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Start Community Organizing

I mentioned last time that I favor social justice through equal opportunity. Today, I’m writing about how I favor community organizing. In fact, I’ve done a little of it recently: I attended my first neighborhood association meeting. We moved into a new house in a new neighborhood in the patchier part of downtown. One block away there are some fine, big, old houses. And one block away, there are abandoned houses. Every other month, signs go up: “Oakdale Neighborhood Association Meeting THIS MONDAY, 7 p.m.” Usually, my husband has woodcraft class Monday nights, and it’s impossible to bring our two toddlers to any meeting. But he didn’t have class during the most recent meeting, and the association secretary has been nicely pestering me to show up (she’s a fellow church member who lives a block away), so we went. It turned out to be their biggest meeting ever. Some 30 people from our neighborhood showed up. During the meetings, people get together to solve local problems—encourage new folks who are fixing up some of the derelict houses, take turns manning the Christmas tree booth to raise money for public flower beds and stone pillars on the streets, and plan block parties. This time we also heard from one neighbor whose car was stolen and, later, house burgled. So we talked about keeping eyes on each other’s houses and basic theft precautions. Many people in this neighborhood, us included, have home alarm systems. Our church is about three blocks away, and it’s pretty active in the neighborhood. Lately, we’ve been going door-to-door, surveying people about community needs. We’ve found an old man with cancer looking for meals, single moms who can’t afford to fix their houses and new families happy to meet their neighbors. These small neighborhood institutions serve as buffer zones for society. If I can bring a meal to a mom who just had a baby, it’s not so lonely and desperate to be a new mom. Even better if the church organizes a routine of friends to bring a new mom meals for a month, lets people know when a neighbor is in the hospital and could use a visit, or raises money to support an independent preschool. When people solve their problems together and locally, not only are their needs met faster, through voluntary action, and with a minimum of waste, but it also relieves the pressure on bigger communities to step in, which increases in financial and social cost as the distance to individuals in need grows. This is one of the reasons, as Charles Murray points out, that the working class has been devastated in recent decades. In short, I highly recommend doing a little community organizing. It connects us to local problems, big and small—and to people who can help. That’s how a good society functions. And there’s no time like the present.