jueves, diciembre 14, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Bloomberg made a speech recently challenging New Yorkers to envision what kind of city we want for the future. His office has set up a website where NYers can read about ideas and plans and give suggestions. You know that this Mariposa has already weighed in, especially after my hour commute from Woodside to Midtown on the 7, a journey which usually takes 1/2 an hour, this morning. I like the way the suggestion "box", if y'all will, was phrased: what would you change and what would you like to see stay the same? My change was: foster a culture of responsibility, because no plan for reform can be carried out when people/politicians who are supposed to work for the City keep "passing the buck". Sure, that happens at the UN all the time, that's why the place is a hotbed for trouble, scandal and failure as well as success, and a great case-study is my old office. For all my whining about it, I think I forgot to mention that the larger reason why it is such a fucked up place is because most of those people have been allowed to make a career out of doing nothing, and that goes from the bottom all the way to the top, including the Director and his "senior" staff. In any case, what I wanted to see stay the same was the "neighborhood" sort of vibe that most NYers give off, and their/our ability to laugh in the face of ever-rising levels of bullshit (and tourists). As for me, now that the only crap I have to put up with is on the trains and the sidewalks, I am a much happier person, and although I had to let 4-5 crowded 7 trains go by before I could squeeze onto one, I LAUGHED. Even when the station attendant guy made the announcement "please avoid over-crowding" to a platform chock full of people waiting, just like me, to smoosh onto a train, I laughed it off. What a relief it is, too, to know that my general outlook and disposition was not completely altered by my old office. I finally feel like myself again.

When I did manage to get on a train, I started talking to this lady who worked for the City in the Department of Health (or whatever the official name is). She was an older lady, from the days when people still took responsibility for themselves and their work, did their best and knew that if they didn't, they would get kicked to the curb. I mentioned to her that I hoped that Spitzer would do a better job of taking care of the City, that maybe he would get rid of Kalikow and the rest of Pataki's appointees who do nothing constructive, and that maybe he would give us more money. See, in my broke-ass, credit card debt world, I very naively think that throwing money at a problem will make it go away, and it does help. But I'm quickly learning that some problems require many more elements and resources to fix. The lady asked me, "Do you really think that a wad of cash will fix things? Please! People need to take more responsibility for their actions, is what needs to happen. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. People have got to make more noise. Write letters and complain loudly." Ah, a woman after my own heart. If there's one thing I know how to do is belt out my complaints to anyone who'll listen. The lady went on to mention a college professor whose class was full of students who, let's just say, were not exactly prepared to do the work. "You all are illiterate!" the professor said to his students. At first, the students rebelled, but as they realized that he only spoke the truth, they started trying harder and by the end of the year, when it came time for term papers, everyone wrote a great one. This is similar to what Frank McCourt talks about in his most recent book "Teacher Man". The hardest part of being a teacher is getting the kids to listen, to get past their social status and other bullshit and into the learning mindset. Sometimes this requires a bit of tough love. So I propose that NYers give more tough love to the City, its various corporizations and its government. What a lot of NYers don't know is that when they spend money at Bergdorf's or K-Mart, they inadvertently tell the City that everything is fine by pumping more money into the economy. This includes me, and that would be why I do most of my non-urgent (clothes and shoes, etc) shopping when I go see my parents in DC/Virginia. The fact that Virginia has a 5% sales tax helps too, and I know most of that revenue is going to the state and not the tourists. Another problem that the city has is a gross mis-management of revenue. Why is that the more taxes we pay, the worse infrastructure gets? And while we're at it, why are people like Alan Hevesi allowed to continue in their posts? (there's an article in this week's NY magazine, entitled "the Penitent", with the subtitle "Alan Hevesi is Really Sorry", wherein he insists that he just "overlooked" paying the State back for the personal car service. No, Alan, what you did was steal and hope no one would notice. Another thing you should be sorry for is that tacky decor lurking in your house).

From what I read in New York magazine and NYC's tabloidy newspapers, on my own blog and on others, people complain a lot on paper, but that doesn't go anywhere and doesn't fix anything. The trick is turning the anger into action. Case in point: a couple of years ago, I got really tired of the fact that for every Manhattan-bound 7 train during the morning rush, about 3,4 or even 5 empty Flushing-bound trains would go by. I complained to the MTA everyday for a week (I know I wasn't the only one, either), and for the next two months, the MTA kept the Manhattan-bound trains coming and it was smooth sailing. But then it stopped. So the answer is to keep at it until they get so tired of hearing our mouths that they do what we want. Remember "The Shawshank Redemption"? Andy kept writing letters requesting old books for the prison library, and after a few years of one letter a week, he got his books along with a note asking him to stop writing letters. He said, "Now I'll write two letters a week." Perseverance, y'all. Learn it, live it, love it.

After talking to the health-department lady, I got to thinking: the UN is most definitely fighting an uphill battle on the "fostering a culture of responsibility" goal. But some of the UN's obstacles to achieving that goal come from the inside. There's only a handful of us, at all levels, who actually try to put out good work and take responsibility for our failures as well as our successes. The other obstacles are the Member states, most of whom are like the US and like to bark orders but are not very forthcoming when the time comes for concensus on solving a problem (Bolton was not alone on that one, and his critics should take a look at themselves in the mirror). That's part of what happened in Rwanda and most recently, in the Sudan, and a large part of the reason the UN is so critiqued. To the UN's detractors, I say, you try getting 192 countries to come to a agreement. The UN is just a forum for these folks and whatever happens in the Security Council, in the General Assembly and in their countless debates is totally on them. UN staff can only work with what they give us. Unfortunately, most governments have the same problem arriving at a concensus, externally as well as internally. Everyone has different interests and they all act accordingly. But even bigger than that is the problem of coming up with new solutions and procedures that benefit everyone and that we can all agree on. But there's an obstacle to that too: the voters, and those who don't bother voting but mouth off about government whenever they get the chance, like my own mami (and I'm still trying to school her on that).

So let's take a lesson from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the '50's and '60's. Boycott, protest, whatever. By any means necessary. Keep at it. It may take years to see what you want actually happen, but persevere anyway, if only in the hopes of really pissing off those who do you wrong.

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