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Thursday, April 24, 2014

A rising tide

Special to the Saipan Tribune

"Each problem has hidden in it an opportunity so powerful that it literally dwarfs the problem. The greatest success stories were created by people who recognized a problem and turned it into an opportunity."—Joseph Sugarman

The CNMI has a problem. That problem is corruption. We are all aware of this problem as we have witnessed staggering levels of government corruption. The local media has covered many of these acts of corruption, which most of us find disturbing and unacceptable.

Corruption harms everyone in our community. It pulls money and resources away from public purposes and funnels them to the pockets of a few. How many jobs could have been created with the money that has been stolen from us? How many people could have benefited from improvements to our schools, our utilities, our hospital? How many villages could have realized better sanitation, nicer parks, safer streets? How many of our man’amko, how many of our brothers and sisters who are ill, with disabilities, or indigent, could have benefited from well-funded social services?

Corruption knows no race, no gender, and no political party, and it is not unique to the CNMI. What any community suffering from corruption needs is a rising tide of citizens who are determined to fight that corruption and resist going down the road toward a failed state—citizens who are willing to roll up their sleeves and take action to turn things around.

We are that rising tide, and we have before us an opportunity so powerful that it dwarfs the problem of corruption. Each and every person who stands up and speaks out against government corruption is part of the solution. It is not a novel idea. Many other communities have turned to the power of their citizens to correct rampant government abuse. We can do the same. In fact, we’ve already begun.

So many people in our community are working, each in their unique way, to fight corruption. We are witnessing growing public outrage against corrupt government officials. We are witnessing more and more people deciding they will no longer tolerate abuses of power by the leaders they have trusted to serve them.

Several weeks ago, I was the target of a senseless act of vandalism. Since then, I have been overwhelmed by the words of encouragement and gestures of kindness and generosity I received from so many people. I have always been awkward at accepting help from others. Over the past few months I have been learning how to alter that mindset and accept help when it is offered. The money donated has far exceeded the amount needed to fix the damage caused, and the donations and offers to help continue to pour in.

I want to thank everyone who has reached out to help not just me, in terms of addressing that particular act of vandalism, but our entire community, in terms of a much broader problem of corruption. So much forward progress has happened in so many areas, and it’s happening more quickly because each person is not working alone.

They say that to move a mountain, all you have to do is move one stone at a time. To speed up the process, you can try to move many stones at once, but it’s far better to work with many people, each moving one stone at a time. Many people are doing what they can now, each in their own way to move these mountains of corruption, one stone at a time.

We are moving mountains. I have never been more hopeful about the CNMI. So much positive change is occurring in our community. In the last few years we have seen the birth of an active citizenry. The most powerful weapon against government corruption is courageous citizens who confront corruption directly. We have always been blessed with a few brave people in our community who have actively challenged corruption individually with truth on their side. Today what we are witnessing is the harnessing of the power of the people against corruption.

Everywhere I see people finding opportunities amidst the problems. When I was subject to vandalism, I decided to also look for the opportunity. I would like to dedicate the donations I have received to serve as seed money for a new CNMI foundation called Rising Tide. Rising Tide’s mission will be to combat government corruption by investigating allegations of corruption, communicating our findings, and mobilizing citizens to take action. Similar groups exist throughout the world, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but simply learn from other models and adapt what could work here.

This group will take shape over the next few months, and we will keep the public informed as we organize the board, establish our bylaws, and sharpen our mission. However, in the next few days, we will hit the ground running with a couple of projects. One will be on CNMI Citizenship Day, Nov. 5, in which we will launch a Citizen Award program in honor of a model citizen who will always be with us in spirit, the late Ruth Tighe.

Another project will take place on the following day, Nov. 6. It will be a larger and more intensive endeavor that will require around 60 volunteers, committing hours of their time. Nov. 6 is Election Day and it is a CNMI holiday.

If you would like to help with either or both of these projects by volunteering your time, donations, manpower, or supplies, please send me an email at glenhunter@gmail.com and we will contact you with more details.

Let’s all continue to be on the right side of history, and support this rising tide of hope for our CNMI.

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