The protection of equality has been a matter for national policy, legislation and court cases for almost 50 years, but it appears this is not sustainable in the long-term. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, our equality infrastructure appears to be eroding quickly as county, state and federal budget cuts destabilize almost all government programs with an equalizing purpose. Our public schools…our court system…our public defenders…our welfare and unemployment services…all are seeing such severe funding cuts that their basic integrity is being threatened. After a couple of generations of institutionalized equality, we’re faced today with a huge challenge…figuring how to sustain the equality a majority of Americans agree is fair without an institutional guarantee.
Let’s not kid ourselves…without the bold legislation that created equality in schools…and in voting rights…and in housing…and in the justice system…our society would look very different. In the 50s and 60s, we absolutely needed a variety of equality incentive and enforcement programs. And…they needed to be funded significantly by the public sector. Anyone who believes the same result would have happened without these bold and historic actions is either too young to remember what it was like then…or too blinded by ideology to recognize the power of social and political inertia. We are tremendously indebted to those who forged ahead for equality legislation in the past…when we had the moral will and public funding to back it up. Now…we’re going to have to take up the slack as citizens as we take a stand in our local communities to protect the equality that has become part of our American social fabric.
I guess we have both good news and bad news in our current situation. For the past 30 years at least, we’ve had significant government supports and mandates to level-the-playing-field for all people…socially, educationally, and economically. This is the good news…we’ve benefitted from investment of past generations as they spent time, talent and treasure in efforts to share opportunities equally across our diverse population. But…this is the bad news…our negligence in protecting the stability of our equality infrastructure will make it necessary for us to start over as we devise a different method to guarantee access to the American dream so everyone can participate.
We’ve been blessed! A couple generations of Americans have invested in equal opportunity for all people in our nation. They’ve made equality the norm in our schools, in our parks, in our shopping malls and markets, at our community events, and in our political system. Oh…how fortunate we are today…after so many years of social learning! But today…we need to step up as patriotic Americans to sustain this learning, even without the benefit of nearly as much institutional support. We need to have the courage to protect the equality we’ve perhaps assumed was always freely available to all. Each of us needs to become the new face of equality.
But…how can we protect equality without full institutional support? Good question! So…let’s talk about it. My hunch is that we need to make equality a local priority in every neighborhood, school district, community, town, and city. Yes, I know the problem…not every local community will do their job well…and equality will suffer in these communities, and cities, and even states.
We’ve walked with an ‘equality crutch’ for so long…we’re wondering if we can walk without it! If equality requires an institutional solution, what does that say about our American character? If we can’t find enough time, talent or treasure in our communities to protect the equality of our neighbors, what does that say about our American values? If we can’t stand together in a highly-competitive global job market, what does that say about our American free enterprise system? Let’s start talking about equality as if it’s at least partially our personal responsibility. This is an important moment in history…when we decide again that equality is an indispensible value for the United States of America.