OPINION: Thoughts on 2017 and the Road Ahead

By Claire Levy

Two-thousand-seventeen has been a rough year.

The United States of America has had to reckon with some very ugly strains within our society, which became emboldened by the tone and the result of the 2016 presidential election. While Colorado Center on Law and Policy has worked hard to protect vital resources and programs for people who need help, we have also had to take aim at the forces animating efforts to dismantle these programs. So as we fight for economic justice and health equity, we also fight the notion that the vast wealth of this country should not be used to make sure that all of us have a chance to succeed.

I write this message with a mixture of outrage and sorrow.

I am outraged at the audacity of the proposals pushed by the President and Congress – reducing nutritional assistance, imposing punitive work requirements, exposing consumers to predatory financial practices, redistributing wealth upward, taking away health care, fouling our air and water with pollution, and generally subjecting people to the ravages of unregulated markets and denying the role systemic barriers founded on racism have played in separating the haves from the have-nots.

I am sorrowful that this is the direction this country has taken in what seems like the blink of an eye, but in what is more accurately the culmination of many years of inculcating a view of the economy that says taxes and public investment are a denial of economic freedom and that reflects a view of society that divides people into “takers” and “makers.”

Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” To that I would only add that those taxes must fall fairly on those who can afford to pay and on whom much has been bestowed. People need to re-embrace the sentiment that underlies that thought.

But, enough about the past. What about the future? As the Executive Director of Colorado Center on Law and Policy, I am determined to do what we can to support the concept of a shared future. CCLP was founded 20 years ago to do policy and legal advocacy on behalf of people in poverty whose collective voices had been silenced by Congress through restrictions on programs funded by Legal Services Corporation. We dig deep into the weeds of complex regulations. We try to change the trajectories of lives that have been circumscribed by circumstances such as a criminal conviction or an eviction. Our attorneys represent people in individual cases in which systemic problems with the administration of public programs can be exposed so they and others can receive services that are vital to their health and safety.

Along with that advocacy, we recognize that we need to change the vocabulary and common misunderstanding about how the economy works. We cannot do that work alone. So CCLP is joining with other organizations that are also dedicated to an inclusive economy to develop tools to help change the way the public thinks about the economy, public services, and the benefits of investing in human capital.

When we ask a legislator to help us increase investment in affordable housing, the legislator and her colleagues need to understand not just why public investment is necessary but why it is to the benefit of all of us that people have a safe and affordable home. When we ask for an increase in the paltry cash assistance Colorado provides to people with disabilities who are unable to work, we want policymakers to see that assistance as a reflection of the basic decency of our society. If people recognized that the root of so much struggle families face is not lack of effort or poor choices, but is the failure of many employers to pay a wage that allows people to meet their basic needs, we could have a genuine discussion about how to increase wages, supplement that income, or reduce the cost of housing, health care and other essentials.

With those thoughts in mind, CCLP will return to work in the New Year focused on achieving results. Those results will include real changes in policy that dismantle or ameliorate barriers to opportunity. They will also include giving life to the notion that was expressed so long ago by Mahatma Ghandi that society’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable.

Claire Levy is Executive Director, Colorado Center on Law and Policy


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