Forget Wall Street: Occupy Small Towns

I believe in hard work and doing your best. I also believe some people need our help in order for them to do their best (or even just survive). I don't fault the super-rich for having a lot of money. Just as Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, so will the rich. There are corrupt systems out there; only the naive would think otherwise.

This past week the boys and I spent a couple days on my family's farm. I grew up nestled between Laurens and Albert City, Iowa. Haven't heard of them? It's not surprising. Laurens--where we would go to the library, dentist and grocery store--boasts a population of right around 1500 people. The only reason you might have heard of it is if you happened to have watched David Lynch's 1999 movie, The Straight Story. Albert City--where we went to church and school--has around 700 residents. It is best known for its Threshermen and Collectors Show during which the population of the town explodes exponentially as people from all over come to show off antique farm equipment and farm the way they did over a century ago. I have lived in places like Chicago, Vancouver and Minneapolis, but I still love getting back to small towns. I hope to return to the country someday when it becomes feasible for our family (my wife is pursuing a doctorate right now which is hard to do in a small town).

I feel that our nation would be better off if we occupied small towns instead of Wall Street. Less than a century ago part of the American dream was to have a home in a small town where you could sit on your porch and chat with your neighbors. This is the subject of almost every Norman Rockwell painting.

Then during the middle part of the 20th century, population demographics began to switch. Before then, the majority of Americans lived in rural areas. But then large cities began to grow. Farming became a corporate business and not a place where farmers could sustain their families. Larger stores with more inventory, wider selections and cheaper prices opened in the cities making it difficult for small town stores to turn a profit. And so went the jobs to the larger cities as well. Ever since, many small towns have been fatally in decline--population wise at least. Most small towns are kept up beautifully. There is a spirit of hope there that exudes a determination to rise above circumstances.

Small towns are where community happens. While helping my father on the farm, he took us into town for lunch. The little restaurant was full. Tables were intermingled with people who came in together and others who just showed up. They all knew each other. Conversations weren't just contained at one table, but they occurred amongst everyone. Some complain about this notion--feeling that there is no privacy in a small town. But it's not that you don't have privacy, it's just that you have community. Others do know about you. And you know about them. Simply because you share life together.

Friday night, everyone is at the football field cheering on the high school team. On a Tuesday winter night, everyone is in the school gymnasium cheering on the basketball players. On Wednesday morning the cafe is full of farmers grabbing a cup of coffee while taking a break from their morning chores. If a farmer is injured or hospitalized, neighbors bring their equipment over to do the work that needs to be done. People's lives are intertwined. They depend on one another for their livelihood. And they simply care about one another.

There is no corporate greed. Some may be well off, but very seldom is there exploitation of the labor class. Small town people are hard workers. They are skilled and knowledgeable in many areas. This starts in school. I was involved in basketball, cross country, speech, drama, band (trumpet and baritone), choir, FFA (Future Farmers of America), student council and yearbook among other things. I had farm chores to do before and after school. I was involved in youth group and church choir. This is small town life. People are involved in many capacities in their church. They may be a volunteer fire fighter. They may be on city council or involved with the chamber of commerce. They probably have a few ways they are involved at the local school. If there is a community even, they will be at it.

Main Street is a destination. It is where business occurs and it is where lives are shaved. Your cashier isn't just there to take your money or simply help you make a purchase. They may know what you need before you walk in the store. They ask how your family is doing because they know your family. They care about how your job is going because your well-being will impact theirs. Small towns are where life happens.

Small towns may not have art museums filled with Monets and Van Goghs. They may not attract Broadway plays. They won't have a professional sports team. They probably won't draw a big name concert venue.

But they have local artists whose love of their hometown inspires them to create a beautiful mural. Your next door neighbor surprises everyone by bringing the crowd to their feet in the community theater's latest production. High school athletes play their hearts out, not for the sake of millions of dollars, but for school pride. And the community band's summer performance in the band shell is a wonderful way to end a summer evening while enjoying ice cream a lemonade with your neighbors.

Here's my plea for those on Wall Street and corporate America: stop merging your corporations and outsourcing your jobs overseas for the sake of making more money whilst hurting those who are your source of income in the first place. Give small town America a chance. Revitalize a small town. Bring some business and jobs back to one. These are people with character and morals that won't let you down. They are loyal and committed to their work as well as their community.


Mary said...

Beautiful post, Dave. Warmed my heart.

Tiffany said...

Applause, applause. Great blog, Dave!