Whenever I tell people that I’m studying public policy, they’ll invariably say, “Well, what a good time for it!” I wonder if they mean it; I sometimes feel like this isn’t the right time to learn about laws, regulations, procedures, and institutions: it feels like they’re crumbling all around us.
In part, that’s a mirage. Congress may be broken, and important agencies and parts of the executive branch may be under threat, but we still have a strong underlying system of laws. Our president elect might not know what most of them are, might not fully understand the system of ‘checks and balances,’ but they’re there. For the time being, at least. I do feel like I’m trying to put together one corner of a puzzle while another corner bursts into flames.
It feels especially futile, in a way, to be working on preliminary work for a thesis and to be working on examining different avenues to create positive political change when, at the federal and state level, there is negative change. And I mean that not in the sense that it’s bad (although a lot of it is), but in the sense that I feel like legislators are not really adding anything. They’re taking things away. I do understand the appeal of “small government,” but I always assumed that they meant it would still have some rights in it.
It also feels somewhat silly to be working on something so small, in a way. The work I’m reading about regional equity and spatial equality demands that we think about community development from a regional in addition to a local perspective. The article I’m reading (written by a law student, which also makes me feel kind of small and young and ignorant because I’m nowhere near writing something so complete and illuminating) argues that there’s more political power if citizens come together regionally. But that’s exactly what I’m feeling pessimistic about–the ability of substantive, positive legislative change to happen anywhere. This is all the more disheartening in Chicago, given that Illinois continues to be in the midst of a budget crisis. What does it matter if a metropolitan planning organization has power to influence legislature if the legislature itself doesn’t have much power, fiscal or otherwise? On a more philosophical level, what does it mean to fight for equality when it some quarters it feels like a dirty word?
And yet, I’m going to keep on trucking. It’s almost more exciting this way. I’ve always felt stirred and passionate about the rule of law the way I think some people feel about the Packers, or the Patriots, or, more sadly, for their side of the polarized world. So maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, to have an opportunity to fight for the things that I believe in – the law, equality, justice, evidence, science, empathy, community, and progress.
It’ll probably make me even more of a pill, but oh well. Maybe I’ll make an effort to write some TV recaps, too, add some positive to the world.
I’m going to try to make some positive waves. It can’t hurt, right?