Teaching them to care

Published 8:41 pm Monday, April 20, 2015

The word “outsourcing” has gained a bad reputation, particularly since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed.

Critics say the 1994 agreement paved the way for American companies to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico, and for politicians to sign more agreements — not only in America — that have sent decent-paying jobs to places like South Korea, where labor is cheap.

The effects have devastated the furniture and textile industries in Virginia and North Carolina, which used to pay good wages for middle-class folks, many of whom now struggle.

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Though the word refers specifically to companies sending work away, it can be used to a different purpose with an ironic connection to that literal meaning.

Outsourcing is rampant in terms of people giving others the power to make important decisions on their behalf.

The system of government we live under works great when citizens are engaged and involved, but not so much when folks stop caring because they’re too wrapped up in planning their next vacation or whether Kim Kardashian and Kanye West will have another kid.

The worst pattern — maybe only topped by not voting at all — is casting a ballot based on whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican before returning to the soap opera until the next election.

Thankfully, there are groups working to counteract this abdication of responsibility. One is Boys State.

As its Suffolk co-chair, Denis Confer, explained to me last week, the American Legion program, together with sister program Girls State, sends hundreds of Virginia youths to a weeklong camp where they learn about state and local government and how to get involved.

From each state program, one youth and one alternate are selected to attend a national event in Washington teaching about the federal system.

Boys State in Suffolk desperately needs financial support, Confer said. Since the 1930s, save for one brief hiatus, American Legion Post No. 57 has been sending 14 to Boys State annually.

With the clubs that support the significant cost now experiencing declining membership, the future for the tradition isn’t looking good.

This year, the combined Suffolk Ruritan clubs have given $2,500, Confer said. That’s not enough to send five boys.

Anyone who can help can call Confer at 403-4261.

And to the NAFTA critics who say they fell from the middle class when their jobs were outsourced, maybe they gave the politicians free rein to sign away their futures.

It’s what happens when ordinary people leave it up to someone else.