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Try the 'new localism'

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The convention hoopla and candidate theatrics divert the American polity from the dilemmas besieging modern society.By casting a vote, we genuinely believe that we have been a good citizen -- have furthered democracy and even contributed to the resolution of social problems. Having done our deed, we return to our corners to watch the course of the headlines for another year. I believe much of the "apathetic" nonvote is in fact a statement against such seasonal folly.

I think the bottom of American politics is about to fall out, if it hasn't already. By that I mean that real decisionmaking, significant social action, and democratic participation can only be accomplished at the community level. We can influence and impact our neighbors -- but interestingly choose not to, for the most part. We give money to the United Way or taxes to the Federal government only to watch it return to our indigent neighbors in the form of welfare checks -- rather than ourselves walking next door to offer them a crust of bread.

The "new localism," as it is sometimes called, admittedly has had a shaky history: the community action programs of the war on poverty, the community control of schools in the late sixties, and the vigilante neighborhood groups of the seventies have been less than successful. But there have also been bright spots: the community development corporations in many inner cities, the food coops or tenant organizations that exist in even the more prosperous neighborhoods, the "sweat equity" labor collectives, or community councils that have reinitiated services formally lost to "outside interests." This sort of self-reliant, participatory collectivism deserves at least some attention.


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