We need a new approach – a better approach – that harnesses and more fully realizes the powerful unifying force of the brilliant idea that is our American democracy.
Our polarized state and federal policies and our public policy problem-solving processes urgently need to be fixed. Many politicians continue the destructive “divide and rule” policy — pitting us against each other, cynically taking advantage of the “zero-sum” mentality of “I win, you lose”, and eroding public confidence in our government. . They also play on unwarranted fears of “the other” and attempt to marginalize people as “broken”, leaving many people forgotten, speechless and disconnected. Some current “leaders” continue to politicize our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, unforgivably prolonging the agony and killing many fellow Americans.
Fortunately, we the American people can do much better than that! We can do this by leading a renaissance of democracy and community service that helps us all. By our words and actions, we can demonstrate that we are all valuable and can contribute to our community. We can reject the “divide and conquer” policy. We can adopt a positive-sum mindset that acts on the guiding principle: “We can all do better if we work together”. We can demand that future public health crises be treated as such, and not as partisan battlegrounds.
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Let’s combine the timeless wisdom of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. At Gettysburg, Lincoln dedicated us once again to the core tenets of our Declaration of Independence, calling for a “new birth of freedom” and a staunch determination to preserve “government of, by and for the people.”
Kennedy revitalized our democracy and our ethics of community service by suggesting a vision that is “not a set of promises, it’s a set of challenges.” This does not sum up what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask them.
In 2022, in central Pennsylvania, let’s consider our common values and goals, our common good. JFK provided a solid foundation, “… our most fundamental common bond is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish the future of our children. And we are all mortal. He extended this by repeatedly calling on us to fulfill our duties as US citizens and “ask what we can do for our country.”
Consider the following as a “rough draft” as we begin to define a vision of our common values and goals at Central Pa., And the best ways to achieve them for all of us:
Life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness
- Health and physical and mental health: access to quality and affordable health care, including for the elderly; a livable and sustainable environment with clean air and water, as well as abundant renewable energy; many leisure possibilities
- Access to quality and affordable housing: using public-private partnerships and intersectoral collaborations
- Healthy Food Security: Public support for Pennsylvania farmers, including regenerative techniques and technologies that produce healthy food locally, increase farmers’ profitability, and improve the fertility of our soils and the health of our planet; explore the potential of vertical agriculture, including community gardens in abandoned warehouses in the greater Carlisle area
- Personal Safety: Crime Reduction and Common Sense Gun Safety
- Skills and mindsets: they are necessary to seek and achieve happiness
Resilient individuals, families and communities
- High-quality education, training and workforce development for all
- Accessible and affordable child care
- Sense of belonging and community: a strong ethic of participatory citizenship; allow each citizen to do their duty by voting; “we can work together and all do better” mindset; strong and independent faith communities; helping out anyone who needs it
Economic security based on jobs, wages and wealth to support the family
- Quality education and vocational training for all
- Equitable opportunities for all to benefit from our robust economy
- Asset-based community development facilitated through collaborative cross-sector partnerships (business, government, nonprofits, universities, faith groups and citizens)
These guiding principles can be useful:
- The first question for every government decision should be, “How will this affect all of our children … and their children … and their children?” “
- Look for positive-sum possibilities instead of zero-sum inevitabilities
- Our main American strength is our diversity of thought and experience.
What would you add to the above? How will you contribute to its achievement in 2022 and beyond?
Can we convince our elected officials at all levels to adopt the thinking described above? Can we partner with them to invest public and private funds to facilitate the collaborative community vision described above?
The quality of life of our children and grandchildren depends on it.
Rick Coplen is a community service volunteer with the Rotary Club of Carlisle and a member of the board of directors of the Carlisle Area School District and Employment Skills Center.