Power to the People

Back in the wild and woolly Sixties, “Power to the People” was a slogan often shouted at sit-ins and the other disruptive gatherings that characterized those tumultuous times. We hear similar chants today from those attending “tea party” events.

Reporters covering the various factions of so-called tea partiers tell us that there really is no central issue motivating them; rather, these events are expressions of frustration and anger, fueled by feelings of powerlessness. A sour economy certainly doesn’t help.

It’s easy to dismiss Tea Party folks as fringe malcontents who are being given undue attention by the media; there were all of six hundred people in attendance at the recent national “convention” that received so much coverage. Certainly, it is not a coherent movement advocating any particular goal. But outright dismissal would be a mistake; while most Americans do not share the paranoia, racism and hostility to government that characterize Tea Party gatherings, huge numbers of Americans do share participants’ frustration and their belief that our governing institutions are not working.

Whatever one thinks of Evan Bayh and his motives for leaving the Senate, it is hard to argue with his accusation that extreme partisanship and the influence of moneyed special interests have crippled that institution. Game-playing has replaced policymaking, with the result that efforts to solve our most pressing problems—think healthcare, the environment, job creation—go nowhere. Time and time again, scoring political points or keeping the other party from doing so, trumps doing the people’s business. Time and time again, serving the vested interests trumps serving the people’s interests.

It isn’t only the U.S. Senate. The Indiana Legislature seems equally unwilling or unable to address the issues Hoosier voters really care about—improving education, creating jobs, reforming and streamlining our outmoded government and election systems.

What are Indiana lawmakers—of both parties, it should be noted—spending time on? Well, there’s always time to debate another anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the Indiana Constitution. Or to micro-manage local school board decisions about when school should start.

This year, lawmakers spent time on a bill prohibiting employers “from adopting or enforcing” rules against employees bringing guns to work. Perhaps you didn’t realize what a truly important problem that was—surely, every employee has the right to pack heat on his employer’s premises! The bill says employers have no right to prohibit workers from bringing weapons, so long as they are kept in a locked car, trunk, or glove compartment. Virtually every employer in the state is opposed to this bill, which has sailed through the House 76 to 21, and will easily pass the Senate.

I would suggest we return power to the people by voting these incumbents out of office, but unfortunately, voters no longer choose their representatives. Thanks to gerrymandering and the precision of modern computers, lawmakers today choose their voters.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the General Assembly hasn’t spent much time on proposals to eliminate gerrymandering, or to return power to the people.