The words “government of the people, by the people, for the people” were first uttered in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln consecrated the battlefield at Gettysburg. They’ve resonated to varying degrees throughout U.S. history, at times loudly and at other times with barely a whimper.
As it grows in timbre and in tone, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has come to symbolize the hope of “the people” in bringing back the fundamental principles of sound, participative government: accountability, responsibility and effectiveness. Tens of thousands of people think they can change the way the system works, and they intend to be the springboard to do it.
That pretty much reflects what an overwhelming majority of Californians recently told pollsters: State government isn’t working; and as a result, their lives are more difficult. They think the problems can be fixed, and they want a system that will fix it.
They see high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, substandard education, insufficient health care and crime as symptoms of a larger problem: unresponsive government, taxpayer dollars wasted on programs that don’t work, and elected officials who aren’t accountable. They see the tentacles of the state overreaching into the local community in ways that don’t make sense either performance- or budget-wise.
California Forward has been working on policies that can begin to change that. They aim to define the proper role of the state, the county and the community in meeting the needs of “the people,” and demand results and accountability up and down the line.
Fixing California takes more than ideas, even one as common sense-ical as this one. Californians need to translate the symbolism of OWS into collective energy and action at home. That’s why it’s imperative for Californians up and down the state to start the conversation, energize the discussion and keep at it until the power of the people trumps the power of malaise.
Sandra Sternberg is part of the California Forward communications team.