As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, embroiling the area in critically high rates of infection, necessitating going back to phase one in areas as they race to contain the spread with the holidays looming, we face dark days ahead and need to begin actively thinking about how we can work together to overcome this obstacle, this marathon, and come out on the other side not just surviving, but thriving as a community.
In times such as these, humanity often takes one of two courses—variations on collectivism and community or, more often than not, individualism. Alexis de Tocqueville called individualism the tendency that, “disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.”
While, in practicality, physically it is probably best to draw ourselves apart into our quarantine bubbles or cohorts for some time, that doesn’t mean that we must sever our ties with our community. In fact, it speaks to a greater need to organize and find ways to connect and build greater community in new and unique ways. The alternative, individualism, has negative implications for us and for our community in a couple of different ways.
When we draw apart and sever ties with our community, much like the cycle of our local economy breaking, a feedback loop of ideas and initiatives that serve to build community grind to a halt as well. For our community to thrive, we need this feedback loop and cycle to continue churning, to embrace new people and new ideas, to foster initiatives, to bring people and organizations together, to do good where good needs to be done. It is the lifeblood of a thriving community culture that now hangs in the balance, that is what’s at stake.
Chad Alan Goldberg, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, some time ago expanded (in the context of shared governance, but still applicable here) best on the second issue outlined here with individualism, “Why is individualism a problem? Because the alternative, as Tocqueville pointed out, is guardianship and tutelage. Bad guardians use their power to make decisions with which citizens may not agree and which may even be detrimental to their interests. But even in the best case, when benevolent guardians have our best interests at heart, guardianship gradually degrades our capacities to think, feel, and act for ourselves in matters that affect us and for which we have a legal responsibility.”
We have a responsibility to be involved, to run for office, to join a community organization, to take the time to make our community a place that thrives. Everyone is tired, but—more importantly—we need to retire tired ideas about how to govern and find ways to move forward in communication, cooperation and collaboration with one another. We need to retain and engage the community assets and institutional knowledge that we have and mix in a healthy dose of young and fresh ideas and voices, diverse and excited ideas and voices.
Many municipalities are starting to post notices of spring elections. Contact your clerk, get the forms online, get involved, join a committee (or ask why your municipality doesn’t allow citizens on advisory committees and push to change that). Get involved. However you can, get involved. Read budgets, speak at public comment, invite your neighbor, tell your kid that’s quarantining home from college to run for office, get involved. We are in the midst of something unprecedented in modern/post-modern times, we need fresh ideas and perspectives in our governance so we can overcome and thrive.
This spring, Valley Sentinel plans on announcing several initiatives to build community and bring people, organizations and businesses together. But we can’t do it without you. This is not the time to sit back and say “I’m just going to wait and see,” this is not the time to wait to engage. If the entire community sat back and waited, then we wouldn’t have a community for very long. Brainstorm ways that we can all work together. Think of disparate groups that would not normally work together and think of ways they can come together for the betterment of our community and local economy.
Last week we asked you to hold our public officials accountable, and ask them for civility and to work together during this uncertain time. Now, we’re asking you for the same. Work with your fellow community members, and in turn, help build a community we can all be proud of.