Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Who's Responsible?

Tonight I went to a gathering at Town Hall Seattle entitled "What the State Won't Tell you About the Deep Bore Tunnel," sponsored by The Stranger. All sorts of interesting things and topics were discussed there. The Seattle Channel will soon host the video of the ~90 minute session and I invite you to take it in at your leisure and come to your own conclusions about what was said there if you are so inclined. (As an aside, if you aren't from Seattle or otherwise have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a great series by the so-well-informed-there-is-cause-for-concern Eric de Place cataloging and examining Seattle's decade-long argument over what to do with our waterfront.)

During the public question-and-answer period, immediately following Dominic Holden playing devil's advocate to a panel of tunnel opponents, a lady got up to the mic. As often occurs amongst people brave enough to ask questions in public forums like this, she gave a long, rambling, comment/question hybrid (quomment? cestion?) that was a tour de force of social justice issues. One thing she said stood out to me - and it probably wasn't one of the things she wanted to stand out. At one point she was talking about her commute, making either a cars-are-still-necessary argument (which no one on the panel argued against - in fact both Mayor McGinn and Councilmember O'Brien said as much) or a transit-is-not-sufficient argument (which everyone on the panel would agree with), when she said that she lived in Ballard and worked in Rainier Valley. (Note: links are to map points so those unfamiliar with Seattle's geography can see where those places are.)

In a discussion like this, a lot is said about the responsibility of various governments and authorities and leaders - and rightly so. Who's accountable for what, what process was taken to get to these results, what process should have been taken, where do we go from here, etc., etc. All good points. All worth talking about. But where does personal responsibility come in? That seemed to be absent from the discussion tonight. I don't mean to slander this lady - she seemed nice enough, and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt as far as her personal choices go so as to not judge what I don't know - but her work and her home are awfully far apart; I wonder if she's at all considered doing something about that?

Does Seattle have a responsibility to make it possible to commute from Ballard to Rainier Valley? Yes. Both of those places are within city limits and, if only from a social justice standpoint, I firmly believe that the city has the responsibility to do everything in it's power to allow every citizen to be able to travel from any one point in the city to any other, including those who are precluded from being able to operate an automobile. I would hope such thinking is common sense.

Is everyone who lives far from where they work, or other places they go frequently, irresponsible? No. Quite frankly, some people just don't have a lot of options - especially the poor, the elderly, and the disabled - and I'm not about to begrudge them doing what they need to do to make ends meet.

Those two points made, I also firmly believe that if we as individuals are going to make demands of our government, or any system for that matter; if we as individuals are going to expect a system to tend to our needs; if we intend to hold said system accountable for failing to attend to those needs; then we as individuals have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable for the burdens we place on that system and to constantly evaluate whether we can safely and comfortably lessen that burden. It seems only fair, especially since others must also rely on that system for their needs, and you would hope that they were doing the same for you.

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