The forces that divide us are big, strong, viral, international in scope and have seemingly infected every system of our body politic. It’s the degree of that rot that has led us back this year to where it all began — to people we’ve come to know over these thirteen years — to this place, these people. Through this tumultuous time, we have come to believe that if we’re going to care about the American idea — if we’re going to truly live it out (and maybe save it) — it will be in hometowns like this one between neighbors like us. And it will ultimately be about who we are to each other, which Washington D.C. doesn’t get to decide for us. (And there is a growing body of academic work that supports our contention.) We say if we love our country, democracy is lived out here — as we love our city and we at least try to love our neighbor. Italians call a deep love for the village you call home “campanilismo” — all that lies within view of the local campanile or bell tower, the tallest building in town — but we’re calling this idea “local patriotism,” and think it could catch on if we can forge a trail for other hometowns. Ultimately, we think it’s possible that the only thing powerful enough to truly conquer the “Goliath” of this deepening national dysfunction is the “David” of local community.
“True patriotism serves,” says Stephen Kiernan, our old friend and author of Authentic Patriotism. We’re bringing Stephen back because since visiting with us in 2011 he’s become so disturbed by our political dysfunction that he’s advocating this same bottom-up approach in his project “Vermont to the Tenth Power.” Joining Stephen is Sally Bradshaw, Governor Bush’s former Chief of Staff, who got off the presidential campaign trail and jumped right into being a local bookseller when she opened Midtown Reader, in her pursuit of lived democracy in our hometown.
Local patriotism isn’t just a distraction (although, thankfully, it is) — it’s the best antidote for the rising tribal nationalism that’s overtaking the Western World. Communities are the only ground where deep relationship takes root, where common cause and simple mutual respect grows, where you can grab a beer after work or borrow a cup of sugar. Localists don’t become nationalists — they don’t go on shooting sprees or die of opiate overdoses. They’re just too darn busy. Local patriots know too many people who disagree with them politically to hate them or to build mail bombs for them.
Here is where “those people” don’t look like the enemy, they look like us. Here is where we don’t have to wait around for anyone in Washington to fix it, because they won’t. It’s even possible that the great lesson of our time is that we’ve been looking in the wrong direction for help for a very long time.