COMMENTARY: In praise of a deeper state

  • Tuesday, October 10, 2017 10:53am
  • Opinion

Elizabeth Fitterer (Courtesy Photo)

One morning in late September, I walked onto the King County Water Taxi, which got me to downtown Seattle in 20 minutes. I walked about 10 minutes up to the Pioneer Square Station bus tunnel, where a light rail train got me to the University of Washington within 15 minutes.

I emerged from several flights of escalators, surrounded by students with backpacks, and walked up the lane past Drumheller Fountain and into a classroom. I then proceeded to take a class.

It wasn’t difficult to set any of this up. I had to visit several offices on campus for signatures, payments and logistics, but everybody who helped me was quick, professional and knowledgeable.

It wasn’t difficult, and yet in some ways all of this felt like a miracle. It felt to me as if something special had happened — and it had. I was able to pursue knowledge with an excellent teacher, and to easily travel just an hour from my island home to do it.

All these things were made possible by government — the train, the water taxi, the university, the teacher who taught me, the people who helped me fill out all my forms, the people who drove and docked the boat, the mechanic who was working on one of the escalators in the train tunnel so that I’d be able to get to class quickly.

Is this the deep state Steve Bannon talks about?

I ran into a friend on the train who was commuting to Capitol Hill to teach a community college class on international relations. She told me that in her class, there were several former refugees who wanted to learn how to bring peace back to their countries to interrupt the cycle of violence and war.

Is my friend, a government-paid teacher helping to bring peace to the world, part of the deep state too?

How deep does this deep state go? If anything I want it to go deeper. I want it go straight into our hearts.

I want there to be some kind of number I can call, a non-emergency 911, when I see somebody suffering and have no idea how to help them. I want there to be a little heart symbol on my phone that I can push when I see a woman shuffling down the street in downtown Seattle with tattered shoes, carrying all her belongings in a hefty bag on her back.

And then, like the trusty escalator mechanic in the train tunnel, or the helpful lady at the university registration desk, I want some kind and efficient government servant to be quickly dispatched to the scene, to give that woman some shoes and some shelter.

I want more government in my life, not less of it.

But of course I only want helpful government, not harmful government. I don’t want the St. Louis police officers who arrested a 56-year-old church-elder grandmother two weeks ago as she protected her 13-year-old asthmatic grandson from a cop’s chokehold.

When I hear a story like that — and there are so many stories like that in America right now — that’s a moment when I want that heart button on my phone. I want to know that some kind, compassionate government servant would answer the call, and see to it that the cop would never work in law enforcement again and that the grandmother would be released from jail immediately.

If our phones had heart buttons, so many of them would have been pushed for the people of Puerto Rico, when their island was devastated by a massive hurricane. And in response, armies of compassionate government servants would have been sent there to help within hours.

And so many heart buttons would have been pushed for the people of Las Vegas, when a night full of music became a night full of carnage. A compassionate government wouldn’t treat mass shootings as an unavoidable fact of life in America.

I heard someone say this week that we are so close. We are so close to having a better functioning, more compassionate state, even in these times when it seems like compassion is broken. We’re so close to people stepping up and saying clearly — this is the kind of society we want.

The time is here to say it loudly and clearly and to believe it — government can be a place of great good; of efficient, helpful action. Let’s all of us — bus and train and boat riders, students, teachers, parents, lovers of music and lovers of life — demand our state deepens its heart.

— Elizabeth Fitterer has lived on Vashon for 12 years and is a member of the Puget Sound Zen Center.

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