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Week Three: Part Two: Connecting the Dots

 
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Week Three: Part Two: Connecting the Dots
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wilpf
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Jane Midgely is trying to get people in the US interested in the US budgetary process so that we can have influence over how and on what our tax dollars are spent. She makes the point that most US citizens are not interested in budgetary issues and know very little about the how’s, why’s, and where’s of the budget. Most of us just don’t find this a topic to get interested in or excited about. My question is: why not? I can propose an answer that I think explains this phenomenon, at least, in part.
But first I ask another question which I think can supply an answer to the first question. Why is it that people, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, in Porto Alegre, Brazil are very interested in their budgetary processes and participate in budgetary discussions? Just a few years ago Porto Alegre instituted a “participatory budget”. Scores of thousands of people who had no previous interest or access to the ways that their taxes were being spent began to voice their desires and their desires mattered. Representatives are elected from each committee of several hundred citizens who vote according to the consensual desires of their local community committee. These representatives report back from the next level of the process and ask for new consensus on every budget issue. The representatives represent the people’s wishes; they do not tell the people what their positions are and then get voted in or out based on that. It is a different concept of representative than we have in the US. The aim of the budgetary process is to maximize the participation of the citizenry. It is a very democratic process, cumbersome because real democracy is, but well worth this.
The aim of US ‘democracy’ is to limit citizen participation in all issues and especially budgetary ones because the budget is where the real power is exercised. Thus, people in the US are uninterested because their participation is unwelcome, unsolicited, and strongly but subtly discouraged. We are limited because we lack knowledge and we lack the knowledge because a strong and broad civil society is discouraged in different ways by the dominant powers: corporations, wealthy elites, politicians. This plays out in our lack of public education on government and civil society participation, both in formal K thru 12 education and after in the adult education on civil society which is sorely lacking, absent.
So I suggest that we have very little interest in the US budget because we are not taught to have an interest, because we are actively discouraged from developing these interests, and also because so many of us must work two and three jobs or long hours of overtime just to make the rent or mortgage and have little time or energy left to engage in civil society. We do not have any direct access as Porto Alegrens do now and we know that virtually anything and everything we might have to say on this would fall on stone deaf political ears.
I came to this question because I found myself avoiding reading Women and the US Budget. I did it, though, and gained a great amount of important knowledge. I knew that I still had to drag myself to this forum and finally I decided I had to ask myself why. I am very interested in civil society and engaged in progressive activism so it really does not make sense not to be actively interested in how our tax money is spent. I suspect that many others are disinterested for the same or similar reasons. What can we do about this?

Pat Willis
Tue Sep 26, 2006 3:49 pm View user's profile Send private message
Patricia Willis



Joined: 29 Sep 2006
Posts: 3
Location: North Carolina

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Jane mentions that the US government, and consequently US taxpayers, must seriously think about how to make reparations to indigenous American peoples and to those whose ancestors were forced into slavery by the European colonizers of this land. The repercussions of land-stealing, of cultural annihilation, and the direct and indirect killing of millions with attitudes of arrogance, superiority, and impunity impose their legacies on the indigenous and the ancestors of the colonizers both. Race slavery in the US and before it was a US still runs its malicious course through all our veins. We do need to create a budget for reparations. I don't think this country and we in it will ever be able to fully get well from these legacies until this is a big part of our politics.
Additionally, what about reparations for women? We need to bring women also into the reparation picture.Women in our patriarchal society have suffered immense losses on all levels; some more than others due to their intersecting levels of oppression. Affirmative action programs were supposed to aid in this but have fallen far short due to a lack of political will, not due to a lack of money as the power elites like to claim. We need to start thinking and talking about how to make reparations to women for the injustices of patriarchy.
Redirecting the money away from military, arms manufacturing, corporate financing, elitist tax benefits will provide the coffers with an abundance. WILPF's "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber" sums up where this country's priorities have been located, as well as the knowledge that money is plentiful for the corporate/war machinery but not for care machinery. Do you know how much a bomber costs? Many millions for one, and all the other ghastly expensive military tools of destruction. Our economy of war could easily be converted into an economy of care, and abundance as Jane calls it.
So I feel we should engage the dialogues of reparations that already exist and also extend this to reparations for women. We also need to unconvince people that the budget is overtaxed and consequently that little monies exists for a caring economy. People are so brainwashed into thinking that there isn't enough money in the US bank account and so they give up. Just remember those bombers and bombs that have inconceivable price tags and we will be able to see that the money is there, just not here.
Pat Willis
Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:45 am View user's profile Send private message
greatworks
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Greetings,

I am new to the discussion and have not obtained a copy of the book yet. However, Pat's post resonates with me.

