Senator Mark O. Hatfield


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Domestic Policy:
Neighborhood Government

July 28, 1975

              Congressional Record – Senate: Pages 25387 - 25389

S.  2192.  A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 to provide a tax credit for contributions to a neighborhood corporation and to provide other financial assistance to such corporations organized under State law to furnish their own neighborhood services.  Referred to the Committee on Finance.


Mr. HATFIELD.  Mr. President, I am today introducing legislation which could provide an alternative political philosophy to the dominant pattern of government centralization.  It is a philosophy which I feel will be appealing to the poor, the dispossessed, citizens alienated from their Government and from democracy, conservatives and liberals, and all those who believe in the fundamentals of democratic life.

To many, in recent years, it has seemed that true democracy has been lost, that we have become a nation whose people have been forgotten amidst the vast institutions of power that govern our lives.  I would hope that the bill I introduce today, the Neighborhood Government Act of 1975, will help to rekindle the spirit which gave birth to the struggles of 1776, a spirit which must find life again if we are to insure that our democratic liberties survive in our third century of existence.

Mr. President, I would like to explain the political philosophy which prompts this legislation, to add to the thoughts I expressed in introducing similar legislation on October 1, 1973.

The Neighborhood Government Act of 1975 is an attempt to restore political power and democratic representation to the citizens of this republic, citizens who are willing to chart a new course in participatory democracy.

For those determined to gain political control over their lives again, for those who are willing to take on the responsibilities of self-government, for those who have given up hope that Government alone can effectively deal with immediate human problems, this bill offers an alternative where none now exists.

This act would encourage the development of neighborhood corporations throughout the country by providing a Federal income tax credit for funds contributed by an individual to a duly recognized neighborhood corporation.  In the historical tradition of the New England town meetings, community assemblies could then be formed in which the problems of the neighborhood could be discussed and translated into positive political action.

Herein lies one alternative to the 20th century American political system, burdened with an intricate Federal, State, and local political mechanism that has produced alienation and cynicism among the people of this country.  The bill will provide neighborhood associations with the power to chart their political course in clear and open debate.

In a complex maze of political and economic centralization the Neighborhood Government Act represents a return to simplicity, to smallness in design, to giving the democratic process human size, allowing for both the frailties and genius of man.  I can think of nothing more fitting, as we approach the celebration of 200 years of liberty, than to begin a movement back to the people of this Nation, in a celebration of representative democracy and true political participation, as our forefathers envisioned.

If we do not begin to offer alternatives to the policies of the past, the fundamentals of our society and democracy will be continuously endangered  by the growth of our institutions.  The extent of centralized government in Washington has been startling, and it grows daily.  The fundamental questions to be asked are twofold:  Why this growth has occurred, and what it can mean to a democratic government.

Between 1930 and 1974 the gross national product, GNP, increased 15 times-from $90.4 billion to $1,396 trillion.  During the same period of vast expansions, however, Federal expenditures increased over 106 times-from $2.8 billion to $298.6 billion.  This growth was seven times faster than the increase in GNP.  On the other hand, State and local expenditures increased 24 times or almost twice as fast as the increase in GNP-$8.3 billion in 1930 and $206.6 billion in 1974.

In the case of taxes, Federal receipts have increased 97 times-from $3 billion to $291.1 billion in that same period of time.  This is over six times as fast as the increase in GNP.  State and local tax receipts have had similar dramatic increased above and beyond the economic prosperity of this country.

What this means is that we have turned toward Government, in a dramatic fashion, to solve move of our problems.  More specifically, we now go first and primarily to the vast complex of the Federal Government to solve our problems, rather than to our communities, to our local institutions, or most important, to ourselves.

Mr. President, Eric Fromm, the famed psychoanalyst, has noted the dangerous trend in our institutions.  We have not heeded his warning.  He has spoken of the dangers of our modern and complex system.  We are an alienated people and we are in danger of losing touch with the historic traditions that have made us great:

Alienation as we find it in modern society is almost total it pervades the relationship of man to his work, to the things he consumes, to the state and to his fellow man, and to himself.  Man has created a world of man-made things as it never existed before.  He has constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built.  The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being.  He is owned by his own creation, and has lost ownership of himself.

The forces that have carried this Nation to the center of global power and responsibility in the short span of 200 years are still at work.  The evidence is everywhere.  Footprints in the dust of the Moon, the creation of life in antiseptic test tubes, and the intermingling of cultures and the inevitable, growing demand for increased complexity and size that challenges our seemingly limitless ambitions.

