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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Sunday, August 07, 2005

It's everybody's pool

Today was a fine summer day in Oakland. In honor of that, I straggled to my public pool for a swim only to find that the lap swim hours had changed for summertime. You see, summertime = kids, and the public pool makes sure they get plenty of chances to swim in the mid-day heat.

I ran into my buddy Philip leaving his swim. He laughed, "You missed the boat!"

"Yeah," I said, "but I guess the kids gotta have a chance..."

"Yep", Philip replied, nodding at the line of neighborhood kids forming behind me, "it's everybody's pool."

Funny that. Us folks in the cities think that way about a lot of things. In fact, you could say it's part of the urban democrat philosophy, part of the way we live.

That's why we've got the pool set for a wheel-chair lift...that's why we've got progams for senior swim...and why we share hours with the local high school, that's why we've got rules and municipal code and public meetings to keep everybody on the same page, and that's why we have taxes to keep the pool...afloat. And you know it makes sense. I'll be old someday. I'll have kids someday. And my kids might go to that very high school someday too. By being there for all of us, the pool is there for me.

You see, from this point of view, everybody's interest is actually my own self-interest too.

Now, this seems so basic as to be silly. Hell, everybody can agree that public swimming pools are in the common interest wherever you might live. But on a philosophical level, that's not the way the GOP sees things. Not at all.

From our public university system, to public health care...from public libraries to public transportation, if there's one code the current GOP follows it's this: if they can defund it, privatize it, corporate-ize it, big business-ify it....in sum, if they can take public institutions that serve the common good and vilify them in the political sphere with the express purpose of shrinking their role and function, their capacity to do good, they will.

It's the Grover Norquist school of public policy. Screw the little guy. Screw the powerless. Screw the cities. Screw the institutions that serve us all. And they do that by banking on the fact that if a majority of folks on any given issue don't see it in their short term self-interest to support public institutions...then you can convince that majority to screw the rest of us, even if that means, in the long run, nothing more than they are screwing themselves.

We all know this. How many titans in their fields graduated from the City College of New York, a public institution created expressly to serve those left out of higher education? How many Nobel laureates? And, yes, how many intellectual leaders of the left....as well as, dirty little secret, many successful doctors, lawyers, politicians and brokers in New York...even some who vote GOP?

There's a reason that the GOP despises public funding, that they despise public institutions and underfund and cheat the cities that largely house them; when you fund public institutions you create the context for progressive change that serves everyone. Public science, public intellectuals, public health...these are terms the right abhors. They are also words that we've let them denigrate and demonize.

Fact is, that simple statement my friend made at the public pool...it's everybody's pool...is a philosophy that informs Democratic thinking at its very roots. It's everybody's country, everybody's government, everybody's planet...and we should start living like that. That is the real meaning of democracy. Its promise and its function, and its capacity, when properly conducted, to allow societies to take the long view, instead of banking on the short term buck.

My self-interest is broader than the narrow confines of quarterly profits or my political party's success in a single election. You wouldn't know that from the mode of operation of the current GOP.

We Democrats, we Greens, we progressives, if we stand for anything, it is this: we view our self-interest in terms of the common good. We take the long view. We make our investments in people and, as a function of that, we invest in those public institutions and policies that serve the people. And yes, we support paying our fair share so that public institutions, like the City of College of New York (a pretty damn good investment if you ask me), might in turn serve us all.

You see, at the end of the day, our philosophy is about our kids. They may not know that as they wait in line to enjoy a swim on a hot summer day. But we do.



  • Kid, I sense a series about urban-Democratic values.

    This is really excellent.

    By Blogger NYBri, at 8:29 PM  

  • Thanks NYbri...and, yeah, you got that right.

    Values we share with many different folks...but values I've learned right here in the city.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 9:14 PM  

  • I've never thought about it in that respect...and I can relate, having lived in Manhattan for twenty years.

    It's really effected my value system, and it was a big shock when I moved upstate a bit and found that my neighbors had different social standards and priorities....but I never really inked it to my urban history...to the fact that cities share space...and community grows from that sense of sharing.

    Looking forward to more of the series.

    By Blogger NYBri, at 8:54 AM  

  • You're right. We invest in people. We value people more than we value accumulated wealth or collection of items. The other side prefers money. In the long run, whether at the gates of heaven or in the memory of others, will we be known for our deeds or our bank accounts?

    By Blogger Carnacki, at 6:04 PM  

  • There you go again KO - summarizing in all so beautifully. And all from a trip to the public pool. I just wish some of our elected officials could speak to our common values this clearly. It makes me think of a saying we used to use when we took kids on camping trips "If everyone does a little - no one has to do a lot."

    By Blogger NLinStPaul, at 7:06 PM  

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