In his epic volume, Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville described the American character as one of creating a civil society via individual inititive as opposed to awaiting the blessing of a church, a monarch or any other ‘authority’. The primacy of the individual remains the cornerstone of American identity. Most dynamic nonprofits were born by someone with an idea and the sweat of a small group of individuals (who eventually drew others into their orbit).
So as we contemplate the future and the likelihood of decaying government finances, let us remember we still have an abundance of resources to maintain a civil society….and the chief resource is the brainpower and sweat of individuals. It is they who will be creating the future.
But are we suffocating local initiative? Here’s de Tocqueville’s observation on the threat:
“Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
Let’s consider Detroit. Among all the other things you’ve heard about Detroit’s once proud standing as an American powerhouse, the city also was on the brink of becoming a truly international city along the lines of Barcelona, London, Sydney, Los Amgeles. Did you know that Detroit came within one vote of hosting the 1968 Summer Olympics?
Detroit, in the years since, has transformed into an urban desert with enough abandoned homes to house all the homeless in Michigan…with plenty left over for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Street lights are out, firehouses abandoned, parks left to go to seed. Into the void has stepped The Mower Gang, best described as just a group of ordinary people who decided to take it upon themselves to maintain 10 abandoned city parks (Detroit has over 340, mostly abandoned). They didn’t ask permission, they didn’t petition the government, they didn’t call the media….they just went ahead and did it.
“I was surprised when the first person showed up. I was like, ‘All right. I guess someone’s as crazy as I am,'” says Detroit resident Tom Nardone.
Hence, the Mower Gang was born. Follow the link to Reason TV’s coverage of what happens when people are left to their own devices and forced to come up with creative ways to pick up the pieces and find solutions in a city they once loved.