As the federal government shutdown grips the nation, many people in local communities feel disgusted and powerless to change what's happening. But we needn't despair. Here are three basic steps individuals and groups in communities can take immediately to combat head-on the ill effects of the shutdown.
To get started, it is essential to understand that, above all else, we – as Americans – yearn to restore our belief that we can come together and get things done. This yearning is a result of years of gridlock, bickering, and finger pointing in our politics and public life, which were only exacerbated by the tumult of the Great Recession. The current government shutdown adds more insult to injury, ups the anger quotient, and leaves many of us in a state of disbelief.
But we are not powerless in the face of the fiasco emanating from Washington, D.C. In fact, the ever-mounting mess offers a window of opportunity. For the good of our own sanity, and the health of our public life, we must seize it. Here are three steps that any community organization, faith-based group, and book club, among others, can take:
1) Highlight local examples of progress. One of the best counters to the endless bickering in the nation's capital is to identify examples of where people and groups in your community are working together to address local concerns. It's time to hold up these signs of progress to demonstrate that, even while Washington, D.C. may be coming apart, your local community is finding ways to come together. In Bakersfield, CA, the local United Way and a host of other groups have come together to work on devising innovative ways to fight hunger by ensuring that all individuals and families have access to good food.
2) Bring people together to take small, local actions. As an antidote to the federal government shutdown, it is essential to open up new opportunities for people in your local community to come together, set a common goal to achieve, and work on it as a group. The size and scope of the action does not matter; it is the act of building trust, meaningful relationships, and confidence that we can do things together. Nothing beats direct experience. In Detroit, where people grew tired of waiting for the government to clean up abandoned lots, teams of individuals decided to do it themselves and restore a sense of pride in their local neighborhood and in their ability to get things done.
3) Encourage people to tell stories of compassion. The federal government shutdown has the potential to further shape the nation's narrative that we are hopelessly divided and powerless. We need a counter-narrative, one rooted in a sense of possibility and hope about what we can achieve together. Ask people to offer up stories of where they have seen compassion, humility, and a concern for the good exhibited. In Newtown, Conn, in the aftermath of the massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, people there dug deep to listen to one another's pain and differing views about what to do with the school building, ultimately deciding to raze and rebuild the school. Their humility and compassion for one another is helping the community move from trauma and despair to healing and hope.
Now is the time for us in our local communities to act. We don't need to wait for Washington, and we surely don't need permission to step forward. While people are angry and frustrated by what is happening in Washington, D.C., we must ask ourselves, "What can we do?"
The best antidote to the federal shutdown is to not to wallow in our anger and despair, but to push back by reminding ourselves that there are good and decent people all around us, and that it is still possible for us to come together and get things done.
Let's send a message to the nation's capital and to ourselves about what is possible.