The French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, theorized that the concept of the American township and its extension, the neighborhood, was the reason for the envied American “exceptionalism” of the 1800 and early 1900s. In Europe people resided around common characteristics and demarcations such as language or ethnicity. America in the 1800’s was not so much the case. People of different ‘ways, shapes and kinds’ lived together in close geographic proximity, creating American townships and neighborhoods. While not all agreed with each other politically or socially, they were still neighbors. And when they were needed they were there; the first line of defense against whatever common enemy they all faced.
It’s the loss of these bonded neighborhoods that’s creating a social divide in America today. In the past, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handymen. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression … and it’s what we need to get us through the civic and political dysfunction that has infected our country today.
I don’t remember when there’s been a civic Call-To-Action like this. Will we use this urgency to build a more connected society focused on doing and helping – or will we let it slip further into the abyss of intractable political allegiance and hate? The prosperity – and maybe even the very survival of our community depends on how we answer this.
“If not us, then who … If not now – then when?”