Speed without direction

My introduction to the city of Pittsburgh began with a delightful coincidence eleven years ago. Riding late into town, seeking eventually to learn more about the city’s potential revival, I happened upon a gathering of younger professionals, fresh-out-of-college types, that would eventually form an organization called “Ground Zero.” They wanted to stop the demolition of a couple of city blocks in downtown for the development of another mega-shopping complex. Despite my role as an observer and a journalist, I couldn’t help but get a little involved in the discussion. After the “leaders” of the group ended their explanation of their plans, the gathering broke off into smaller groups, charrette-style, and I joined in.

For a while, I listened to the people in my group, most of them in their early 20s, talk about what they wanted to see happen in Pittsburgh. I heard the same complaints and concerns that I heard in several other cities I visited: “There’s nothing to do.” “Too many old people run this place.” “Corporations control everything.”

Many older Northeastern cities face a serious problem trying to retain young people after graduation. Pittsburgh boasts some great schools, but their graduates  more often than not move on to places like Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York. I sympathized with their plight to some degree.

However, after listing to everyone for a good while, I finally piped up. “How many of you voted in the last election?” Of the ten or so in my group, two raised their hands. “How do you expect the politicians to listen to you if you don’t vote?” I asked. These kids could scream “change!” until blue in the face, but unless they hold some sway over the guy’s job, the politician doesn’t really have to listen to them.

Following the the whole “Occupy [name your town]” movement reminds me of that night in Pittsburgh. Yes, people get disaffected and feel alienated from the process. I’ve been there. But standing in the middle of the street dressed like a casting call for the next production of Godspell demanding everything gets you nowhere.

In the end, the project was killed, but not because of Ground Zero. It died because the stakeholders in the project crunched the numbers and found that they would not make any money there.

Yet another of the lessons I’ve learned in my fifty years is this: The only people with any real voice are:

1. Voters

2. Stakeholders

3. Those carrying guns

It starts, of course, with #1, and you better hope it doesn’t end with #3.

Those who habitually fail to vote dismiss this out of hand, but  if you don’t vote, you can’t really complain. I generally believe that in America, we get the democracy that we deserve. If our legislatures are unfocused, ineffective, and combative, then it reflects the electorate pretty accurately. When I go to the ballot box, I invariably see names not affiliated with the two main parties. There’s nothing to stop people from voting for them. You don’t throw your vote away. Every vote does indeed count, and thankfully it only counts as one, so why not vote for the socialist if you really believe we need to soak the rich? Why not vote for the libertarian if you think government is too big and intrusive?

I look at the Occupy movement and I potentially see the answer to James Howard Kunstler’s question: “Where is the leftist Tea Party?” On the other hand, right now, I see a lot of young people milling about with signs, with nothing better to do, and with no real goals or definitive ideas on how to achieve them, and I see speed without direction.

In physics, you learn that speed without direction has no velocity. And without velocity, you go nowhere fast.