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Mon Dieu! Government, help us to remember our bags!

Posted: August 9, 2011 - 7:58pm  |  Updated: August 9, 2011 - 8:54pm

The last time I went into a market in Paris to pick up a few items, I found myself in a fix when the clerk didn’t have a bag to give me to get my purchases back to my hotel. At that time, non-biodegradable plastic bags had been banned in Paris, and many stores, finding biodegradable bags to be too expensive, had stopped providing their customers with bags altogether. France has since outlawed plastic bags nationwide. After awkwardly juggling my purchases in my arms for several blocks, suffice to say the next time I went shopping I remembered to bring my little backpack.

While visiting France, I couldn’t help but notice how people there don’t seem to view government as the enemy, but still think of government as an extension of the citizenry. As a result of the sense of ownership that they continue to take in government, the French, in general, still know how to use their government to improve the everyday lives of individuals. For example, because in France government and the people are viewed as one body, and not two enemies as has become all the rage in the U.S., government there could never give itself a nice medical plan and deny the same to the average citizen. For the French, that would be like buying an insurance plan for your arms and legs that didn’t cover your heart.

When we Americans set ourselves off against our government, we abdicate the main means we possess of controlling our own fate. Rather than joining in the so-often-heard call to “get government out of our lives,” I instead wish our elected officials on the Assembly last Monday night had had the old-fashioned will to pass a flat-out, across the board, plastic bag ban ordinance that would—no one can credibly argue otherwise—drastically reduce the amount of plastic we comb into Garbage Mountain every day. Handing a weak-willed selectively enforceable bag tax back over to that other, “the people,” to vote up or down is just the Assembly’s way of working, from its side, this ongoing divorce of elected officials from the community they were elected to serve—a divorce ultimately as undemocratic as it is inefficient.

Please, my government, rescind this silly plastic bag tax voter’s initiative. Instead, represent the good you share in common with those who elected you and pass an across-the-board plastic bag ban ordinance that will in short order prompt us all, residents and tourists alike, to bring bags or backpacks with us when we go shopping. If the 10 million citizens of Paris and that city’s innumerable visitors can handle it, surely so can we.

Sometimes I need you to help me be a better person, government—and I’m a strong enough citizen to admit it.

• Dodd is a lifelong Juneau resident.

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