. In this, we do not hold anyone accountable, we become accountable. We recognize that privatization of government services is not always as great as it is sold to us. We might initially save some money when our garbage is collected by workers in a private company. But if we end our understanding there, we fail to notice that the displaced workers are costing us something elsewhere, that the newly hired workers are making half the wages and receive no benefits, so they are costing us somewhere else, too. Privatizing education has become such a national pastime that we are even privatizing home schooling!
Many people understand some or much of the situation we are in with government take-overs, schools, the environment, and unemployment. Far fewer of us, however, really consider where we have power and control. Yes, we can and should vote — something I no longer assume my friends and acquaintances are actually doing. We can also hit Like, sign an electronic petition, and send three dollars to the most recent robo-tweet. But these actions alone are based on an incredible under-estimate of what power we hold. One long time colleague of mine has been fond of saying for decades that her purpose is to speak truth to power. Not a bad motto for someone else, but ironically when she does so she is often the most powerful person in the room. She is not listening to herself.
My point is this. Walker, Snyder, Abele and others will constantly wait for us to hold them accountable for their errors in governance. And they should wait. We cannot hold them accountable. We must be accountable and take action.