After almost two weeks, the US government has finally reopened, just in time to prevent defaulting on its debts. As with any showdown, there will be winners and losers. For Pres.Obama, this is a victory. He has shown to the Republicans and the world that he is not the spineless leader some people mistook him for. For the Republicans, it means a decrease in public ratings. But the real losers of the situation are the 800,000 federal employees who found themselves on forced, unpaid leave. While Boehner was waiting for Obama to give in to his demands, the person he was really holding to ransom was mother of three who lives pay check to pay check, and who is the one who probably can’t afford insurance in the first place.
I have long admired the American idea of democracy. Over the past few weeks, though, it has become clear that democracy might be nothing more than a myth. The freedom to be able to safely walk the street in protest that Americans have now seems nothing more than shooting blanks at long-range. How much better is the furloughed American who could make his disapproval of the government heard than the disgruntled North Korean who puts his life at risk by protesting against government repression. Ultimately they both have very little power pitted against the very people who are there to serve you.
Because the fact remains that Congress decided to come together only when it suited them to do so and not the people. For the two weeks that the government was officially shut-down, during which thousands of federal employees took to the streets, I am sure none of the Republicans had to go to bed worrying about how they were going to pay their bills that month.
Coming from Zimbabwe, selfishness from those at the top should really come as no surprise. Zimbabwe, after all, is the country where one can wake up and decide to divert all kombi traffic away from the city center to the smallest kombi rank in the city without having made the necessary changes to accommodate such a move.
I often wonder whether some of these decisions are made with forethought. Only last week, I walked past the recently closed Ximex Mall to find that the place has become nothing more than a litter-dumping ground. Used kaylites, empty cans and different kinds of waste have been squeezed through any opening of the building.
A well-known saying by Abraham Lincoln goes something like “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And so what is supposed to happen when governments stop acting on behalf of the people. Who holds the politicians accountable for their actions?
Growing up, I used to wonder why my parents and their parents, their friends and their enemies, watched in passivity as injustices were clearly being carried out. It frustrated me that they murmured among themselves in discontent as national companies were looted by those who headed them. They watched as every service imaginable became a mere phantom. My mother still talks fondly of the good ole days; when basic education was free, public services actually worked and Zimbabwe was a country to be proud of. But as the old saying goes, “Matakadya kare haanyaradze vana.” ( Loosely translated means “What we ate in the past won’t satisfy the children today”)
So I find myself wondering whether my children too, will grow up wondering where to draw the line between responsible citizen and plain coward. Whether they too will wonder whether democracy is dead, if it ever existed. I find myself wondering how much longer we shall allow ourselves to be held ransom by the people we have supposedly put in place to serve us, “for how much longer [we shall] tote this weary load?” and should we decide to throw off our self-inflicted burden, how shall we do it?