Governing Disasters – Let’s “Begin the World Over”

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As we went to “press” this morning it struck me that we had a theme going – dysfunctional governance. Leaving aside the one (glaring and appalling) nonprofit example (see P.S.).

But more notably, the entire country was treated to an extended and excruciating view of our congress’ inability to act – most obviously in the matter of the fiscal cliff,  but also in the matter of relief for Superstorm Sandy victims. It was, to put it mildly, an inauspicious legislative end to 2012 and an alarming start to 2013.

In her newswire about the refusal of the House to take up Sandy Relief,  Anne Eigeman, one of our volunteer newswire writers, observes that nonprofits pick up the slack in terms of direct service even when government fails to act.

In his feature article on the cliff bill, written in the wee hours of the morning, Rick Cohen suggests that the provisions of that legislation do not constitute any real movement. The tax rate will be “raised” or reinstated on the very rich but the middle class will also experience increases in their taxes due to the expiration of temporary reductions in the payroll tax.  Other measures constitute a tepid rather than decisive response to our economic landscape and we will be treated to another two months minimum of inaction before the next set of decisions is made. What will happen to the morale of our communities and their waning confidence in a reasonably secure future?

Writing for The Nation, John Nichols harkens back to the greatest aspirations of this country when he muses that this may be the year to “begin the world over,” quoting from Thomas Paine’s seminal classic pamphlet Common Sense. Nichols says “Citizens, with equal rights and equal say in the governing of the republic, remain the definers of America’s destiny.” We agree.

…And here is a thought: nonprofits have traditionally played an important role in democracy, convening people in common cause to take action. That action has sometimes and to very good stead included ensuring that government or business acts in the best interest of communities.

It strikes me that it is well past time for nonprofits to get very busy with constituents, helping them to think through what needs to change or be protected in their communities and how they can be active in that work. How can the provisions of the mental health parity law be ensured? What must we do to stem the growth of hunger among children? How do we ensure that justice is not a commodity available most assuredly to the rich and that destruction of the environment is stopped on a global level? How do we save and make thrive small locally owned business? The idea that we can all stand back after elections, leaving governance entirely in the hands of elected officials is proven inadequate. This period–this next year–must be marked by increased activism on the part of communities. Let’s figure out what we want and need and make sure we create avenues to get community voices heard on the issues that so deeply affect our lives.

Meanwhile NPQ will be here to record all of your breakthroughs and advances so we can all learn from one another. In that way we will remain a big, vivid community of practice, a community capable of requiring more of our elected representatives than we have recently gotten.

P.S. Here is the glaring example of nonprofit governance failure to which I referred earlier.