Citizens V Taxpayers

February 11, 2011

Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! Are We Not Citizens? We Are Taxpayers!

People who think of themselves as ‘taxpayers’ or ‘stakeholders’ rarely act like citizens.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Citizens engage. Taxpayers and stakeholders are units in a monetary transaction. They pay. They demand goods and/or services in return. Civic commitment ends there.

This thought struck me as I booted a half-filled bottle of juice that had rolled out from under a seat as I made my way down the aisle of a streetcar a couple nights back. Sitting down, I looked around. Cue my inner Bette Davis: What a dump! (Although it always comes out sounding more like Katherine Hepburn circa On Golden Pond.) It looked as if some sort of evil gust of wind had blown through and deposited a couple blocks worth of litter around the place. Newspapers. Paper bags and dirty napkins. Bottles and cans.

Citizens take their garbage with them. Taxpayers leave it behind on buses, streetcars and subways, reasoning that they pay the lazy union’s outrageous wages, so they can clean it up. Citizens pick up their dog’s poo. Stakeholders pretend that it’s not their dog. Citizens park illegally, get a ticket and pay it. Taxpayers and stakeholders park illegally, bitch about the ticket being a money grab and clog up the legal system trying to fight it in the hopes the issuing officer doesn’t appear in court.

Taxpayers and stakeholders see every government action as an intrusion and imposition into their lives, every tax a reach into their wallets. Citizens see government as an extension of themselves, duly elected to perform the task of keeping society functioning in an equitable and constructive manner. Citizens pay taxes (sing it along with me as it’s become a familiar refrain) in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., to… buy civilization.

Taxpayers and stakeholders instead quote their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, and pronounce: Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem. They call for smaller government. Citizens do not see small government as a panacea to our problems. In fact, citizens regard the call for smaller government with suspicion, a coded phrase for deregulation and lack of oversight. Smaller government leads to increased Walkertons, Gulf oil spills, near economic collapse.

Taxpayers and stakeholders represent the screaming id of civics discourse. What’s in it for me? I pay too much in taxes. I get too little in return. Me, me, me. I, I, I.

Citizens engage. With their neighbours. With their politicians. With the wider world. Citizenry self-interest extends beyond personal bank accounts and cheap parking. Citizens realize that their well-being is best served when everyone’s welfare is tended to not just their own.

And as we witnessed over the past month or so, with events transpiring as they have in Tunisia and Egypt, it is citizens not taxpayers or stakeholders who overthrow the forces of repression, fear and brutality.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


To Not Defend Democracy Everywhere Is To Not Defend Democracy Anywhere

February 2, 2011

Maybe it’s the winter blahs. Maybe it’s the disappointment over the lack of an actual, real life snowstorm that failed to descend upon us last night. Maybe it’s just the lull before the budgetary storm, between the committee meetings and public deputations and flutter of indecision in the Ford administration about what and how deep to cut, and when the thing goes before the full council to be voted on in the last week of February…

I’m sorry. Where was I going with that? I’m a little distracted and been finding it difficult to concentrate on the goings-on around the city over the last few days. You see, there’s this little life-and-death struggle for democracy happening over there in Egypt, a country located smack dab between Syria and Iran if I’m to believe the good people over at Fox News.

It’s difficult, almost impossible actually, to summon up enthusiasm for the political battles here on the home front, whether its attacks on public transit or our libraries or public sector employees, not because they aren’t important to defend but right now they seem, not insignificant, just minor compared to what people are fighting for (and against) in Egypt.

I step out onto less parochial political terrain here very, very tentatively. My knowledge of Egypt specifically and the Mideast in general is nowhere near what it should be. Yet it does seem to be undeniable that what we’re witnessing there is a genuine democratic movement finally bucking up from under a horrifically repressive regime that has had the very explicit backing of western democracies for a very long time now.

This should be a cause for much rejoicing and enthusiastic support on our part, shouldn’t it? Cheers certainly went up when the Tunisian strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was chased from the country he’d ruled for over 20 years last month. But in Egypt, well, things aren’t as simply clear-cut as all that.

The thing is, they never are. That’s just a fact of life. If choices were always easy, always starkly black and white, any knucklehead could make them. We probably wouldn’t even need to elect governments to do our thinking for us.

But when a people regardless of where they are, regardless of their religion, regardless of their… politics, let’s call it, coalesce under the banner of democracy to demand all those things we blithely take for granted like free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from want, our first and only instinct should be nothing short of, absolutely. We are with you. What can we do to help?

The tepid responses so far from our governments, the western world, the developed democracies, to the situation in Egypt have been, while certainly not shocking or surprising, dispiriting and deflating. If we had reputations in the Arab world that could be damaged, it would also be damaging. Our humming and hawing while revolution and violent reaction rip through Egypt reveal, once more, that our commitment to democratic ideals are fickle and transparently arbitrary. No more so than when it comes to Muslim countries in the Mideast.

Every time we hesitate to embrace those in the region who put their lives on the line in the fight for a more fair, equitable and democratic society (usually in tandem with our refusal to jettison a relationship with a despotic autocrat who has helped maintain our ‘interests’ there with an iron fist), we cleave another wedge into the possibility of rapprochement with the wider society. We show ourselves to be hypocritical and undependable when defending the free wills of all people. Democracy is good. For some. It’s negotiable not essential for everyone. What’s in it for us, your democracy?

To deem a democratic movement inconvenient, inopportune or destabilizing suggests that there are certain conditions that have to be met before democracy can be granted which sort of undercuts every principle of democracy, doesn’t it? It’s as if the concept comes with an asterisk that takes you to pages and pages of fine print. Watching events in Egypt transpire in real time, it looks like one of those clauses reads: Some Muslims May Not Qualify.

Continued resistance to the Egyptians demanding justice and freedom suggests that we’re not, in fact, all that married to democracy. We’ve forgotten its true meaning and, ultimately, are no more deserving of it than those we’re watching die for it in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and throughout the country right now.

submitted by Cityslikr