What I learned: The List in 2014

Sep 29, 2013

In the summer of 2013, I drove across and around the USA, talking, thinking and meeting with lots of amazing people, especially those working on juvenile justice reform, prison reform and all that goes into the concepts of community justice. More than anything else, I learned that people are really pissed off at Washington DC and I still don’t think our politicians get how angry everyone is. There is a lot of frustration, anger, disappointment, distrust and outright disrespect for Washington DC and politicians of every stripe. The signs were everywhere – almost every ¼ mile for almost 200 miles throughout drought-stricken California: "Washington DC is causing another dust bowl," "Politicians bringing the water crisis to America" and "Paying for water not delivered." My favorite sign I wouldn’t see until I got to Minnesota: “The National Security Agency - the only part of government that actually listens to the people.”

I also learned that the majority of Americans did not understand what their government did, what worked, or what they were getting that they wanted. Like road maintenance, air traffic control, emergency responses, weather prediction, forest and park preservation, firefighting and so on. I believe a lot of government is wasteful and duplicative and not focused on priorities people care about. I do however know what it does, what works and what does not.

Most people don’t understand what government does or what the three different branches do. They are just angry about high taxes, lousy jobs, bad schools, expensive healthcare and sending more money overseas than seems to be spent at home. They support our troops but not wars that do not have to be fought. They are enraged every time they read about government bureaucrats wasting money on just about anything – from conferences in Las Vegas to stupid programs that do not meet people’s immediate needs. They want government to live within its means just as families and communities must do. And there is a sad assumption that government is corrupt, yes our government.

There is a greater understanding of environmental problems than I had guessed – for example, floods and drought in the farm belt has raised conservation and climate change awareness among the crustiest of farmers. Every young person I talked to wanted to live off the grid and many were going to school to figure out how.

The idea of fixing government and building peace made sense to a lot of people.

Although I keep looking for a new phrase for reinventing government, there’s no need to create a new word since no one outside the Washington Beltway had heard of reinvention. But the word itself – reinvention – rang true.

I learned the time for writing is over, the time for speaking out has begun. And I need to be clearer about how exactly I would fix government and build peace.