Jane Midgely is trying to get people in the US interested in the US budgetary process so that we can have influence over how and on what our tax dollars are spent. She makes the point that most US citizens are not interested in budgetary issues and know very little about the how’s, why’s, and where’s of the budget. Most of us just don’t find this a topic to get interested in or excited about. My question is: why not?

I agree most citizens are not interested in budgetary issues and the how's, why's, where's. WILPF and other organizations being excluded, my expereince has been that the vast majority of society is not actively interested in government at any level. If not interested in the decisions of your local government and elected officials, why would you be interested in budgetary issues. It seems we are putting the cart before the horse. Wouldn't it be logical that you need to understand the basic workings of your government (local, state, federal, special districts) before tackling budget issues?

We're not interested in budget issues because we are disenfranchised from the various levels of government in the most basic ways. We vote people into office and then basically forget about them until some scandal erupts. Even then we don't get actively involved in rectifying the matter. We fail to vote in an informed way for many reasons (e.g. negative campaigning, lack of detailed discourse from our elected officials on the campaign trail, he said she said tactics to divert attention, and on and on) and then we fail to follow the decisions and actions of our elected officials on a consistent basis - for many reasons. Then, when one of their decisions negatively affects us we are finally up in arms. Our elected officials know they can get away with failing to represent the electorate as a whole because we as individuals will likely not pay attention to what they are doing on a consistent basis.


The representatives represent the people’s wishes; they do not tell the people what their positions are and then get voted in or out based on that. It is a different concept of representative than we have in the US. The aim of the budgetary process is to maximize the participation of the citizenry. It is a very democratic process, cumbersome because real democracy is, but well worth this.

Pat, the Brazil model, adapted to the U.S., has the potential to be a solution. The hurdle is what would the strategy be to reform our government(s) to the Brazil form of representative. I believe it would have to begin at the local level.

The aim of US ‘democracy’ is to limit citizen participation in all issues and especially budgetary ones because the budget is where the real power is exercised. Thus, people in the US are uninterested because their participation is unwelcome, unsolicited, and strongly but subtly discouraged.

I have addressed some of my elected officials and can vividly attest to your comment above. Others in my community could attest as well. Indeed, I'm sure each of us has addressed our officials with various motives and goals, which is another complicating factor in all of this.

Unwelcome, unsolicited and strongly but subtly discouraged. Definitely unwelcome, and I was not even addressing them on budgetary issues. Unsolicited, no, I addressed my officials at Town Hall Meetings they setup to solicit public comment and questions. Definitely strongly discouraged, no doubt. Further, both subtle and overt discouragment were encountered each time I addressed them. The first time I addressed them I was greeted with their refusal to record the comment on the public record.

We are limited because we lack knowledge and we lack the knowledge because a strong and broad civil society is discouraged in different ways by the dominant powers: corporations, wealthy elites, politicians. This plays out in our lack of public education on government and civil society participation, both in formal K thru 12 education and after in the adult education on civil society which is sorely lacking, absent.

So I suggest that we have very little interest in the US budget because we are not taught to have an interest, because we are actively discouraged from developing these interests, and also because so many of us must work two and three jobs or long hours of overtime just to make the rent or mortgage and have little time or energy left to engage in civil society. We do not have any direct access as Porto Alegrens do now and we know that virtually anything and everything we might have to say on this would fall on stone deaf political ears.


I suggest we must all get involved in a more active manner. Take the time from whatever other activity you can - but get actively involved. I know what it took for me to get actively involved and the obstacles are huge. Address officials publicly and on the record, write letters, call but only AFTER having attempted to educate ourselves on what we are addressing, writing, or calling about. No small task, no doubt. But, the alternatives seem bleak.

I am very interested in civil society and engaged in progressive activism so it really does not make sense not to be actively interested in how our tax money is spent. I suspect that many others are disinterested for the same or similar reasons. What can we do about this?

Pat, How did you initially get involved in civil society and become engaged in progressive activism. What was your tipping point? If you don't mind sharing, I would be interested to hear your response.

Thanks for reading. I realize I'm likely "preaching to the choir."
Thu Nov 02, 2006 12:38 am
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