'It's Sequestration, Stupid'

The new political power slogan for nonprofit organizations.

Over the past few weeks, Wall Street has had its eye on world economic ruin. Washington has had its eye on the shuttered doors of government. Me? I have had my eye on the demise of sequestration. Yes, just when we thought all was lost, a sudden shift happened and a window of opportunity opened. What happened last night is a brief intermission in a kabuki dance of epic proportion, but after intermission the drama will continue -- and being ready for that moment is where opportunity can meet success.

On the brink of disaster, the horrible nightmare of sequestration may have met its demise. The Tea Party Republicans have given the rest of us a gift -- an opportunity to restore sanity -- and just in the nick of time. But the question remains: Can the forces for good muster the political strength to defeat the sequestration? I may be an eternal optimist, but I for one believe we can.

Rarely in our nation's modern history have the differences of our political parties put our nation at such risk. Walking the halls of Congress, veteran lawmakers and their staff are asking themselves, "Has it ever been this bad?" The standard answer among most is, "No, it really hasn't."

So, that's the bad news. The good news: the American people have noticed. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 5 percent of the public supports the decisions being made by their elected leaders in government. I am willing to bet that the average first grade class would enjoy eating peas and carrots at a rate greater than 5 percent.

Whereas up until about a week ago the idea of a "grand deal" being struck on taxes and government spending seemed about as likely as the plot line of the movie National Treasure, there now seems to be renewed enthusiasm for finding a long-term solution to our nation's fiscal problems. In fact, embedded in the deal just passed by Congress is a new "super committee" charged with getting us back to the table to negotiate the nation's economic blueprint; providing Congress and the President an opportunity to revisit the "grand bargain".

Let's be totally clear, sequestration was an idea so drastic that it was never meant to come to fruition. Unfortunately it did come to fruition and the damage to the lives and livelihoods of Americans has been real. Since the cuts went into effect, millions of seniors have received fewer meals to eat; tens of thousands of children no longer have access to Head Start programs; our national service volunteers are working overtime with fewer Corps members to serve communities that are already trying to compensate for cuts in basic government services; and research into cancer treatments, AIDS, and many life threatening diseases has been halted.

America's reputation in the world as a steady steward of the world economy and a great humanitarian force is tarnished. I know this firsthand because I have worked with and on behalf of nonprofit organizations for more than two decades, and like those lawmakers and their staffs, I too have never seen it this bad.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse than last year's budget agreement, extremist Tea Party Republicans shut down the government, resulting in additional losses to health research, poverty programs, early education, and senior care.

So how do we stop the madness? For leaders in the nonprofit sector, it means stepping up right now. There are increasing signs that the fever is breaking, and now more than ever, the nonprofit sector needs to stand together to make sure they have a seat at the table. They need to be communicating loudly with Republicans and Democrats alike to ensure they are part of any conversation about future funding and how it will affect the social sector. Above all else, we must demand an end to sequestration.

Citizen leaders -- especially nonprofit leaders -- must activate grassroots, organize grasstops, and remind our elected officials that civility must be restored. As the old adage declares, it is always "darkest before the dawn," and in this very dark hour, we are reminded that the greatness of our nation will be measured by the actions of engaged citizens, who are capable of demanding an end to sequestration.