Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Building Community

The New Year is a traditional time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the new. While there is much to look forward to, there is also much that carries over from the last year and clouds the next.
Despite a relatively calm New Year's Eve celebration, the news in Santa Cruz was dominated by crime and mayhem: a body found in a car trunk in Moss Landing, stabbings in Watsonville, stolen cars, burglaries, homelessness. It seems to be a high rate of crime reportage for our small community.
What's behind the headlines? Is there more crime in Santa Cruz County than elsewhere? Do our local news sources concentrate on crime stories more than others? Is there no good news to report?
Much of the crime reported locally is gang related, a result of cultural clash, lack of economic opportunity, traditional family breakdown. Despite a well-financed and active Gang Task Force, gang activity continues, even though active gang members are well known to the local constabulary. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, robbery, graffiti and gang member confrontations have increased exponentially in the 10 years that I've lived in Santa Cruz.
The rising number of individuals living on the fly, camping out in town and out, and dependent on homeless shelters and mission meals, increases conflicts on our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our greenbelts and undeveloped margins. Those who cannot, or will not, contribute to local society create a further drain on the economy and community.
The declining U.S. economy contributes to all of these social problems, pulling money from our states, counties and municipalities, straining local budgets, businesses and banks. This creates a social discontinuity, since our consumer culture still tells us that personal worth is dependent on personal possessions. If we can't have the possessions: new cars, large homes, wide-screen TeeVees, influential jobs, the latest clothing styles, we are told that we are worth less than those who do have these things.
How do we respond to this apparent downward social spiral?
Human beings are social animals, evolved to live together in supportive social communities. It is the lack of community that creates a feeling of despair, loss and hopelessness. It is through community that we rebuild supportive relationships for our youth, our working families and our elders.
Our central government can't help us build community. It's up to us. We can work together on the ground where we live, work, shop and play, to build cooperative social support structures to replace fading government institutions. Health care, child care, elder care, food supplies, housing, transportation, work and play can all be organized communally, not for personal profit but for community good.
As we work together to support ourselves, our families and our community, we will, quite naturally, work together politically, to insure that our neighborhoods, towns and counties support our communities. Democracy is the community talking to itself and deciding, together, on a course of action for the greater good.

In this new year of 2012, let's take a close look at everything we do. Does it support community or personal benefit? How can we change our individual lives to help improve the lives of those closest to us?