hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Institutions in Little Places like Here

I have been thinking about the existence/role of social institutions in places like this.  I know, there aren't any places like this one, but for the moment let us at least contemplate the possibility that there might be places at least sort of like this one.  What put me into these thoughts was the collapse of the Christmas Craft Faire (which has had a pretty long run...maybe 10 years or so?) with the mass resignation of its organizing board, which followed the resignation of the single organizer for the summer Community Market.  If you had such social institutions in, say, Bellingham, that wouldn't happen perhaps because people would arrange for a new board to keep the 'social institution' (of whatever kind) going once they have resigned.

In a small place, that is less likely to happen in part because everything is done by volunteers, so there hardly are any real social institutions that involve the community directly.  Things come, things go, as some individual or small group is more or less interested in making such things happen reliably.  And then some other group comes along, perhaps or perhaps not, eventually to fill that niche and in that interval enormous amounts of knowledge about what works, what doesn't, what helps, etc. is lost.

What do we have here in the way of social institutions?  Definitions first.  I'm not including government institutions because we hardly have any government in the first place.  There are the five Districts and they continue by law but whatever they do is largely a function of their Commissioner's interest in doing much of anything, just as the Craft Faire's existence is a function of a few peoples' organizing it because they care about it happening.  A social institution and its events should be open to everyone.  They should not be exclusively commercial.  If you open a business, that's not a social institution, although you might be a business that sponsors/underwrites activities that constitute a social institution.

Some of the property owner's associations have annual/regular events, but they're not open to the rest of the Point's residents, so do they count? The Food Bank is open to all those who need food assistance; the Seniors' Group and events are open to all those of a specific age.  So maybe the property owners associations ought to count too, even though they have some exclusionary criteria.

So, what else do we have that seem to fit into a fairly loose definition of social institution?  The 4th of July Parade and the Fireworks (the latter of which is definitely an off-and-on matter); the Arts and Music Festival; the Church's Summer Music Camp and public concerts; Park & Recreation's Summer Camp and kayak program; the Garden Club's biannual Garden Tour; the Friends of the Library's book sales; the Community Market (it's made it for about 4 years now, but it's a little dicey for next year); the Quilt Group's providing raffle quilts for various charities; and the Library's sponsorship of children's programs throughout the year.  The Taxpayers Association and the Homeowners Voters Association both would qualify.  Charitable groups like Dollars for Scholars, and the Food Bank.  Have I missed anything?  Probably, yes.  [edit: missed PREP, of course.  Also PAWS and Point-Interface which deserves a column all its own]

But do we have what we need?  And if so, what could we do to make such institutions more stable?  Maybe nothing; maybe that's one of the prices you pay for living in small communities.  Maybe it just requires more people to have a bigger commitment to community activities to stabilize such institutions; maybe it requires direct government support.  Recently, I read a piece in The Atlantic in which a former military guy talked about his discomfort in being 'thanked for his service.'  What he wanted, he wrote, was for such people to make a commitment themselves to serving their country by being responsible citizens in the way of voting, e.g. (he noted that the last election had a 40-something percent turnout), in the way of caring for their communities.  I guess one could add by paying their taxes and ensuring that social programs that are needed are both adequately funded and adequately monitored.

It's still close enough to the new year; maybe we should all try to be better citizens this year?  Or lose weight, get more exercise, drink less, or whatever...  I'll come back to this when I have something clearer to say about it.

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