12/21/2011 08:48 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2012

2011: Economic Collapse Increases Poverty; 2012: Taking Our Country Back

I was tempted to try to make this post go viral with my preferred title: 2012: The Guerrilla Army of the Poor [which is the actual name of a 1980s Guatemala-based group].

Our ailing economy, afflicted by unemployment, wars, the housing collapse and the credit crunch; and its attendant government collapse for want of adequate money to run our schools, hospital emergency rooms, free clinics, libraries, and homeless shelters, is unlikely to change without a massive power shift in government.

Since 60% is the new 50% for passage of anything with a price tag associated with it, it's important to consider the coming elections as an opportunity to refresh our democracy by voting out of office Everyone who is not committed to making our country better for All of us. Failures in both parties should be escorted to the doors of the Congress, state houses and city halls across America.

My state, California, now has over one-third of its population living in or near poverty. There are 9 million medically uninsured. Pink slips each May are the norm in our public schools. Our colleges and universities are nearly unaffordable for most any family with an income under $150,000 per year... an unimaginable condition.

The 2012 national election cycle is costing out at $5-$6 billion in private funds. Charitable giving is up for pet causes of the super-rich -- the opera, the museum, university and hospital "naming opportunities" ("Trump this, Trump that" -- that stuff). For nonprofit social services agencies providing our fraying social safety net, 2012 looks even worse than 2011.

As 2011 fades promising a pain that will linger through 2012, I think everyone should pitch in by:

1. If you must encourage them... match what you give a politician or political party with an equal or greater gift to a nonprofit providing real services and stuff to real people.

2. Surf the Internet and this time really read through the charity's website and its linked I-990 federal tax return. If it's a faith-based charity, wish it well but ask for facts about what nonreligious activity the group actually does and how much the Preacher-in-Charge and his family and pals get paid. (Hint: compare The Salvation Army with Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing or Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse.) If it's secular, how much of its money is through government contracts and what is its administrative overhead (AND salary structure).

3. Disaster relief groups need to have a stand-by capacity to respond when it's your house that is flooded or collapses after an earthquake. Make them ready, give them some dough but understand that many major relief groups have government funds to tap into... bad economy or no.

Gather your brood, your workmates, the family in the next pew -- and talk about what your own role might be in improving our lot.