But now, 200 years later, we must look beyond our vast technological and material success to see what we have become, and where we are being led by these economic and political forces of chilling power and enormous complexity.  Our success as a nation has carried with it great ironies.  The United States was a nation dedicated to peace, and yet we have been engaged in nearly a century of war.  We are dedicated to economic prosperity and yet inflation, recession and international instability balance thinly on the edge of crisis.  In 1776, we were a Nation of small political and economic units, and now we have incorporated our power in a vast symbiotic cartel.  Our task since the revolution has been to insure that liberty overwhelms tyranny, that peace abolishes war, that reason overpowers irrationality.  And yet tyranny, war, and irrationality still threaten our freedoms.

Have we lost a portion of our freedoms?  Undeniably, we have.  But the loss has gone largely unnoticed in a frenetic, technological age.  What are the modern chains that enslave us?  They are, for the most part, systems of control that regulate our lives and detract from our liberties.  They are involvements in wars, never declared; they are promises of plenty and happiness, never realized; they are a type of modern fear, apathy and disillusionment that cannot be dealt with effectively by the institutions and bureaucracies of our own creation.

In order to initiate the great programs of our past, the New Deals, the Great Societies and Wars on Poverty, the New Federalisms and New Populisms, we chose to sacrifice individual responsibility through the creation of centralized, Federal bureaucracies.  Officials proceeded on the assumption that these great citadels of paper and people would be the most practical way of overcoming the problems of welfare for the disadvantaged, economic opportunity for the unemployed, and a fair distribution of wealth.  These assumptions have in many instances proven wrong.  And we are left with the dinosaurs of these misconceptions-huge buildings that line the street of Washington whose inhabitants attempt to carry out the Nation’s business.  And their failure is being felt.

This failure cannot be computed; it can be sensed.  One need only ask people if they feel the Federal Government can solve their problems.  Most think that it cannot.

They believe the Federal Government has grown too big; that it spends far too much money; that what it does spent it frequently wastes; that is has lost touch with the citizens; that it employs too many ineffective bureaucrats; and that it blunders on, not in control of itself, nor controlled by others.  And they are right.

The phrases “Federal Government” and “bureaucratic Washington” have become code words for people’s despair, disillusionment, distrust, and even disgust.  People see tax dollars flowing to Washington in a torrent and returning in a meager dribble.  Today, Mr. President, I would like to propose a first step toward the rebirth of responsibility and participation among people, a concentrated effort to bring the Government of America back to its people.

The Neighborhood Government Act would, I believe, go far in arresting the growing feeling of frustration and alienation that plague the American voter and his feeling of powerlessness.  Fromm described this well when he wrote:

Seen through the eyes of the average voter, the whole world is so alienated that nothing makes real sense or carries real meaning.  He reads of billions of dollars being spent, of millions of people being killed; figures, abstractions which are in no way interpreted in a concrete, meaningful picture of the world…Everything is unreal, unlimited, impersonal.  Facts are so many lists of memory items, like puzzles in a game, not elements on which his life and that of his children depend.

The establishment of voluntary neighborhood governments could restore liberty, dignity, and true democracy to the heartland of America-its towns and communities.

But beyond this, what would the Neighborhood Government Act accomplish?  With its economic incentives, up to 80 percent of Federal income tax dollars being funneled into neighborhood organizations, I can see America revitalized once again.  With the power to deal with their own money in their own way, local day care centers, drug abuse programs, and out-patient clinics could be established to meet community needs.  Parks and recreation centers, welfare programs, cooperative stores, credit unions, and local police forces and fire departments are all possible if communities are given control of money that are now so obviously wasted.

This movement, no doubt, will begin quietly and with forbearance, but with success it can grow to become a vital political alternative in American life.  Again, the voice of all Americans will be heard and what they said would make a difference.  No longer would their cries fall on a massive and plodding Federal bureaucracy that cannot feel their pain, sense their hunger, or offer them hope.

There is nothing more American than community-based self-government.  The town meeting, the voluntary organizations, the PTA, the neighborhood associations-such have been the historic, tangible expressions of self-determination for the American.  Such groups must become options of genuine political power once again.

