Posted by: minnow | February 3, 2012

OCCUPY THE BALLOT BOX

Have you ever had a totally irrational urge to do something, something that truly makes no sense?  The other day I caught the bus to head to the U and it was all I could do to keep myself from reaching across the isle, shaking a lady’s hand and introducing myself with the addition–“And I’m running for the U. S. Senate.”

I know, it sounds crazy.  I have no money.  I have no social network.  I have no political affiliation.  And yet, I so strongly believe that unless the Occupy movement occupies the ballot box with new candidates  and the pledge to change campaign financing, fix the tax system, re-establish banking and lending regulations, and overhaul education–especially how education is funded, then all the protests will have been for nothing.

Why you might ask, do I single out education as an issue that requires our attention.  The answer is simple.  Education impact the rest of our society more than any single issue.  From the minute we start school to the minute we leave school what happens to us in school determines whether we will contribute to society or harm society.  What we experience in school, for most of us, determines what we spend the rest of our lives doing–whether that means fighting for social justice, sleeping off a hang over, or becoming the CEO of a multimillion dollar company.

A six year study, Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation concluded that because school financing systems are overburdened with rules they care more about dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s than any measurable school performance.  The result has devastated our schools and US education in general.

Waiting for Superman, a November 2010 documentary which follows the fate of several students pinning their hopes on a lottery system to get into various charter schools is a scathing look at the state of public education in the United States.  My frustration with regard to public schools should not be misunderstood as a critique of educators.  While I believe some teachers are burned out and a few should actually be relieved of their duties for the neglect of their students’ education, the majority work hard to meet their students’ needs while being over burdened by administrative demands, many go above and beyond the call of duty especially when it comes to the time they put in, and most, if not all, are underpaid, especially when their jobs are compared to jobs which require a similar level of education.

Yes, the families we are born into have a huge impact on what ultimately happens to us but the best way politics can influence the families we are born into is by changing the education system so all the children in America truly have an equal opportunity to succeed.  The facts are indisputable—it costs less to educate than to incarcerate and most prisoners are under educated.  In 2006 the national average cost per student was $9, 644 dollars.  In 2004 the national average cost per prisoner was $22,600 dollars.  In 2004 75% of those in the state prison system and 59% of those in the federal prison systems were high school drop outs.  Of those who reported having jobs prior to incarceration the average pay was under $1000 dollars per month and a significant number were unemployed.  Employment is also directly linked to education.

But before you mistakenly think this post is just another plea to give more money to education remember what we truly need is to find representatives who are willing to make education a priority.  Caring about education is not only about more money; it is also about using the money we have wisely and about changing the system we have so it works for more people.  There in lies our bigger problem.

When money and power in politics keep feeding themselves in order to stay rich and powerful fewer and fewer will be represented.  When we have a given number of people and a limited amount of resources it stands to reason that more can have a little or a few can have a lot.  When the little is enough to sustain the population we find balance but if a few insist on having more than they need others will have less and balance will be disrupted.

Today, the only politicians (republican or democrat) who seem able to run for office are those who can buy their way in.  The effort it would take to develop and sustain a grassroots organization (a third political party) not dependent on large amounts of money seems overwhelming.  Yet, at least one lesson we can learn from the Occupy Movement is that it doesn’t always take money to communicate.  In fact in the internet age it doesn’t even take traditional media.  The problem however is that the Occupiers who vote still seem to be stuck in a lesser-of-two-evils mentality and have so far rejected a let’s-start-over mentality.  Meanwhile those who don’t like either choice have sadly quit voting rather than banding together to put forth better options.

We may need a truly lopsided election followed by another four years of little to no change before we are willing to understand what a small differences exist between the two parties.  And truthfully, we may need to feel a bit stronger pinch in our pocket books before we’re ready to take action.  In the end, I believe once we decide to occupy the ballot box the 99% can be heard.  Until then, we will be stuck doing business as usual.

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