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Carly Fiorina: Stop waiting on Washington to fix our problems

Carly Fiorina

I have argued in these pages that politics has become about winning, not problem-solving; that while the media may highlight problems, they may actually make some of them worse; and that while “strongmen” claim to be vastly capable all by themselves, real problem-solving requires collaboration.

People are rightly frustrated by festering problems that don’t seem to get better and wonder who is going to solve them. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the solutions lie “not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Our roots as a nation can remind us who we are and prepare us for what we ourselves must do.

Our nation is unique and exceptional because, unlike every other nation on Earth, we were founded on ideas — three powerful ideas.

The first is that people should not be defined by their circumstances, their parentage, their name, or their birthplace. The “unalienable right” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means everyone has potential, and that anyone should be free to pursue their dreams and unlock that potential.

The second is that people closest to the problem know best how to solve that problem. It is why citizens and communities are given so much responsibility in the Constitution for solving problems. It is also why citizens, not governments, are sovereign in this country.

The third idea that steadies our Republic is that power concentrated is power abused, so a lot of the Constitution is focused on how to prevent the concentration and the abuse of power. Our Founders were practical people who understood from first-hand experience that decentralized power and local solutions worked better than concentrated power and top-down directives from far away.

All my practical experience in business, the social sector, and life, reinforces the power of these three ideas. And there are examples of problem-solving and leadership all around us in our communities.

Since 1985, Oris “Dino” Smiley has been running the Drew League on Compton Avenue in South Central LA. It was then just a small organization to teach young men life lessons through basketball. He was in his 20s when he was put in charge, and at that time, the problem he was facing was a serious one. Many young men saw no other path, community, or structure in life outside of local gangs. His mission was to give these young men a place to go, to be successful, to be valued, and to escape cycles of gang violence.

Whether it’s James Harden or Baron Davis, who had their lives changed by the league, or Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who have made efforts to visit and play ball, the Drew League has made its mark on the sport. But Dino defines success as young men getting off the streets and into school.

Yes, he has had some incredible talent come through over the years, but this was often a thankless task with grave consequences for failure. I recently talked with Dino, and he told me about the possibility he saw in those competitions. “I didn’t care what happened with the basketball games, Carly,” he said. “I just wanted to keep our kids alive.”

That’s what Dino has done for years in the Drew League. He, and those around him, identified problems in his community, and have changed so many lives, and generations that followed, for the better.

We have strayed very far from our founding ideas. Instead of recognizing that each of us has inherent value and potential, we routinely define people based on their circumstances, their appearance, or even their beliefs. We have concentrated power, money, and decision-making in Washington, D.C., for so long that we all now spend a lot of time wondering or complaining about whether Washington will ever get around to solving so many festering problems.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” People closest to the problems know best how to solve them. We need to remember who we are. We need to remember that each of us has enormous potential. We have the potential to solve problems, which is to say, to lead.

It’s time we stop looking up or far away and start looking within ourselves for the capacity each of us have. We should look around us for the capacity our fellow citizens have and collaborate with them.

The human potential in this country is vast and largely untapped, and it is incumbent upon each of us to unlock it in ourselves and those around us. It is the only sustainable, limitless resource we have, and the only resource we need to solve every problem we face. If, like Dino, we can maintain focus on our citizen responsibility to solve the problems we deal with every day, there is nothing out of our reach. So, what, or who, are we waiting for?

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