I recently picked up a few books on Jane Addams from a local Riverside resident, which turned out to be very enlightening. Jane Addams, as we will recall, one of the most prominent reformers of the Progressive Era, co-founder of Chicago’s Hull House, and defined today as a well-respected political activist of the early 1900s once wrote in Problems of Municipal Administration:
“Government so often finds itself, not only in opposition to the expressed will of the people making the demand at the moment, but apparently against the best instincts of the mass of the citizens as a whole.”
Let that quote, penned by Addams in 1905, sink in for a while. Isn’t it odd how things from the past have the ability to apply to life today? I mean, we hope to think that our society progressed, but has it? Would Jane Addams look at some of our levels of government and see a reflection on the types of things she was commenting on a hundred years ago?
In her writings, Addams suggested that there is a fixed condition within government that is produced; more specifically that local governments produce indifferent citizens and by and large professional politicians. The professional politician develops because some politicians put themselves above the average person, creating a false barrier between the two, and thus encouraging indifferent citizens.
Addams also wrote that local government is set up to promote the successes of the strong and successfully exploit the weak. Addams cites how local government builds hospitals and provides services for the poor and dependent. However, practically nothing is done for the great masses. All too often government points individuals towards other agencies due to laziness and convenience.
Fact is, local governments are the first interaction individual citizens have with laws and politics, and therefore have the ability to really make changes for the better in the lives of their residents. Addams even suggested that new experiments and a multitude of changes should take place in the local system in the hopes of making lives better. Progress is most easily attained at a smaller level, and it is better to try new methods at such a level, rather than a larger scale.
All too often elected officials can get comfortable with the status quo and do the bare minimum to get by. Unfortunately, that is not good enough. We need elected officials to prove that they want the position, and are willing to go above and beyond — taking the hard votes toward progress. It is important to stand up for a belief in something, and look towards impacting the future, rather than doing nothing and taking the easy way out.
Mike Dropka is the Riverside Township Republican committeeman