This piece originally appeared at the Speak Out California blog.
Have you ever heard the song that goes, “This land is your land, this land is my land, this land was made for you and me”? The lyrics to this song make the point that the United States belongs to you, and that you are the government.
The Constitution of the United States and of the State of California begin with the words, “We, the People…” because here the people are the government. And it is time we all realized it.
Last week I wrote about the way we think about our government.
Ronald Reagan liked to say “Government is the problem, not the solution” and, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ” … [But] the Constitutions of the United States of America and of the state of California both begin with the words, “We the people.” So “we, the people” are the government. …When you think about it this way, it makes the things Ronald Reagan said sound contradictory. How can we, the people be the problem? How can it be scary that we, the people are here to help each other?
Our government is US working together to take care of each other. This is a monumental shift in the way many of us have come to think about our relationship with our government. Government is not some “them” out there, like the conservatives want you to think – government is you, and me, and all of us in this together, for each other.
The process of changing our “frame” of thinking about the relationship between us and our government changes the way we understand lots of related ideas. So, expressing this change by talking about “our” government instead of “the” government is a beginning toward helping yourself and others understand the implications of this monumental shift in thinking.
One implication of this shift in thinking is that, beyond the idea that we are the government, this land is also our land. Literally. WE own this state, and WE own this country. This means we own the oil and minerals under government land – and the government land. It means we own the trees in the national forests – and the national forests. (This means that the companies that are pumping that oil and mining those minerals and cutting those trees should be paying us a fair price – better check on that. … Uh Oh.)
Here is a revelation: this also means that companies that pollute your air and water should at the very least be paying us for the right to do so. And because we are the government, it also means that we decide the rules – all the rules – and we are supposed to tell the corporations what to do, and not the other way around.
Wow. When the implications of all that sinks in, things are gonna change. Big time.
Here is just one example of how we can start to change the way things are done, once we realize that we are the ones who are supposed to be in charge of this state and this country.
In his book Capitalism 3.0, Peter Barnes writes about how the people of Alaska set up and benefit from the Alaska Permanent Fund, and how these ideas could be used to help fight pollution and global warming. Here’s how it works. The PEOPLE of Alaska are PAID by oil and mining companies to allow them to pump their oil or mine their minerals. Everyone gets a check. But, on top of that, these companies also have to pay into a permanent fund, so even after the oil is gone everyone in Alaska STILL gets a check because of the way they decided to manage that resource, the oil under their state, and everyone in Alaska will continue to get a check, forever.
Barnes suggests extending this idea to cover air and water pollution. WE own the air we breathe and the water, but right now corporations just dump CO2 and other stuff into that air, and pollutants into the water. Once again, WE, the people own the air and water – so we should be charging these companies for the right to pollute, up to a certain limit. Then we can raise the price they have to pay, every year. We can use that money to undo the effects of the pollution, build wind and solar generators, etc. And because they finally have to pay instead of just dumping stuff into our air and water, they will have an incentive to find ways to stop polluting.
The more we start understanding and asserting that we, the people own and govern our country, the more we will start to get things back under control.