There is much noise made about protesting various budget cuts and choice in many states these days. While protesting to make dissatisfaction heard is always a good idea, the problem is that not enough people are involved on a daily basis with action and planning of government and community and too many show up to protest when we are long past the time when anything effective or different can be done.
Here is a list of 25 things that you can start doing immediately to alleviate the budget crisis in your state and start to become an active member of your representative government. After all, governments can only represent what they know is of importance to the community-at-large and for most of them, the lack of participation and interest from their constituents has opened the door to special interest groups and ill-advised plans for economic recovery.
Take a stand, make a choice, make a change and get involved. It starts with how you live your life.
1. Stop driving your car and learn how to manage your time better. Studies show that most people rarely go beyond a 5-mile radius of the home, even for work. Use Zipcars or similar items, use the public transportation system, ride a bike or walk – all of these options can be made to work if you rethink your time. Not only will you save money, you’ll help the city (from revenue from public transportation), ease pollution, become healthier and develop a stronger sense of connectedness and understanding of the reality of your community.
2. Find a roommate. The first step to affordable housing for all is to rethink our ideas of personal space. Most of us live in houses/apartments that are far bigger then we need, more expensive then we can afford, and consume most of our free time with their maintenance and upkeep. Don’t go to craigslist for a roommate, go to your local house of worship (even if you don’t believe) and ask the priest, rabbi, imam or whoever knows the community for help finding someone who would be a good fit.
3. Spend less time taking your kids to classes and other structured after school activities and spend more time with – doing, teaching or just them allowing them to play at home. On the average, moms and dads spend a total of 61 minutes a day (together) with their children (that’s all of them, from one to fifty). Take back the responsibility of raising children from the public school system so teachers can teach. If you don’t have kids go ask a friend of yours who does if you can take on an errand or two for them to help free up their time.
4. Become a part of the process. Go to the government meetings, committee meetings and town hall sessions. Become informed before ideas become issues. By the time a bill is introduced and announced to the public – it is already in process and the support for it is known. Become a part of what makes these bills.
5. Stop supporting fundraising events that use dinners, concerts or parties to raise money. The truth is that in most cases less than 5% of the money raised on those nights will go to the cause you are supporting. Stop this parasitical business from occurring. Demand accountability from the organizations you donate to and check with United Way to see how the organization ranks with the amount of money actually put towards the cause versus the amount of money raised.
6. Pick one day a week and choose to eat in for every meal and not to buy coffee, tea or soda and take the money saved and purchase non-perishable items for your local food bank. Do this every week, the need for food is high and growing every day.
7. Develop your own opinions. Get your news from several sources. Think through possible solutions and get more involved with working towards a solution then pointing out what is wrong, that needs to be a part of it but we need more people doing and less people posturing.
8. Stop escaping your life. Stop the drinking, the recreational drugs, the obsessive working out, obsessive meditating, the devoted following of TV shows, the online games, the habit of watching movies on a regular basis – the last three are all highly passive, escapist forms of entertainment. That’s good once in a while as a treat, but shouldn’t be a daily thing or occur more than 2 times weekly.
9. Be a parent, not a friend. Make sure homework is done and help to check it, know where your kids are, who they are with and what they are doing. Turn off the TV and computer and spend time together. All this helps reduce delinquency, raises literacy rates and reduces drug and alcohol experimentation/abuse by young people. If you don’t have kids, take your skills to a local youth center or offer to help a friend with their kid’s homework or take an a chore for them so they have more time to do it.
10. Become a leader. Leaders lead by example. Not only will you find them actually doing things, but for every criticism they offer they will also have two or three suggestions for solutions that cover all levels of involvement – from the philosophical to the practical to one thing that anyone can do right then and there to help resolve an issue.
11. Get a petition going to get your city and state governments to ban the use of color printing, binding, display folders or other marketing style publications for any government document or report. It is unnecessary and extremely costly. Ask your business do to the same and donate the money to heating assistance programs for your community.
12. Get rid of all the credit cards. The average item purchased on a credit card costs you 15% more in hidden fees then it would have in cash (from credit card fees and rates to the amount merchants raise initial prices to cover the cost of processing). This fantasy money is fueling a fantasy economy. Learn to pare back and do without in order to do with what is real.
