America has an issue with responsibility. Not only with accepting it, apparently, a very large number aren’t even sure of the definition. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that responsible action took some major hammer blows through a paper trail of insurance liability and law suits that found home owners guilty for allowing neighbor kids to play in their yards; consequently injuring themselves; judged more favorably in two vehicle accidents for the one who had the highest insurance premium, regardless of the circumstances and determined that unauthorized people can be arrested for using life saving equipment, belonging to a public service, in a major crisis. When the question should have been one of responsible behavior, it was an anal retentive view of statutes, policies and regulations.
The counter-cultural movement of the 1960’s – 1970’s put out a lot of effort to create self-sustaining communes and communities, but most of them failed. The most common explanation for this was the rampant drug use and consequent abuses. Drugs were prolific in many of these small societies retreating from mainstream life. Drugs were often involved with property vandalism, break in’s and violent encounters. At the same time, you also saw builders, artists, farmers, fishermen, teachers, firemen, counselors who used drugs but did not seem to see any reason for letting drugs consume them or drive them to make poor ethical decisions. It wasn’t the drugs that ruined the early communes, but a lack of commitment by those who saw the liberal leanings and isolated environment as a free ride.
Drugs are an easy way of saying “lack of responsibility”, and an even easier excuse for keeping drug use under control. As generally happens whenever the public begins taking a little more lenient attitude to marijuana laws, the adversaries of decriminalized marijuana have begun beating their drums. A recent “My View” in the Anchorage Daily News stated, “those stoned don’t contribute to the common good”. That’s basically all the author said, in five hundred words or less. No statistics. No documentary evidence of the malfunctioning of stoners; just a short comment by the writer that after giving up marijuana thirty years ago, he now experiences failing cognitive function.
The most debatable part of his short argument was the contribution to common good. Marijuana use, as a medically approved drug or for recreation, is pretty wide-spread across the work force; from college professors to truck drivers. They all seem to be doing their jobs efficiently, and appearing to the public as completely normal. The most non-contributing stoners seem to be among those who must take invasive drug tests to land a minimum wage job. It might have something more to do with motivation than getting stoned.
Fortunately, My View is a little more tolerant toward homeless alcoholics, although homeless alcoholics don’t contribute greatly to the common good either; at least not in the measurable terms of holding a job and paying taxes. Karluk Manor, the Anchorage response to the nationally led “housing first” project, opened on December 8th of this year. Its purpose is to provide shelter for chronic alcoholics that have no place to go. Fifty-four year old John Kort, one of the Manor’s first clients, was found dead on New Year’s Day. Beside the usual grumbling about an establishment for undesirables becoming a draw for alcoholics to the neighborhood, there was an outcry that the project wasn’t working because in less than a month since its opening, it had already experienced a tragedy.
What was important for the supporters of the Karluk Manor was that John Kort didn’t have to die out in the cold, filled with misery, with no soft place to lay his head. What was important to My View was that the motel was an act of mercy. What’s even more important was that the City had assumed a sense of responsibility to a dispossessed population that has been dying off at a rapid rate of as many as twenty a year, in a city with less than half a million people. Their deaths have been attributed to alcoholism, foul play and occasional accidents such as drowning or stepping out into traffic, but mainly to exposure.
That’s a step in the right direction, but a small one. Orlando, Florida recently made the news when it arrested three members of the “Food not Bombs” movement for feeding more than twenty-five people in a park within two miles of City Hall and that allows only two permits per year for feeding people. Although the organizers of “Food not Bombs” had behaved responsibly, choosing a priority of satisfying hunger over statutes and city ordinances, the City of Orlando had not.
Said spokesperson for “Food not Bombs”, police waited until everyone had been served, than began making arrests. “They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people,” said Douglas Coleman. “For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable.”
Much has been unacceptable over the last few decades through the blurring of the fine lines of responsibility. The organizers and participants of the early communes dreamed of equitable societies living in harmony with nature and healthy food; a responsible commitment, but one that was shaken by those that came along for the free ride. Corporations fought for and won the recognition to be a person under the law, giving it all personal rights as listed under individual freedoms, but relieving them of all responsibility as a corporate entity.
This is the year to resolve ourselves to responsibility. The media has not done its job. During the New Year’s countdown in New York City, a summary of what the Occupy movement wanted was more jobs. Jobs are certainly on the wish list, but when you read the demands in their entirety, it really boils down to one thing. The Occupy Movement wants the corporations and governments to take responsibility for their actions and begin making amends. There has been no indication so far that they intend to do anything except extend their free ride by any desperate measure possible.
If the governments won’t do it, and the corporations won’t do it, we must. There is a time when law biding citizens must question the laws that remove personal responsibility and puts innocent people in harm’s way. That time is now. There is a time when law abiding citizens must choose between restrictions of the law that handicap them in aiding the homeless, the hungry, the disturbed and the disenfranchised. That time is now. There is a time we must take our own tools, our own resources into our hands and do the right thing. A time to be responsible. That time is now. The time for the corporate free ride is over.