Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ringing in the Era of Responsibility

From the bean of Green Bean.

I felt . . . afraid. There was no other way to describe it. Worry gnawed at my stomach - not stopping me from trying to eat it away with an extra chocolate chip cookie. My chest felt tight. My foot tapped on the ground.

Turning to my husband, I asked, "What will we do? What will happen?"

My son's school district - hard hit with budget cuts and the stock market melt down - had just announced that it was a year away from bankruptcy. That, if there was any chance of staying afloat, it would need to make drastic cuts. Programs on the chopping block included PE, class size, and the school library.

I tried to imagine my over-active, inattentive son without PE, with more kids in his crowded classroom. Learning to read with no library. My heart hurt.

"They'll come up with the money," my husband assured me. I felt a bit better. I pushed my concern to the back of my head and finished my cookie. It would be okay. "They" had it covered.

Over the next few weeks, though, I wondered who "they" were? What would "they" do? Then I realized, there was no "they". There was only me and you. Us. Because, as Ronald Reagan famously said "If not us, who? If not now, when."

Today is a day that will go down in history. Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. He enters the office on the cusp of disaster - a dramatically changing climate, a collapsed economy, a firestorm raging in the Middle East. Both a crises and an opportunity.

I have read that, in today's address, Mr. Obama will urge us to usher in "a new era of responsibility". As with yesterday's National Day of Service, he will beg us to become citizens again. To claim responsibility for ourselves, for our friends and for our neighbors. To welcome the sacrifice that leaves our children with a habitable planet, a safe food system and decent education. To shoulder the burden that we, as a culture, have sought to shift to the enigmatic "they."

I began this week with my own acceptance about "they." I agreed to head up my school's effort to collaborate with other district schools as we ask our community for help. As we look to pass a parcel tax that will blunt the budget cuts for schools that educate all of our children, that provide our youth of the future with tools for survival and even success, and that will keep our community a valued enclave for quality education.

I hope I am not in this alone. I hope that others realize that I am not the new "they." That I am only me. That I alone cannot stop global warming, rescue drowning polar bears, safeguard our shores from terrorists or reach out to those in impoverished countries where terror blooms. That, by myself, I cannot bypass the corporate strangle-hold on our food system or free small businesses from poorly drafted laws and subsidized competitors.

I have a feeling, though, that there are more me's out there. Others willing to embrace their civic duty. More people ready to get off the couch and into the streets, the shelters, the schools. Many more prepared to sign petitions, pen letters and contribute to Mr. Obama's citizen briefing book. "They" may not be ready to welcome this new era of responsibility.

But we are.


Kel said...

ohh yes. one of my favourite sayings is that with rights come responsibility. so as a people of a democratic nation, its a responsibility to be civilly responsive, disobedient at times, to make things, change , happen. i like your paradigm. keep it up!

Elizabeth said...

This is wonderful and so inspiring. Thank you.

That quote from Reagan reminds me of a much, much older one from the Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

pink dogwood said...

I confess to being lazy :( Yesterday for the national service day, my friend called and asked me I wanted to join him and take some food over to the food bank. At that time I had just finished lunch and was snuggled up on the couch with my book. The idea of getting out of the blanket was very unappealing. So I told him no thanks - maybe next time. I am feeling bad ever since :(

But I guess I don't have to wait for some special day to do service - any old day should be good.

I hope your school district finds a way to keep PE and library.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Through the Legal and Political Aspects of Environmental Education class I took in the fall, I realized that I can no longer just sit back and allow "them" to make the changes I want to see. I need to get involved in government (as much as I don't want to) at the local and national level if I want to see change.

Schools around here are dealing with budget issues as well. Our superintendent took her raise and donated it back to the school system, buying new computers for the elementary schools. I think it was a great way to show that she's making sacrifices and that we can all give (money, time, etc.) for the children. (If you want the newspaper article about it, email me, you may inspire the higher paid folks at your school).

Green Bean said...

Kel: Yup, love "rights come responsibility". I believe we heard some of that in Obama's speech today.

Elizabeth: Rabbi Hillel's is even better than Regan's. Thank you for sharing it. So inspirational.

Pink: Nahh! National Service Day is great and all but it is all about what you do every day. Not just on one day. Here's a secret. I did no service yesterday either but loads today. It evens out, I believe.

Abbie: Thank you for the comment and the article. You are so right about the whole "them" thing. As uncomfortable as it is to take action, we really really need to. We can't assume that we vote for the guy or gal we believe in and we're done.

CindyW said...

GB: your writing is awesome. I, together with more than a handful of people, have gotten used to blaming the government in the last eight years. History has moved to a different direction today. Time for me, and others to be the change.

Going Crunchy said...

I'm with you sister. I'd like our complaints about the world turn into a roar of action.

JessTrev said...

Ach, budget woes and school systems -- combined with a drive for testing/accountability in schools -- don't bode well for PE or art or music or even school gardens. In short, many of the things that enrich our lives, make them more meaningful, and allow children to think creatively (and, ironically, to do better on those tests). Good luck with your efforts in the district.


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