Friday, March 31, 2017

Four Tips for Living Localism

In the past 15 years I have moved more times than I care to count. I have lived in four states and the District of Columbia, as well as spending a semester in Italy and a summer in Germany. Both of my parents are from states other than that where I grew up, and I married a gal from yet another state. I am what David Goodhart calls an "Anywhere," a person at home in the globalized, cosmopolitan world.

But there are problems with such a globalized view. As R. R. Reno recently pointed out in First Things, self-government necessarily requires some sort of localism. The larger the entity involved - epitomized by that largest of all entities, the global community - the more likely that political and cultural elites run the show in a insular world that common folk can rarely penetrate.

In the last few years my wife and I have settled down in Greene County, Virginia, where we own a home and raise our children. I am ready to become a "Somewhere," a person rooted in a given place, a person committed to living in solidarity with one's neighbors. But how do you go about doing that, in concrete ways? Let me make four suggestions:

(1) Get to know your neighbors. Yes, your literal neighbors, the people whose homes are within sight of yours. Wave when you see them getting the mail. Talk to them on a Saturday afternoon when you're both out mowing the lawn. Invite them and their kids over to have take-out pizza on your porch some Friday evening. There's no substitute for actually knowing actual people.

(2) Subscribe to your local paper. I have had a subscription to the Financial Times, a British newspaper focused on international business and politics, almost continually for the last decade. It is emblematic of my status as an Anywhere. But lately I also took out a subscription to the Greene County Record. The journalistic quality is hardly the same, the problems discussed are hardly as large. But I think subscribing to the local newspaper, however modest it may be, has a couple virtues. It helps us understand the problems and opportunities of our local area. I have been surprised to discover how many concerts and classes there are, at little or no cost, near our home. Moreover, a subscription to the local newspaper encourages investigative journalism - or at least some level of coverage - regarding local politics. And that's important. One reason so many local political scenes are run by a good ol' boys network is that there is so little media attention focused on local politics. My 50 cents per week is a modest contribution toward improving such coverage.

(3) Take an interest in your lowest level of government. Who represents you on the city council or county board of supervisors? Do you know how long their terms are? Where they meet? How much authority does your local body have? Given the limited media coverage, you'll have to do some homework on this one, but the local newspaper will help you. And you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that, in conjunction with your neighbors and other informed citizens, you can actually make an impact on local politics, with visible results in your community. It's not always easy, but probably a lot easier than trying to change the outcome of a presidential election.

(4) Get involved in your house of worship. Don't just show up for worship once a week. Get to know your fellow worshipers. Join a Bible Study or men's or women's group. Find a ministry that needs your help. Serve on a committee. Teach a class. So much of the basic fabric of civil society has been destroyed, but one of the few places you can still reliably find its remnants are in houses of worship. I don't think that's a coincidence: our faith in God has implications for how we love one another. So if you want to see your local community reinvigorated, your fellow believers may be a good place to start.

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