Friday, July 29, 2011

Muse of the Week: Association

This post can be considered my studious avoidance of all-things-debt-crisis as at this point, the entire ordeal makes my head want to explode in frustration.

So: something light and summery!

For years now there has been much handwringing over the status of American community organizations. We are told we no longer gather in groups to share fellowship, resources, or any of the other benefits of life in community. There is truth to this. There are also several signs that some people are "turning back," if you will, by moving forward into new organizations based upon old models, from food co-ops to intentional communities.

Summer is fair and festival season across much of the United States, and as I read others' postings about their community celebrations and look forward to the grand parade of Newberg's Old Fashioned Festival tomorrow morning, I'm struck by the continuity I see between past and present.

Many of these festivals derive from attempts to boost local agriculture and create frameworks for celebrating shared experiences. In some cases, they derive from the organizations created by the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry and the Farmer's Alliance, both founded in the late 1800s. These were political advocacy organizations, fighting for the rights of farmers, for an expanded money supply that would make obtaining credit and repaying loans less onerous, for railroad regulation and so on. The Grange was even able to win the Supreme Court's recognition in 1876 that facilities including railroads and grain elevators were “clothed with a public interest." This decision helped facilitate passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887. Perhaps their most important function, however, was social. The Grange and the Farmer's Alliance, and all the smaller guilds and cooperative organizations that sprung up across the United States as it grew and expanded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were vehicles for belonging in regions of the country that lacked other social infrastructure. They allowed citizens to enjoy each other's company, to cooperate in barn-raisings and other mutual activities and to forge new regional distinctions.

Grange halls these days are likely to be venues for weddings and square-dance lessons rather than centers of political advocacy. Really, though, in providing the physical space for such activities they are continuing to provide one of their important historical functions. County and state fairs continue to provide opportunities not only for young people in rural areas to hone their skills, but they connect city folk to farmland and enable citizens to join together in community. Small-town festivals--and neighborhood festivals in cities--continue to celebrate unique regional identity and forge connections among generations.

I'll add a couple photos from the parade to this posting over the weekend... meanwhile, enjoy the opportunities summer provides to celebrate the legacy of American association and community organization!

Newberg VFW

St. Paul Rodeo Court

Kiddo and friends (small friend is distracted and slightly worried as the "Great Clips" mascot has just doused someone down the parade route with a bucket of water)

No comments: