Sometimes I feel like a motorist driving past a spectacular wreck. It’s hard not to rubberneck. And these days, government sure looks like that wreck–here in Indiana, where a gerrymandered legislature focuses on everything but the common good, and in Congress, where the wheels have come off the legislative vehicle, and the entire enterprise looks more like one of those old Keystone Kop movies than a genuine effort to govern.
It really is important to remind ourselves that–while we are craning our necks to look at the destruction–other cars are moving properly down the highway. While the local and national members of government’s lunatic caucuses are attacking democratic institutions and neglecting pressing problems, a wide variety of “good guys” are devoting their time and resources to solving those problems.
Recent headlines have reported the extension of broadband Internet access to millions of people, the eradication or control of several diseases around the globe, multiple acts of charity and philanthropy, and scientific progress on a variety of threats to the environment. You can probably point to many more nuggets of good news.
What triggered this post was a story I came across detailing the work being done by Matt Damon, the movie star, to address the threats posed by lack of access to potable water.
Evidently, when Matt was young, he took multiple trips around the world with his mother, and witnessed what life was like for communities living with the global water crisis. Then, while filming a movie in Sub-Saharan Africa, he spent time with families in a Zambian village who lacked access to water and toilets. Those experiences “inspired a commitment to helping solve the global water crisis. In 2006 he founded H20 Africa Foundation to raise awareness about safe water initiatives on the continent.”
While his foundation brought water to families in need in Africa, the A-list actor realized he needed more expertise to solve the world’s water and sanitation crisis. Fortunately for him, a partner who could help Matt do more, faster, was a meeting away.
In 2008, during an annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, Matt met Gary White, an engineer from Kansas City who had gained an international reputation as a water and sanitation expert. Realizing the global impact they could have together, Matt and Gary’s organizations came together to create Water.org in 2009.
In their book, The Worth of Water, Gary and Matt invite us to become a part of this effort—to match hope with resources, to empower families and communities, and to end the global water crisis for good.
My visit to Water.org prompted a google search for other efforts focused on water–especially efforts to clean Earth’s increasingly polluted oceans. There are, it turns out, several: The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization developing and scaling technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. (The organization uses what it calls a “dual strategy”– intercepting plastic in rivers to cut the inflow of pollution, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean and won’t go away by itself.) The Ocean Conservancy is studying the effects of climate change on the oceans of the world, and working to ensure that the oceans get the government funding and attention they require. The Ocean Rescue Alliance is conserving reefs through restoration, research, eco-Tourism, & education.
There are several others, and that’s just efforts directed toward the planet’s oceans. Scientists are working on a wide variety of technologies intended to ameliorate the worst effects of climate change; multiple non-profit organizations are addressing daunting social ills. In short, there are a lot of very good people doing very good things and ignoring the wreckage that is America’s current, overwhelming political dysfunction.
There are, of course, reasons that this blog focuses on that dysfunction rather than on what the “good guys’ are doing. The most obvious is that–as a former professor of public policy–governance and policy are my areas of interest.
That said, it is also the case that government remains the pre-eminent mechanism through which people and communities can act; a non-functioning government negates or hobbles the efforts of those good guys. The lunatic caucus in the U.S. House threatens everything from citizens’ civil liberties to world peace; the chokehold of the GOP supermajority in the Indiana Statehouse prevents urban Hoosiers from exercising local control and undermines public schools in rural areas, among many other travesties.
I will continue to focus on the wreckage that is America’s current political environment, but every so often, I do want to recognize that there are a lot of “good guys” out there, and that many of them are making a real difference.
If only we had a government that was helping, rather than hindering….