I hate myself on days like this when it seems so clear it’s my fault — and yours.
The state is broke, the city is paying its bills with credit cards, the schools are a disaster, the traffic a nightmare, houses are worth half what they were, people are losing their jobs in record numbers and all we can talk about is poor Michael Jackson.
What the hell is wrong with us anyway — with me?
My pal Joe Scott notes two of three Americans find excessive the 24/7 coverage of the death of the pain-ridden and unhappy King of Pop even as they stare mindlessly at the boob tube coverage and send cable TV news ratings soaring off the charts.
Something is terribly wrong when we spend $20 billion building brand-new schools in LA like Santee High and the test results are just as bad as they were before and when the mayor’s highly-touted reform effort makes the dropout rate worse than it was.
Something is wrong when the governor and state legislature stare each other down after a five-year spree that saw spending increase six times faster than population growth and we’re paying our bills with IOUs that are trading for discounts on eBay.
Something is wrong when a city’s revenue soars by a third in four years and it winds up overspending by half again as much.
When good employers in the private sector dread having to cut the pay of staff and lay them off while the city gives bonuses and sweetened pensions out, something is wrong.
When dedicated and well-rewarded people think nothing paying nearly $50,000 to have 3,500 sandwiches brought in from Wrightwood in San Bernardino County for the cops guarding the Staples Center on Tuesday, something is wrong.
Everywhere you look it seems things are broken. Whose fault is it –theirs or ours?
I’ve gone to dozens of community meetings all over LA in the last 15 months, and there’s rarely more than 25 or 30 people trying to do something about what’s wrong. The exceptions are the Encino Neighborhood Council meeting last night where the community’s passions were aroused because the media frenzy outside the Jackson family home on Hayvenhurst disrupted their lives and their neighborhood.
It’s proof all politics is local but how often does that myopic view of the world ever expand into action on the root cause: A political system taken hostage by special interests.
Just one in six registered voters went to the polls in the last two city elections and it will be more like one in ten in the Council District 2 special election on Sept. 22 — an election the City Hall political machine hopes to steal with two heavily-financed candidates running against a dozen mostly unknown community activists.
Something is terribly wrong.
I’ve railed against their corruption for years and demonized them as villains but on introspective mornings like this I know they are just captives of a system run amok, no more or less at fault than me — or you.
I talk with civic and business leaders and they don’t sound any different than the leaders down at the grassroots involved in Neighborhood Councils and homeowner groups and service clubs.
They can all get 25 or 30 people together to talk about what’s wrong but when it comes to action, it’s not easy. People only care about what affects them directly, what impacts their businesses or their pocketbooks or their neighborhoods or the singular issue that inflames their passions.
I never said I knew the answers to any or all of what’s wrong; only that I held a deep faith that if we all looked up from the ground in front of us and saw how our problems are inter-connected, we could and would do something about them and find answers that were better, far better, than the ones we have.
I haven’t lost my faith. In fact, my time as an activist, as an ordinary citizen getting involved in the life of my community, has convinced me more than ever that we the people can make a difference.
Our economic, political and cultural crises are going to get worse in the coming months. That’s a certainty. More people will lose their jobs. Government agencies will be under even more financial pressure to cut basic services, eliminate critical educational programs, free dangerous criminals onto our streets.
And the future will be in the hands of all those little cells of 25 to 30 people who have been involved so long and know so much to reach out beyond themselves to their larger communities of interest and to come together into a force for real change.
That’s what democracy is all about and that’s what we have lost with our preoccupation with ourselves, our own advantages, our own little worlds.
This isn’t the America I learned about as a kid, the freest nation on the face of the earth where everyone had an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, where the people were the rulers and the government was the public’s servant.
From the bottom of my heart, I believe the moment is at hand for that America to come to life. It just depends on you and me.
That’s what I believe anyway, right or wrong.