Over recent years, I have seen our country become increasingly guilty of a bad habit. Thanks to today’s bloated bureaucracy, which is a far cry from the lean, limited government laid out in the Constitution, We the People have begun to look to government more and more for the answers to our country’s problems.
We want Washington to fix “it” — whether that’s the economy, or health care, or our education system.
Now, the government certainly does share the burden of responsibility for aspects of these issues. However, more often than not “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” as Ronald Reagan once said. The truth is our country’s best ideas rarely come from the seats of power. More often, the most effective and creative solutions start as localized solutions, springing from the grassroots efforts, elbow grease, and innovation of those who are on the ground, closest to the problem.
An example of this kind of initiative in problem solving is an organization called SuperSeeds, which is based right here in the Second District of Ohio. The founders of SuperSeeds identified a problem that they felt wasn’t being fully addressed by the system: the ineffectiveness of school suspensions for treating bad behavior. To put it simply: taking a kid out of school who doesn’t want to be there anyway is often more of a reward than a deterrent. To fix this, SuperSeeds began a program to provide alternative resources for school discipline, including their “Options Day Tour,” which takes youth on a city tour to show them the real-world consequences of behavior and the impact an education can have on their future. They also work to bridge the relationship between local youth and law enforcement, providing healthier attitudes towards authority. This is just one of the many organizations across our country that identify issues in our communities, and privately come up with solutions to try to make the system work better.
To me, this is not evidence of a weakness of our system of government — instead, this is a sign of the strength of the American people and the health of our democracy. The real danger lies in us abdicating that active role, and buying into the lie that government has all the answers, or is the answer. As I like to say, there’s a reason the Constitution begins with the words “We the People” and not “We the Government.” We are the answer. We’re not just consumers or passive onlookers in this democracy — instead, our country was structured around the presupposition of an engaged and active citizenry deeply invested in the health and wellbeing of their communities, states, and country. We each bear ultimate responsibility for this country, and the state in which we pass it on to our children.
Waverly Police Capt. Dennis Crabtree is an example of this here in Ohio. When he saw how many kids in his community lacked the support they needed to succeed, he began mentoring local students at Waverly High School in Pike County. He mentored students who had grown up in homes impacted by the opioid epidemic. But he didn’t stop there. Believing that the state did not have sufficient resources to provide the support these kids need, Crabtree’s work led to the creation of the OhioCorps bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Bill Reineke of Tiffin and Scott Ryan of Granville. The bill creates a structure for college students to mentor at-risk high school students and provides high school students with opportunities to volunteer in their communities and earn scholarships.
Fighting the opioid epidemic will take these types of creative partnerships — at the individual, community, state, and federal levels — and the same can be said for most, if not all, of the challenges our country faces. The bottom-line is we need to see the problems in our communities and our country as just that: our problems. Let’s step up to the plate and find solutions. Let’s bring ideas to the table. Let’s experiment with innovative implementation. We can disagree over courses of action but we must never settle for apathy — because we are each the backstop of our democracy. That is the beauty and responsibility of being an American citizen.
Congressman Wenstrup (R-OH) represents Ohio’s Second Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He is a Member of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.