The resolve to remember is the key to accountability
Accountability is an oft-heard word after a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, accountability and the subsequent search for responsibility too often are sought only after a large-scale incident has already occurred.
Blame is a potent catalyst when mixed with pain and anger, and it often commandeers the forms of accountability that hold our society together every day, even before disasters occur, whether they are caused by human factors or natural calamities.
For hundreds of victims, the horrors of last Saturday’s fire will never subside. They will face an arduous healing process that will long surpass the public memory of the event, the losses in accountability, the scramble to assign blame, the words of pundits and politicians, the predictable shouting and the finger wagging. The burden of accountability rests in attention, and our attention is taxed.
Taxed by the 24-hour news cycle that overloads our senses; taxed by the same verbal acrobatics that leave us hanging on words both spoken and unspoken. Yet the question remains: Will we remember enough to engage our elected officials when they continue to present us with political policy platforms devoid of details? Or will we simply swallow the bitter pill and legitimate the rule of officials who stand unready to account for the citizens they purport to protect?
As a reminder, we should try to coherently recall what the government is doing to address the following issues, including but not limited to:
— Aviation safety, including adequate pilot rest time and equipment safety
— The education system, including school safety and curriculum reform
— Energy policy and the future of nuclear power waste) and feasible alternatives
— The overcapacity of our prisons and the transparency of the entire penal system — Food safety and misleading nutritional guidelines — Social inequality, including the rising gap between rich and poor, the institution of a living wage and reasonable corporate taxation — Housing justice for the working population — The sustainability of our pension system for coming generations
— Health care reform and the sustainability of existing funds
— Transparency in our armed forces chain of command following the Apache incident
— Transparency of trade agreements and regional economic arrangements — Water and natural resource preservation Taken together, this list may jar the mind, but many are long-standing problems that have potential “ticking bomb” characteristics if not addressed. And upon closer observation, we can connect the lack of accountability on many of these issues with a mode of short-term thinking that is driven by the single-minded pursuit of profit and convenience.
Taken together, these issues may not have fallen off our mental grids completely, but they certainly have waned in public discussion due to a variety of factors. An abundance of rain for instance might have temporarily availed us of drought-like conditions, but it still does not preclude the need to address water usage and existing water infrastructure.
Each of these issues requires accountability on the part of specialists, but they also need to include a dialogue with the populations they affect. For too long we have allowed policy circles that only dish out accountability when a disaster happens to reign free without actual accountability systems being explained and evaluated.
Instead of waiting for special interests and corporations to dictate the terms, and instead of merely anticipating our elected officials to continue talking past each other during political debates with their soundbites, we can start ourselves by considering how our society can benefit in creating improved awareness on these issues.
Let us write the new book on accountability on these issues together. After all, it may be the best way to honor those who have suffered needlessly, by remembering that there is something we can do to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.