The nation is facing a leadership crisis. I could offer up a long dissertation of evidence, but something tells me you’re already nodding your head.
Here in South Dakota, things aren’t looking any better. Our state legislature has been enmeshed in one scandal after another. Our farmers are being ignored. Our small businesses can’t get the labor they need to cater to the tourism they depend on. Our world-renown landscape is being assaulted by industrial mining against our will.
Meanwhile, our legislators spend their time debating who gets to use the bathroom.
And we let them. We let them because many of us have not been educated on the appropriate role of government in the United States. And few of the rest of us know how to vocalize what we know to be true.
Our legislators—and the often out-of-state corporate lobbyists who buy them—count on that fact to run amok of their responsibilities.
If we are going to ensure the dignity of our elders, support healthy families, or leave anything of beauty or value to our children, we must retake control of our government. The first step to that end is understanding the reasonable scope of government power and enforcing that definition en masse.
We all have needs. Conveniently, we all have many of the same needs. We pay taxes to ensure that those common needs are met. That’s called the commonwealth.
The appropriate role of government is to ensure the equitable distribution of the commonwealth. Which is a fancy way of saying that the money we fork over in taxes is not to be tithed into the pockets of legislators and lobbyists. We pay taxes to ensure universal access to articles of basic, universal need: education, roads and transportation, community engagement, housing and yes, healthcare.
Marginalization is an ugly spot on American history. The nation was founded by male European Protestants, and every single group of people even marginally outside that demographic has had to fight for their rights and recognition as citizens. Women, various ethnic and religious groups, people with disabilities, even children—all of these groups have been targeted for socialized abuse at some point.
Government’s role in issues of age, ethnic, cultural, gender/sex, religious, or other genetic or lifestyle differences is to recognize and protect the group until they individualistically integrate into the community. They're there to make sure we all play nicely together. Legislators must never mandate or accept any form of terror against any socially recognizable group.
That means no bathroom bills.
The same goes for restricted assets, things like public lands, water, etc. Government’s role is not to decide when it’s ok to strip mine a state park or dump uranium refuse in the local aquifer. It’s to make sure those things don’t happen--period.
Representation Vs. Authority
Authority is a privilege relinquished to protective bodies trusted by the populace to enforce laws. Election to office does not grant legislators authority over their constituents. Yes, we send our legislators to the capital to write laws. However, we do not expect them to decide what to legislate.
That is our job.
Government’s role is to hear our grievances and, if the grievance is collective or undermines a group’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the government’s job is to devise a solution for the community to implement. That is representation.
What Legislators Need to Ask Themselves
In a perfect world all citizens wold recognize their power and responsibility to influence elected officials. In many cases, however, citizens take their cues from government action instead. For that reson, it's important for legislators to ask themselves a few things before publicizing their stance on an issue.
1. Does the commonwealth serve a common need? If not, stop right there. The commonwealth should not be distributed for solely private or corporate benefit.
2. Does the issue I’m considering legitimately affect a majority or endanger a minority? If so, there is a problem that needs to be solved. (Note: Just to be clear, “we don’t like them” is not an issue worthy of legislation; however, “they’re trying to kill us" requires intervention.)
3. Does the solution I’m considering endanger the commonwealth, community, or a marginalized group? If so, they’re doing it wrong. Time to come up with another solution.
Holding government officials to this standard of action is vital to the wellbeing of our democracy. This standard becomes much easier to enforce when we enlist officials who understand and value these limitations to begin with.
What do you think government's role should be in our state? Comment below and share this article with your friends and family.
Whitney Raver is running for South Dakota State Legislature out of District 30. On paper, District 30 is the "reddest" in the state. But Whitney knows that Progressive roots run deep in her community. She is committed to uniting her community around common causes such as protecting the water, workers, and future generations from encroaching antisocial corporate interest.