The parents of their country

A cry of protest has arisen over President Reagan's intention of returning control of many programs to state and local governments. However, if we think of ours as a government ''by the people,'' then its citizens, collectively, are the parents of each state, city, and town.

As parents, we worry about our children's future. We know we are better equipped, as parents who share the home scene, to solve problems which arise locally than an ''Uncle Sam'' who lives in Washington. But we seem shrouded in the darkness of disillusion and confusion over how to cope without the snare of federal financing and regulation.

Our founding fathers, the grandparents of our nation, showed us the way through this dilemma. They lit the lamp of self-reliance, and by its brightness they fed and clothed their communities and cared for the indigent and infirm, without seeking assistance from the federal government. They did it by looking at their imperfect communities - their ''children'' - seeing what needed to be done and using their ingenuity and combined resources to do it. Like good parents, they eased their children's growing pains in every material, financial, and personal way they could; expected no subsidies; requested no federal funds; and eschewed all government regulation.

During the depression years, the parents of our cities and states relinquished much of their parental authority and accepted federal assistance to ease the economic burdens. This sampling of Uncle Sam's bounty whetted their appetites and they soon demanded more help: for the poor, the elderly, veterans, the sick. Before long ''Let Uncle Sam do it'' became the American theme. We relied on him to aid labor, the farmers, and business, accepting ever-increasing taxation and stricter regulations that were imposed on every facet of life.

Then, for the brief span of World War II, when our country asked its citizens to shoulder their own burdens, an avalanche of patriotic fervor descended. Glowing with parental pride, Americans willingly took over the cost and care of their communities.

Unfortunately, since the end of that war, the lamp of self-reliance has been gathering dust in our national attic. We have become apathetic parents, weary of coping with the mounting problems and financial strain of inflation on our local costs. We have let complacency rule and have relinquished an increasing number of responsibilities to the federal government, paying scant attention to how well or poorly they were handled.

The time has come to dust off the attic relic and rekindle the light of self-reliance which previous generations of city fathers bequeathed to us.

Every citizen is a parent to his community and every parent is needed to help examine our children's futures and recapture control over the decisions affecting our urban and suburban areas. Active participation by every citizen at the local level can best achieve solutions to local problems. Then we can glow with parental pride as better cities and states emerge, created through the efforts of their parents, the citizens who live in them.

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