As a social-scientist advocate in the HIV/AIDS field everyday may be considered a day in which I am fighting the proverbial man. There is always a fight for resources. There is always a fight to be counted. There is always a fight to be heard. However, running a community-based organization, doing community based participatory research and writing grants for government funding means that at the end of the day, I am in an odd bed with the government at large. Such has been my longstanding lot in life.
First off, many years back, I worked for the government. Considering my outward display of my utter distaste for the inefficiency I observed while there, ironically enough, I fought the man everyday from within. I saw firsthand government waste and apathy. A good portion of staff in the division I was in was suing one another. Any slight was cause for a lawsuit. My acts of calling out the inefficiencies got me labeled as a brat. I had been en route at that time to become a lawyer but instead, as a result, I went back to my learning roots and became a psychologist. I promised myself I would never, ever again work for the government. While there I did learn, on my own, a good amount of case law and how to make sound legal arguments.
Second, such knowledge came in handy when the IRS tried to falsely claim I had not paid my fair share of taxes. I shepardized case law, assembled evidence and fought back. I won and it felt good. As it is, I have learned that you can’t roll over or bow down before incompetency. It is a good life lesson for all occasions.
Third, there was a moment a few years back when people felt the need to protest the fact that I was advocating for resources for the Hispanic community. People tried to shout me down. Dishearteningly, some of those include government employees. While the government system itself is entrenched in bureaucracy, we cannot forget that for now (until the robots take over) government is comprised of human beings who bring their personal histories to the work. I fought back. Fought back hard and never looked back. Won some major concessions and a right to be at the table. While amplifying my voice at various policy table discussions, I have also learned to find compromise and to sweeten the atmosphere. It is very hard, when engaged in social justice efforts, to go it alone. Collaboration and partnership is key. There are government entities that do seek community input and we have to always ensure we provide that input. I readily admit there have been some great projects for the community as a result.
Fourth, there was one project that was a so-called cooperative agreement project, in which I was the director, with a government entity. However, from the outset the government officials were severely antagonistic and not interested in us as human beings. They came in with an agenda and proceeded to shove that agenda down our collective throats. When I tried to provide feedback they dismissed it as unimportant and uninformed. Although, I was par of the project because of my connections to and cultural competency with the community. They just didn’t care. They cared about climbing up the internal bureaucracy. These are the same individuals that made me attend a meeting while on maternity leave and provided me with a broom closet to handle my breastfeeding needs. How these people were par of the HIV/AIDS public health field,when their compassion reserve was clearly depleted, is beyond me. I tried to fight back this personal injustice but they pulled the purse strings. They exerted their power over us at every turn. These are the people we need to root out of government. At the end we completed the project doing the best we could. However, their internal hangups and politics destroyed the long-term viability of the project. The only recourse I had was to give them a bad evaluation at the end. Luckily, we were afforded that opportunity.
Government need not be a bogeyman. It need not be inefficient. The question is what systems can be put in place to root out or keep incompetent staff or officials from taking hold. Some have argued for a civil government academy that trains individuals on what it means to be a government employee akin to what you see for police or military academies. There is a need to be able to hold them more directly accountable.
As I write this, I am riding the rails, getting ready to meet with some government collaborators. It is a fine line dance in which we participate. There is a need to partner and collaborate, but we must never forget our duty to also hold government accountable.
Inspired by the daily fight and daily prompt of fight the power
Other word press blogger thoughts: