Working Within the System

ADRASTIA: You are free to lobby against the governmental programs you oppose. You can try to have them changed. If enough people agree with you, and you go through the right channels, then the law can be changed.

BRICK PILLOW: This is high school civics all over again and no more true than it was the first time. If I foreswore every other interest in my life, gave up every hobby, abandoned every interest that gives me the slightest joy, discontinued all reading, ended all writing, and dedicated myself solely to the cause; if I gathered together with as large a group as I could muster, and we each worked tirelessly with every available working hour, for all the days remaining in our lives, we might, possibly, convince the city council to roll back the fee for a dog license, to 1978 levels.

Last week, the day before the Cleveland public school system was scheduled to open, a federal judge effectively ended its experimental voucher system. The Clinton appointee has since relented a bit, allowing for the payment of vouchers for students who had previously been enrolled in private schools. Ultimately, the fate of Cleveland’s voucher system will be in the hands of the Supreme Court.

The judge based his decision on the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” His argument was that government payments to religiously based schools tend to establish religion. It’s not clear to me why this judge’s opinion or even the opinions of the Supreme Court justices should count more than yours or mine. The sentence is short. It’s not in some obscure dead language that only judges can read. It’s in English and I’m a native speaker.

In fact, we know that Judges are appointed because their previous decisions agreed with the political positions of those who appointed them. Bush may not have a pro-life “litmus test” for his appointees, but Gore makes no secret of the fact that he has a pro-choice “litmus test.” Of course, reporters don’t use those words in describing Gore’s position.

This case proves the wise words of the anarchist Brick Pillow. Thousands of people worked countless hours to establish the Cleveland voucher system. It took decades of argument and persuasion by hundreds of people before any mainstream politician would even consider the idea. It took years of labor to work out the details for implementing the system. Think how difficult it must have been to encourage politicians to risk votes by offending the opponents of vouchers. And the result? A judge wakes up and eats breakfast. He takes a bite of toast. He ends Cleveland’s voucher system. He has a sip of coffee. That’s the system people tell me I should be working within.

California voters have an initiative system. I learned about this part of democracy in grade school. If the voters are not satisfied with their legislators, they can get together and pass an initiative, a law directly enacted by the people. This certainly sounds like a system I should be working within. I remember the first initiative that made national news. I believe it was Proposition 13 and it limited taxes in California. The politicians immediately got together to figure out how to punish the voters. They chose a couple of important services that government had monopolized and announced that they would have to cut garbage collection and police protection. We were supposed to believe that they could not find any other programs to cut. Most of the assaults on these initiatives are straightforward attacks by the courts. In the case of the initiative permitting the medical use of marijuana, the Clinton administration sent special enforcement agents to California to thwart the people’s will. I understand that no initiative has actually been implemented.

Imagine that you were living under a corrupt administration. Suppose that you could prove that the president perjured himself, obstructed justice, and turned the government itself into an instrument of slander and intimidation. You would be the little guy of the movies fighting against the rich and powerful. Would you be a hero? Far from it. The same people who would cheer the movie character would despise and ridicule you. They’d put you in jail if they could. Is that the system you want me to work within? I wouldn’t advise my children to work within it.

Perhaps you can prove that Janet Reno authorized the burning of Ranch Apocalypse. Maybe you have evidence that Clinton sold military secrets to the Red Chinese for campaign contributions. Do the right thing. Come forward. I’ll applaud you. I’ll cheer you on. And then I’ll feel very sorry for your widow.

A man is drafted into a pointless war. He is sent to fight in a foreign land. He doesn’t want to go but he has no choice. He loses a leg in combat. He returns to civilian life. You’d think that he would hate the government that enslaved him and caused him so much misery. Just the opposite is true. He hates the government he fought against and believes that his own government was correct in drafting him. Why did he change his mind? It would be too terrible for him to believe that his sacrifice was either pointless or harmful to the world. People think that the more you believe in something, the more you will sacrifice for it. There’s another truth: The more you sacrifice for something, the more you will believe in it.

People want you to work within the system so that you will believe in it, and if you do work within the system, you will start believing in it. Even the simple act of voting is inconvenient enough to make you believe that you have done something. You will start thinking things like “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” The politicians’ trick is to get you to vote so that you won’t complain. You will think that you “have things under control,” when, in fact, the only thing under control is you.

What should you do? Give up your mental dictatorship of the world. You are powerless. You control nothing. Understand that other people are taking your money and telling you what to do. What should you do? Face the truth and do what you want to.