Monday, February 6th | 15 Shevat 5783

November 30, 2011 3:13 pm

Power to the People: They Have It Now But Haven’t Used It

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avatar by Ed Koch


Times Square New York. Photo: Terabass.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday.  It’s very name, “Thanks Giving,” a day to give thanks, makes it unique.  For 364 days a year, we take for granted how lucky we are to live in this special land we call America, a country of amazing energy and variety. When Thanksgiving arrives – which we usually celebrate as a five-day holiday weekend, taking off the day before and three days following – we generally spend it with family and friends.

When I went to bed after a Thanksgiving dinner (better at home than in a restaurant), I thought about how lucky I am to have been born in this wonderful country. I was given an opportunity to compete facing long odds and numerous obstacles and achieve my wildest dream of serving for 12 years as mayor of New York City, the greatest, most diverse city in the world. We are not the most beautiful.  That is Paris. We are not the most interesting. That is London. But we are the most electric and exciting.

New York City, founded by the Dutch in 1624, ultimately became the center of world commerce, helped by the construction of the Erie Canal that opened the Hudson River to goods from the west and north, catapulting New York ahead of Boston and Philadelphia and making it America’s busiest port.  New York is the city which beckoned the adventurous around the globe and those in need of sanctuary to come here, to compete, and to rise as high as their aspirations and talents would take them.  A double stroke of luck for those living in the United States was to be residing and working in New York City.

Most economies of the world are now suffering. We here in the U.S. with our 14 million unemployed, 9.1 percent of our working population, are still living with the pain of a recession that technically ended in 2009. Our suffering, great as it is, is less than that currently experienced elsewhere in the world:  Europe and Japan specifically. Naysayers and pessimists here do not want to see the rays of sunshine trying to break through the darkest clouds which, on occasion, reduce our ebullience and appreciation of our position in the world in terms of lifestyles.

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Americans, of course, like everyone else suffer the unfairnesses of life. Some U.S. citizens are obscenely privileged compared to our middle class and our poor. Yet our poor, in terms of safety-net benefits received, are perceived by deprived people around the globe to be leading lifestyles unattainable by most of the world.  Most Americans, I believe, deplore the huge wealth differences and lifestyles of the few at the top of the food chain compared with the many.  We don’t object to success and the accumulation of wealth. We do object to the gross disparities that have intensified in recent years.  We know these huge differences and inequities are wrong and must be the subject of major changes, while we keep a capitalist economy that permits people to work hard and achieve the rewards resulting from their efforts.

America works because we constantly correct unfairness and continually seek to improve our political system through our democratic elections which are absent in so many parts of the world. We have a lot to correct, notwithstanding the great positive changes over the years including the elimination of slavery, the greatest moral blight on our civilization, and securing the right to vote for every citizen, a right once denied to many based on race, gender or financial status.  We hold regular elections for various offices.  Protesters in the streets often shout the slogan, “Power to the People.” The people already have the power to change and improve our society by removing from office those elected officials who have failed in their obligations. Regrettably, the people don’t exercise that power often enough.

Citizens around the world are seeking to remove from positions of power dictators and military juntas who repress them, denying the rights we here in the U.S. take for granted.  We on the other hand, while subject to societal corruption and debasement through the use of money in our political process, already have the power to eliminate the corrupters, oppressors, and those we have elected who have failed in their obligations.

In 2012, we will once again have the opportunity to choose members of state legislatures, members of congress, one-third of the U.S. Senate, governors, the president and the vice president.  Hopefully, we will remember their successes and failures when we go to the polls and treat them justly.

We must use the people’s power to effect fundamental changes in our government seeking to level the playing field for every American so as to allow them, based on their talents and hard work, to rise to the highest level of accomplishment they are capable of achieving.

A little luck, of course, is always helpful.

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