It’s the American way
A challenge to LDN readers
19, 2000] In
the first decades of the 19th century, Europeans were
intrigued with America—this peculiar new nation, this loose
collection of states, this wedge of soil between the blue Atlantic
and the great western wilderness, this polity of rabble, this
kingless land of no particular religion, this robust, untethered
marketplace. So, curious Europeans did what Europeans do best; they
traveled to our shores, observed our odd ways, returned to their
homelands and entertained their countrymen with their tales.
the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville spent months in America, traveling
about, talking to the folks, taking notes and ultimately penning
"Democracy in America." This French aristocrat’s findings
inform our understanding of our own nation yet today. Especially he
was impressed with our propensity for association.
of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are
forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and
industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a
thousand different types—religious, moral, serious, futile, very
general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. . . . In
every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you
would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in
the United States you are sure to find an association."
Alexis would love Logan County. If you think our homeland is made
great by the bold initiatives of strong individuals, you may be only
half right. True to the American way, we are also adept at finding
common cause, pooling resources, engaging in joint ventures, acting on
altruistic impulses. What Tocqueville found astonishing, we take for
would begin a laundry list of local associations, but I fear I would
neglect too many dozens of worthy groups that lie beyond my
experience. But let me take a stab at a few categories of association
to give a flavor of the wealth of social capital we have accumulated.
First there are the churches—groups of people who voluntarily
associate around a set of shared beliefs and values. In Logan County,
there is virtually a church on every corner. Each church is itself a
source of support and spiritual guidance to its members and a resource
to the broader community. From Sunday worship service to Vacation
Bible School to youth groups and couples clubs to food pantries and
soup kitchens to weddings and funerals to basement chicken dinners,
our churches are places of community.
organizations—Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, Lions, JCs—and fraternal
groups like the Elks and Eagles, Moose, Odd Fellow and Masons, with
their various auxiliaries and offshoots, draw together people who
enjoy one another’s company and choose to invest their personal
wealth in projects that better the lives of many people beyond their
memberships. If you don’t like them, don’t join them. Freedom to
associate is the enlivening spark that invigorates collective effort.
(To top of second
to join the Lincoln Area YMCA? Five bucks gets your entire family in
the group for a year, and the reward is access to everything from
child care to swim lessons to family picnics to soccer leagues. All
this with an underlay of Christian values. What a deal!
theater? Lincoln Community Theatre features your friends and neighbors
in a summer fest of stage delights. Like music? There are bluegrass
groups, a symphony orchestra, gospel choirs, and barbershoppers. Each
is its own group, formed by free association of those who share a
hunters and archers have their groups. Ducks Unlimited celebrates
waterfowl, not to be outdone by Pheasants Unlimited, Quail Unlimited,
and whatever grouse enthusiasts call their organization.
Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H (I promised not to resort to a laundry list;
I know I’m neglecting some very good groups) continue to form the
character of generation after generation of youngsters. Main Street
Lincoln fills our parks with music on summer evenings, and the Chamber
of Commerce gives us bragging rights to tell our snooty aunt in New
York that "hundreds, maybe even thousands of balloons ascend from
our fairgrounds." Don’t forget the art fair.
unions are associations, and so are groups that assemble to promote
the cure of disease and support the afflicted—cerebral palsy,
diabetes, arthritis, muscular dystrophy. The business women have an
association, and so do the university women. One association promotes
breast feeding and another Tai Kwon Do. Every breed of every animal
has an association devoted to it.
buffs gather to tell tales of the boy Lincoln. Genealogists unite to
swap stories of their Logan County ancestors. Model airplane
enthusiasts crank up their little machines and watch them buzz
overhead. Lovers of real airplanes hang out at the airport museum—created
by the good work of freely associating flyers.
Army, Catholic Social Services, United Way—don’t get me started.
There are too many to list here. Political groups? Did you see the
Republicans and the Democrats at the county fair? The fair? That’s
another fine organization. What about Railsplitters? Stop me before
this article becomes a narrative form of the yellow pages.
do I get myself out of this mess? By including so many wonderful
associations that fill life in Logan County with blessing after
blessing, I only risk offending devotees of the groups I omit. So let
me lay down a challenge to the good readers of LDN. E-mail us and tell
us about your favorite Logan County associations—ones I have
mentioned and ones I have neglected. Maybe your favorite is a formal
organization with bylaws and officers and all the rest, or maybe it is
just a loose-knit gaggle of good fellows. Tell about it. That is the
only way I can avoid offending you. Just click this address and bail
me out: email@example.com.