Neighborhoods should have some right and power to decide whether and where a city’s freeways are built.  Local communities in the midst of urban sprawl must assume the powers to determine how their land should be utilized and how their ecology should be protected.

Towns should give their citizens the option of choosing whether industries that would cause pollution or manufacture unwanted products, should be allowed to reside there.

Also, localized, decentralized government must assume the responsibility of caring for the dispossessed and meeting the social needs in their midst.

If, for example, every church and synagogue were to take over the responsibility for caring for 10 people over the age of 65 who are presently living below the poverty level, there would be no present welfare programs needed for the aged.  If each church and synagogue took over the responsibility of 18 families who are eligible for welfare today, there would not be any need for Federal or State welfare programs to families.  If each church and synagogue cared for less than one child each, the present day care programs supported by Federal and State funds would be totally unnecessary.  Our religious institutions-the historical focus of community activity-could thus be directed toward meeting the human needs of one’s fellow man.

Our problems are great, but they are not unconquerable.  If only we begin again to rely on the spirit and self-reliance of our people-and not on the sterile institutions of the past-our future can be bright and exciting.

The movement back to communities is beginning.  The Sto-Rox Community near Pittsburg-working with little or no outside Federal assistance and against entrenched political machinery, has incorporated.  It has established a community health center, a senior citizens clinic and a counseling center.  It serves the community well because the people know the community problems first hand.

In Washington, D.C., the Adams-Morgan Organization is in the process of developing community self-sufficiency.  A community technology center has been established which has built fish tanks that can be placed in the basements of the neighborhood, each of which will produce 400 pounds of rainbow trout a month.  Hydrophonic greenhouses have been proposed that could be community-owned and would provide the food needs of every member of the neighborhood.  They have created plans for harnessing wind and solar energy to run the kitchens and heat the water of every home in the community.

These are only examples.  Neighborhood corporations exist in the United States today that are developing new ideas, new initiatives and new ways of solving local problems-and they are doing it on their own.  They are exercising genuine political liberty.  They are confronting human conflicts and problems on human terms and they are succeeding in the battle because they have imagination and compassion.  There is no task any greater than humanizing our systems in order to renew a sense of individuality and integrity that will allow for both the frailties and the genius of man.

It is my hope that in the future political systems will anticipate change because it will be an integral part of the neighborhoods and communities of America-where change is first felt.  People will be able to stand up, speak their mind and be heard and what they say will make a difference in the way they live.  For once, the cries that reflect their frustration and powerlessness will not fall on machinery that cannot compute the sound of their voices or the depth of their alienation.

In the future, in these small community meetings, I would expect much waving of hands, many shouts to be heard and a great deal of carrying on-and I welcome all these things.  They are the sounds of people acting together again; they are the sounds of life and political rebirth.  They are what we need to cope with the future, and to energize anew the American political experience.

There will be great difficulties.  There will be people who fear change-who fear the power that they might have over their lives and their destinies once again.  This fear is not unknown to us.

If we cannot change our institutions, if we are irrevocably wedded to the past, we may face an Orwellian future of our own making.  The Orwellian future would be a simple one, devoid of personal response and initiative.  The people are neither adventuresome, courageous, imaginative nor capable of joy.  They are as dead as their leaders, and they embody a society that has no future.

It must be remembered that tyranny need not be overt, it need not take the form of a screaming madman appealing only to the weakest traits of men.  Tyranny can be subtle, silent, persuasive-and yet still be deadly.  The quantum growth of institutional power in the political world of 20th century America breeds alienation.  And alienation, in turn, breeds tyranny of authoritarianism.

This, however, need not be our destiny.  We can break the chains that entangle our bodies and our minds and we can flourish in new liberties and reconstructed hopes.  Or we can go our same way and let forces impassively push us toward a future that we do not know, and may not care to know.

We must act to return to our citizens the control over their lives and their destinies.  We must lead ourselves away from the direction modern history is taking-toward the slow suffocation of our freedom-and direct our course instead toward the service of mankind.  The massive trend toward de-facto institutional oppression must be stopped.  It has shackled the freedom of men for too long and it is destroying their spirit.  We cannot live with it, nor can our children.  Through this act, I believe Congress can take an invaluable step toward the betterment of life, toward the rebirth of opportunity, of community, and of imagination.  Only by renewing the spirit of man, in a strangely spiritless age, can America move into its third century of life with optimism-looking forward to a future that can again be filled with the promise and fascination of freedom.

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