Sam Smith – Largely because of national media and the Internet we have learned to define America by its national characteristics which have increasingly become more corrupt, anti-democratic and indifferent to individuals and their communities. Over my lifetime I have concerned myself with both national and local matters with the latter repeatedly keeping me going while being depressed with what the top of the country was up to.
In the 1960s, for example, I started a newspaper in a majority black community to the east of the US Capitol. Despite becoming the locale of half of the city’s riots in 1968, I found the common local habits to be more positive than what was going on in the building a few blocks away. Even living just four blocks from a riot strip did not endanger me. Later I would move to another neighborhood and become one of the first advisory neighborhood commissioners in the city. At no time did I feel such work conflicted with my national interests. In fact, it regularly provided a more rational and decent perspective on how to handle change and its problems.
Later, moving to Maine where I had spent many summer vacations, I have been constantly reminded that it wasn’t my state or country that mattered most, it was my town. I even collected a bunch of alleged driving directions such as:
- How do you get to Wiscasset: Usually get my brother to take me
- How do I get to Topsham: Can’t get there from here
- How far is it to Auburn: About 26,000 miles the way you’re headed.
In short, where you are is most important. I was reminded of this last weekend attending a memorial service for Green Party co-founder John Rensenbrink and then going to an event for a local historical society. The remembrances of Rensenbrink ranged from close relatives to the president of Bowdoin College where John taught and they concentrated on his character and dealings with others. At the later event I was struck by how many tales we could share even if not having seen each other for some years.
The other incident that brought the importance of community to mind was the disappearance of a 14 year old boy, a loss that has been repeatedly featured not just in the press. In fact, I was stopped by local police to be given a flyer on the kid and found one on the wall of a public bathroom.
I realize that my affinity for the local even while depressed with the national has affected my whole life and helped me keep going. My America starts with and involves to no small extent the decency, democracy and rationale of my community. Check out yours and see what you find.