I’d barely finished playing a gig Saturday evening in San Diego with The Cause at Stand Down when the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was announced. Like, me, most of the guys in the band grew up in the 60s, and we all remembered the power of the Viet Nam and civil rights protests, and how it was possible — then — to make change happen by organizing and being heard.
(Stand Down is an annual event that was started 26 years ago in San Diego, and has grown to many other cities around the United States. From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, homeless Veterans are welcomed into a military-style camp where they can “stand down” from life on the street, have three square meals a day, get services provided by volunteers, non-profit NGOs, government agencies and others ranging from medical to legal to spiritual to practical, and remember — for a few days — the well-deserved honor of serving in the United States armed forces. Stand Down was started in San Diego by Viet Nam Veterans, and while there were many Veterans from that era in camp today, there were also many younger Veterans representing every conflict since, including some families.)
Back to the Zimmerman verdict…which reminded me of a topic I can’t ignore.
I don’t want to generalize, because there are so many successful organizers working hard for change today, so I’ll make my observation in the form of a question: how is it that Americans have become so powerless? From abortion to Acorn to Occupy, the only thing we’ve got to our recent credit as grass-roots Americans is getting the government out of our marriages, and we’re not even too good at that.
In the past, Americans effectively organized to right wrongs such as slavery, the oppression of women and fascism. American civil rights law and opposition to bad foreign policy began with the people, not the government, and fundamentally changed the nature of government’s power over its citizens. But what has happened to allow government’s power to become so pervasive since?
Since 9/11, we Americans have permitted government to oppress us in ways the Hippies or the Suffragettes would never have thought possible. We submit to invasive searches prior to boarding an airplane. We permit our personal communications to be monitored. We comply with laws that limit our ability to earn, plan, save and invest adequately for our long-term financial stability, provide health care and long term care for our families and loved ones, and even in some cases provide for our food and shelter. (Yes, some laws actually limit certain Americans’ ability to pay for food and shelter!) We have allowed our government to extend its “network of care” to so many Americans that we are in serious danger of not being able to pay for it.
I believe Americans have become powerless because more and more of us sell our self reliance to our government. It’s hard work to form a group to oppose a policy that could bankrupt us all, so we go along with our lawmakers when they say we need to provide “health care for all” or declare “war on poverty” or attempt to “leave no child behind.” So much money has been spent to end poverty and improve government education without real results that it’s reasonable to ask why we continue to spend. Is there a better way?
Our American government has gotten VERY good at spending our money, which we allow to be taken from us in the form of taxes. Sure, it’s compassionate to help the poor, the suffering and the sick, but we have millions of people under the compassion umbrella, including those who are owed a Social Security check every month from the money they contributed to what we now learn is the biggest Ponzi scheme ever perpetrated on a society…how do we expect the government to make those payments without taking more from us and leaving us less to spend ourselves?
Our American government has gotten VERY good at stifling innovation and creativity. Instead of rewarding inventors, we have huge bureaucracies whose job is to “regulate” them…and whose regulations are so overwrought and cumbersome that inventing something — like a successful cure for cancer — has a limited financial incentive. Billions of dollars of testing and research are required before a new medical treatment or drug gets government certification in America. Not a great incentive for creative researchers, but it does push drug companies to find and market other — potentially dangerous — uses for pre-existing drugs, some of which work and some of which cause more suffering. Is this what we want for health care? There are new regulations that could deny you treatment for certain conditions — treatment you would otherwise be able to purchase but for the Affordable Care Act. Older Veterans suffering from Agent Orange or SV40 or Gulf War Syndrome are being sidelined for care in favor of the post-9/11 Veterans. Is this compassion?
Giving a portion of everything you earn to charity is good practice. So is saving a portion of everything you earn for your own long-term care. Americans have always had a choice about saving, but for as long as there have been taxes Americans have not truly had a choice about how their tax money is spent. The folks we elect to government are entrusted with that choice — and they listen, not to us, but to the highest bidder. (Some have advocated for “taking the money out of politics” by restricting certain types of campaign contributions, but that’s not the best answer.)
Yes, it’s easier to take the handout and to vote for a government that promises to continue that handout. But that’s just not smart, because, as entitled as you may be to the government’s care, your long-term acceptance of assistance is going to bankrupt the government, frustrate the taxpaying citizens still lucky enough to have a job…and perhaps (I sincerely hope) start a wealth revolution.
- A wealth revolution starts when the poor understand that America can no longer afford to have poor, unproductive citizens who take more than they earn. It’s too easy to be poor in America. It oughtn’t be that way.
- A wealth revolution starts when working Americans tell the government to stop taking so much of their earnings in taxes.
- A wealth revolution starts when Americans cut out the government middleman — the government welfare middleman, the government retirement middleman, the government heath care middleman — and take responsibility for their own welfare, retirement and health care.
- A wealth revolution starts when we Americans tell our government to stop wasting our money trying to convert the world to democracy. Just because it is the best form of government we’ve got doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for the rest of the world.
A wealth revolution could provide ordinary folks with the means to be more individually compassionate, charitable and pro-active. Being able to keep more of what we earn helps give us economic security, and from our own security we can extend kindness and charity more effectively to those who deserve it. We can do this one-to-one so much more effectively than government, and the satisfaction of helping a fellow American in need feels so much better than being taxed to fund food stamps.
A wealth revolution doesn’t just make the rich richer — government policy in America since the late 1990s has been making the rich richer. A wealth revolution makes it possible for every American to become richer by removing government barriers to wealth. Immigrants come to America for economic opportunity — which still exists in America, but only to a certain point: the point where we try to stop depending on the government for assistance and find that we no longer enjoy most-favored-American status. Try to cross over from economic dependence to self-sustenance and we find we’ve have become the ones who pay for everyone else…and our dream of wealth evaporates.
So what does George Zimmerman have to do with this?
Zimmerman is the epitome of an American who took matters into his own hands. His acquittal is, perhaps, a lit candle in the darkness of American personal responsibility. It’s tough to be responsible in America these days with so many regulations on reasonable speech, reasonable action, reasonable decisions. It’s hard to take on a bully without being accused of anything from political incorrectness to hatred. But Zimmerman, right or wrong, took responsibility for a bad situation and was found to have acted within the law. We need more Americans who will take responsibility for their actions even in the face of outrageous opposition.
- We need Americans ready and willing to publicly stand up to statism and advocate strongly for personal responsibility.
- We need Americans ready and willing to band together again and take back our self-earned wealth.
- We need Americans ready and willing to use our personal responsibility and self-earned wealth to transform the culture of dependence to a truly American culture of innovative self-reliance with compassion.
America has led the world by being a model for what happen when citizens are truly free — to be productive, earn and keep the rewards of their productivity, and provide for the care and sustenance of their fellow citizens out of generous compassion. But we are losing that leadership, thanks to our indifference to our own government.
It’s time to end the culture of lack perpetrated on us by those who believe they are better custodians of our wealth. It’s time to enjoy the satisfaction of making individual blessings happen at the grass roots level, and put an end to the mistaken notion that some agency or non-profit is better at compassion than we are.
We deserve the warmth of genuine appreciation that comes from sharing our wealth with someone in need. We deserve a shot at showing the world that greed doesn’t sustain America. We deserve a government that will get out of our way, encourage our individual generosity, responsibility, earning potential, and creativity. We deserve a wealth revolution.
Are you with me?