The Real Change-Makers: July/August 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
Why Government Is Not the Problem or the Solution
Reviewed by Wendy Underhill
Who finds solutions to social problems in America? Not the people sitting in government offices, argues David Warfield Brown. Change-makers are just ordinary folks, he says. The kind of people who not only see a problem and envision a solution, but have the gumption to make it happen. The kind of people, in fact, who bring good ideas based on their own experiences to those who are “in power,” such as legislators.
Although Brown’s Democratic credentials are unmistakable (he served as deputy mayor during the Koch administration in New York City), he seems to be channeling George H.W. Bush’s belief in “a thousand points of light,” with a healthy dollop of hand-wringing borrowed from Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.”
Brown argues that the answers to social problems won’t come from more litigation, legislation, regulations or funding. “Simply put, government did not create our social problems, nor will it solve them for us. They require our social attention.”
This message could be aimed at government for trying to do too much, but actually, he’s addressing people who do too little, those who he says are “putting down government but at the same time putting up with it.”
Brown’s brand of pragmatic, citizen-based advocacy is described throughout the book with examples from three social arenas: health care, education and poverty. For Brown what matters most isn’t the issue, it’s the motivation inside change-makers.
He’s especially interested in motivating baby boomers—those old enough to have spare time but young enough to have spare energy—to get up and get going.
Readers find words of wisdom on how to target the issue, locate fellow enthusiasts, build momentum and, when necessary, get America’s official decision makers to act.
Legislators may be particularly interested in the chapter, “One Thing Can Lead to Another.” Here, Brown imagines a newly elected officeholder’s first remarks to supporters: “I come to you not asking for your support but asking how I can use my public office to support you. Yes, you heard it right. I want to do all I can to support your efforts to address social problems which are beyond the means of government.” Brown suggests several ways a lawmaker might provide support:
- Offer public spaces for meetings.
- Allow government or campaign websites to feature citizen initiatives.
- Recognize the community’s change-makers publically with awards
- Offer the assistance of personal staff.
We might add these to Brown’s list:
- Show up at community events organized by change-makers.
- Talk to the press about change-makers’ issues.
- Hold hearings on the issues, whether or not legislation is involved.
"The Real Change-Makers" is text-dense. This may be just right for a baby boomer audience but less inviting to a younger crowd. That said, the encouragement to tackle social problems the old-fashioned way—with personal initiative and hard work—is a cross-generational message that couldn’t come at a better time.