13. Learn the difference between what is a conversation, a dialogue, a discourse, a debate, diatribe, a monologue and rant. Learn to spot these different forms of communication and spend more time engaging with people in discourse, debate, and dialogue then hanging with ones who only seem to know monologue, diatribe or rant. You’ll find that you gather kinder and more positive people to you when you pay attention to how they speak when you decide who you would like to build a relationship with. Positive people, by the way, are willing to discuss and explore what is wrong – they do not ignore issues.
14. Change banks. If you don’t like a bank’s policy toward consumers, pull your money out and go somewhere else. There are new banking alternatives where the source of income is not even partially based on fees charged to consumers – look into them.
15. Get a petition together to abolish the death penalty in your state if it hasn’t been done already. Every one knows it is costly because of the appeals process but did you know that it costs 5 to ten times as much to bring the original trial if there is a possibility of it being called a capital crime then one which can only get life without parole as a maximum sentence? These costs come at a city, town and state level. In New Jersey alone, over 1 billion dollars has been spent since 1983 on initial capital cases (not including appeals) without one death sentence being carried out and over half of those convicted being exonerated in the end or their convictions overturned. Besides saving money, this will go miles to giving us the space and time to tackle the issue of why our judicial system targets the poor and Latinos and Blacks. Either most states still have capital punishment or a moratorium on it, which means the sentence can still be meted out.
16. Understand the past. It is true that those who forget the past will repeat it. Make the past your school to help discern potential directions for the future. When you understand the past you will be less likely to believe unrealistic and fantastical rhetoric making you better able to demand accountability from politicians and more likely to vote for someone with a viable plan.
17. Know your neighbors and watch out for them. Help shovel sidewalks, bring in trash barrels, carry groceries and mow lawns. Build a sense of community.
18. Go make friends with people that are outside your comfort zone. Learn what it takes to build a community among people of diverse ideas, beliefs and agendas by finding the common ground. This is the first step in creating government that is truly representative.
19. Don’t reinvent the wheel, if an issue has a strong appeal for you, find out what and who is already working towards it and how. Get involved with what is already present or create a new approach to fill a needed gap. Network, communicate, share. Remember that no one group or person has the absolute total grasp on what is needed as a solution; community effort is exactly that, the effort of all the parts of a community.
20. Download your state’s sales item tax spreadsheet (a list of specific items and whether or not they are exempt), redo the list to exempt items that are medically necessary or personal necessities (i.e. Rogaine is tax exempt in most states but tampons are not) to reflect a tax structure that is based in helping people to live as best they can on an equal basis and raise the taxes on luxury consumables across the board (cigarettes, alcohol and so on). Put the list together, get a petition signed in support of the list and bring it to the government as the people’s choice.
21. Download your state and city’s budget. Pick one area of each that is dear to you, read it, make changes to it that you believe will save money and again, get a petition behind it and get it to your government.
22. Volunteer. Do more than stuff envelopes for mailings, become part of the field service teams that provide direct care and service for those in need. One of the highest, hidden costs to a city is the cost of someone being homeless and either on the street or in a temporary shelter. Helping them get into assistance programs rather than linger in limbo will save money in several departmental budgets (police, emergency services, emergency shelters).
23. Take shorter showers and let the lawn go. We are running out of water faster than most people are aware of. It is vanity to have a green lawn in a desert. Find a different and more environmentally responsible way to make your home look good.
24. Get involved with mentoring prisoners. The more involvement someone in prison gets from someone outside the less likely they are to commit a crime again. Break the hold of criminal culture by reaching out to someone who hasn’t known anything else. Prisoner’s often need help with literacy, getting their GED, forming friendships with non-substance addicted people and help transitioning from prison life back to independent living.
25. Lastly, learn to accept the process of aging. Acceptance of your mortality and how you are aging is the first step in regaining a realistic sense of self-esteem, building hope and lessening disappointment. It will also free you to be present in your own life and from there, to be truly present in the lives of those around you.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.