It has been interesting to see in the news recently stories of people's overwhelming generosity in response to identified needs of our neighbours. Humans of New York raised $1M in under a week for an inner-city school in Brooklyn. A Vancouver idea has spread across the country to enable people from Canada's south to help those in Nunavut afford food. Those are just two recent, outstanding examples; we, of course, see evidence every day of individual generosity reaching out to those in need.
While the generosity is wonderful, it is a bit frustrating for me. As a social democrat, I feel that public schools should be adequately funded by our government. We should not need to make donations so that they can continue to function. And if people in our wealthy country do not have enough to eat or a place to sleep at night, to me, this is a public policy, systemic issue that our government should be addressing.
And what frustrates me is this disconnect between people's willingness to help in the immediate future and their distaste for government, taxes and bureaucrats.
Because as far as I am concerned, this is what our taxes are supposed to do. Fund all public schools so that everyone has a chance at a great education. Ensure that citizens are not hungry or homeless, and if they are, figure out why they are and how those underlying issues can be addressed.
But somewhere along the way, I know that governments lost our trust. As with generosity, there are so many examples of mismanagement in government. And that is frustrating.
So I wish that, in addition to being generous, people would simultaneously call on their governments to provide these services. That we would vote for those who promise to address these needs. That we would not complain when our taxes go up, because this is one of the things that taxes are supposed to do - fund essential public services so that we don't have to make charitable donations to public schools. (This vicious turn of events - people want tax cuts, so governments cut taxes, so there are not enough resources for crucial public programs, so people are called to donate... - makes me crazy!)
As a final note, I must say that, as a public servant, this is what I am paid to do (by you!). It is our job to figure out the best solutions to problems. We are experts in these issues, and we spend a lot of time considering the context and possible solutions. While the impact is immediate and heartwarming, a patchwork of Canadians sending donations north is not the best way to deal with hunger in that area (as was argued earlier this week). Public servants are occupied with these issues every day, and I promise you that we are seeking to find the best, sustainable, effective solutions. The elected executive, of course, makes the final decision (democracy! and there's where you come in! see point above re: voting), but I know that they are presented with well-researched and -considered options.
The Humans of New York fundraising campaign is a perfect example of this. One of the programs that will benefit from the funds raised is a summer program so that students have a safe place to be in an otherwise dangerous neighbourhood. And yes - this program that has been so supported will work in the immediate future. But wouldn't it be great to have public servants from the school and education department sit down with those from the police with those from other social services to figure out a sustainable, well-supported (both financially and otherwise), long-term solution?