Acton Institute Powerblog

Seattle stinks

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In a recent article at City Journal, Discovery Institute Fellow, Christopher Rufo says:

Over the past few years, Seattle has become a dumping ground for millions of pounds of garbage, needles, feces, and biohazardous waste, largely emanating from the hundreds of homeless encampments that have sprouted across the city… Last year saw a 400 percent increase in HIV infections among mostly homeless addicts and prostitutes in the city’s northern corridor. Public-health officials are sounding the alarms about the return of diseases like typhus, tuberculosis, and trench fever. Even the region’s famed mussels and clams have tested positive for opioids.

The city of Seattle has failed on multiple attempts to remedy the problem.  Most recently the city offered garbage pick up to 10 of the 400 homeless encampments in Seattle – providing trash bags at no cost. Referencing a Seattle Times report, Rufo states the people in these encampments, “returned only 26 percent of the trash bags that the city distributed” and “even some of the ones returned had been ripped apart by people looking for needles with a bit of heroin left.”

This seems par for the course as far as government solutions to social problems are concerned. One need not look any further than the dilapidated roads of Oakland, California 800 miles south of Seattle. But, the Oakland “Pothole Vigilantes” are no longer waiting on government bureaucrats to fix the problem.

The self-named “Pothole Vigilantes” began their constructive tear through Oakland just over a month ago. What is their mission? Accomplish what the government wasn’t able to – fill the potholes that litter many Oakland neighborhoods.

“We love the city, we hope they fill the potholes faster. And if they’re not going to do it, we’ll do it ourselves,” is what one of the renegade pothole fixers had to say about their project in an interview with KOD.

The “Pothole Vigilantes” have even started to receive donations through a gofundme account. To date, they have nearly raised $4,500 for their efforts which are sorely needed as the greater Oakland metropolitan area has some of the worst ranked roads in the country.

In his 1791 Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Edmund Burke wrote, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…” This quote echoes one of my favorite Lord Acton quotes from almost a century later, “Liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.”

The “Pothole Vigilantes” may have never read Edmund Burke, nor perhaps have they heard of Lord Acton, but they certainly understand the essence of what these two political philosophers were trying to convey. If we want authentic liberty we must cultivate a mature, moral civilization. This, in part, means that we can’t wait for someone else to fix the problems that plague our communities.

No outside authority directed this effort. No bureaucratic body is guiding the pothole fixing process. This is simply a group of concerned Oakland neighbors that were tired of driving over potholes. As F.A. Hayek would say, this effort has been the result of human action but not the result of some specific human design.

It appears that Seattle might be able to learn a lesson from the enterprising citizens of Oakland who aren’t willing to wait for someone else to fix their roads.

At the end of his article at the City Journal, Christopher Rufo suggests that, “Seattle’s liberal moderates need to wake up and demand that city government meet one of its fundamental responsibilities: picking up the trash.”

Maybe instead of turning to the city government, private citizens of Seattle should consider taking matters into their own hands. There may just be a profit opportunity for an enterprising Amazon engineer to start a private community group of “Garbage Vigilantes” in Seattle.

Featured image attributed to Spmenic~commonswiki on 20:39, 17 December 2005

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Patrick Oetting

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