Poet, songwriter and activist Gil Scott-Heron
I’ve been thinking about taxes lately, and I suspect I’m not alone. While the current IRS scandal is pretty discouraging, I have been disgusted far longer by how the U.S. government spends so much on aggression and so little on compassion.
Is this really who we are, as a country? Investing more in nightmares than dreams?
The sequester and its piecemeal undoing continue to reveal Congress as out-of-touch. And since so few citizens make time to contact elected officials (or vote, for that matter), maybe there’s a better way to gather data about how we’d like to have money spent by the government on our behalf. Why not put a short and simple survey at the end of federal income tax forms?
The Congressional Budget Office already keeps track of allocations, although we may wish to choose better categories to represent our priorities. For example: Education, Health Care, Environmental Protection, Welfare, Transportation, Military, and so forth. There should also be an opportunity for open comment, to suggest what is most important to you. Federal tax filers would simply complete this optional survey by allocating percentages for each category. Such data collected by the IRS could then be aggregated and published for comparison with actual federal expenditures annually. Though it is doubtful that Congress’s budget will reflect citizens’ sentiments, at least we’d have a frame of reference.
What do you think?
Personally, I like Gil Scott-Heron’s take on the big picture, and this video accompanying his poem: “Work for Peace.”
The following narrative is from a lecture I gave last night in a class called “Quest for Meaning” at Eckerd College. It was a neat group of students and I enjoyed our discussion. Because of a technical glitch, I wasn’t able to use the projector. (The chalkboard worked fine, though!) I still want to share a few images and links with them — and you — so here goes…
“From Policy Wasteland to Watershed Moment,” by Andy Fairbanks
Presented to Quest for Meaning (senior seminar), Professor Diane Craig
Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida
4 April 2013
Your professor asked me to discuss my professional experience and academic research about solid waste management in Florida. She asked me to do so for the sake of informing and empowering you to make a difference in St. Petersburg or wherever you find yourself in the world next. At the end, please remind me to discuss a League of Women Voters initiative to convince the City of St. Petersburg to implement universal curbside recycling. You can also read two short articles or the full monte of my thesis, all of which are linked here.
However, I believe that it is also important to share my reflections on these experiences, the big picture – the “quest for meaning” – and purpose of higher education, and how they have impacted my choices since graduating. So the following discussion is meant to inform and elicit a broad range of questions, not just about garbage or policymaking. It’s also about social movements, and how, why and when we can make an impact. It’s about paying attention to what’s going on beyond your own little bubble, your pet issue or course of study. At its core, it’s about being an informed and empowered citizen. Continue reading
Ever since successfully defending my Master’s thesis, I’ve been working to disseminate findings to fellow garbage geeks, policy wonks and activists, as well as regular citizens. It’s part of my desire to foster public scholarship — to inform public discourse with academic research, especially as it relates to policy decisions.
One of my letters to the editor (about curbside recycling in St. Petersburg) was printed in the Tampa Bay Times in May. More recently, a two-part series was published in Resource Recycling, where I hope it will generate discussion about Florida’s new 75-percent recycling goal among solid waste professionals. It was quite an endeavor to distill my thesis (over 150 pages long) down to less than 4,000 words and a handful of illustrations and links.
Part 1 of “Beyond Recycling Rates” focuses on a contemporary policymaking process and the critical failures that left most participants feeling very dissatisfied by its results. I prefer to leave readers with some positive examples and ideas for action, which are provided in Part 2. The latter describes a time when Florida was a leader in solid waste policy and it argues for a reassessment of our present goals.
Though they deal with technical issues, these articles (as well as my Master’s thesis) are primarily concerned with how stakeholders and citizens engage with public policy. They are written with the lay-reader in mind. I’ve been told that my thesis has a “conversational” style, which I take as a major compliment.
This is the first of a two-part series published in Resource Recycling, based on my Master’s thesis. Despite my request to approve the final version before publication, I was dismayed to find editing errors in what was printed. The magazine’s editor was quick to respond by fixing the text in the online version, but it was too late for the hard copies. A correction will be printed next month, along with part two.
This experience really made me appreciate the arduous process of thesis writing. Besides my own labors, I benefitted from my committee’s attention to every last detail. They all brought their “A-game” to proofreading and provided different perspectives. My advisor, Chris Meindl, is a human geographer and wetlands expert, and most familiar with my research. Gary Mormino is an expert in Florida history and a prolific writer, and David McMullen (also an historian) had direct experience with some of the state agencies and politics I sought to describe. The end result is a thoroughly-polished work, if I may say so myself!
Inspired by the goal of public scholarship and my professors’ encouragement, I am seeking ways to communicate the findings of my research to solid waste management professionals, environmentalists and the general public, as well as academics. Hopefully, this series in Resource Recycling is just the beginning.
“Beyond Recycling Rates, Part 1″ – http://www.resource-recycling.com/images/Fairbanks0912rr.pdf
“The Good, the Bad, and the Garbage” (Master’s thesis) – http://tinyurl.com/FairbanksThesis