It's 2014. This is the year to make a difference. This is the year to stretch. This is the year to further peace — locally and globally.
Start small. Make a personal list of resolutions. Learn -- really learn -- who your political leaders are at city hall, on the county commission, on the school board, in the state's general assembly and in the U.S. Congress. Then, go to the polls and vote.
Call Mayor Andy Berke and tell him what you like and don't like about what's happening in Chattanooga. Tell him to insert himself into smoothing race relations here. Tell him to put his whole staff on the sidewalks to introduce his violence reduction plan and elicit crime-fighting ideas from real Chattanooga residents who live where the bullets fly.
Write to local district attorneys and tell them to let grand juries decide if it's OK to shoot first and be afraid later when the prowler turns out to be an Alzheimer's victim or a driving dad who just took his sons to school.
Go to the next Hamilton County Commission meeting and tell Fred Skillern you are in awe with appreciation for his $3 million donation to Memorial Hospital. But tell him you also hope his next big eureka understanding moment comes when it's budget time for Erlanger -- the public hospital here that he dismisses on a regular basis though doctors and nurses there treat the lion's share of charity cases.
While you're at it, tell Skillern and the whole county commission that they, city officials and legislators need to appoint better people to the Erlanger board -- people who aren't afraid to meet in public, people who aren't afraid to have leadership discussions where taxpayers and customers can hear. Tell them you don't buy the notion that Erlanger can't compete with other hospitals if Erlanger meetings and actions have to be open to the public -- transparent is the new buzzword. If Erlanger can't compete, it's because local officials who appoint its board aren't offering and demanding better leadership.
Call and write your Tennessee or Georgia state legislators and tell them how disgusted you are with petty political games to restrict voting rights and women's rights. Ask them why they have such a fear of voter fraud because your mother's driver's license doesn't have a photo, or includes her maiden name? Ask them to explain why the doorways in the men's vasectomy clinics don't have to meet a certain measure to protect men's health, but the doorways in women's clinics have to be a perfect measure or the clinic faces shutdown "to protect women's health?
Get on the phone to Gov. Bill Haslam's office in Nashville and tell him you don't understand how he's supposed to be such a good businessman if he can't find a way to accept millions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid in Tennessee. The move would help insure Tennesseans in our own state's proven program and could in turn make Obama's Affordable Care Act stronger. Yes, the federal money is taxpayer money -- and Haslam is squandering it by not using it to Tennessee's advantage. Some things the state and federal governments do better together. This is one of those things.
Fill up the phone lines to Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama congress members to demand they vote to amend the U.S. Horse Protection Act by banning pads, chains and soring devices on our iconic Tennessee walking horses. It's a grand animal with a smooth and gorgeous gait that is being ruined by cruel and harmful training techniques.
Deluge the Tennessee Valley Authority with emails and phone calls. Thank them for curtailing coal power, but tell them you don't want to trade one dirty fossil fuel for another: fracked gas that won't always be cheap and has its own set of pollution nightmares. Ask TVA for the return of power efficiency programs and incentives to ratepayers. Tell TVA you want them to lead with more solar and wind power, not less.
Again -- start small. When you've made it through that list of really easy things try this tough one: Over-population.
Today is the first day of 2014, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the United States population is 317.2 million -- 2.2 million more people that we had on Jan. 1, 2013. A baby is born in America every eight seconds, and a death occurs every 12 seconds, giving us a net gain of one person every 16 seconds. And on the planet? Whoa, baby: The globe (7.1 billion folks right now) grows by about 78 million a year. Most of the growth is in India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Planned Parenthood and some church groups need help to let people in those countries and around the world have simple access to birth control.
So, make your list. And make a difference: 2014 is a brand new year.