This post is part of my Tocquville series. I started it literally weeks ago and realized I never finished it, which is dumb since it was one of my favorite things in the book!
There are a dozen fascinating facets of this theme, but I am going to endeavor to keep this short rather than get into all of them.
Did you know that social/civic organizations are an important component of democracy?
Maybe I just missed a memo, but until I read Tocquville and heard what the Founding Fathers had to say I never made the connection!
By participating in local civic organizations, citizens develop skills vital to the success of democracy.
They learn to find common ground with people very different from themselves and how to constructively leverage that ground. You and the grouchy guy down the street may have nothing in common but a love of gardening. Your combined contributions as part of the local garden club can ensure beautiful landscaping in public areas or the protection of a species of endangered local flora.
Groups of interested persons working towards a goal can provide benefits to their town or cause that it would otherwise have to do without or seek from government.
Working together to do fund-raisers, donate time and pool resources, local groups can tackle issues more quickly, cheaply and effectively than whatever form of government people would otherwise have to appeal to for remedy.
Filling leadership positions within an organization (treasurer, secretary, committee leader, etc.) grooms people for larger, more important public roles. Being an officer for a local organization breeds confidence and familiarity with the applicable laws and procedures. This informal training ground creates a pool of qualified applicants to run for official public positions. (Incidentally, it's ones of the reasons many people balked at Obama running for office; he lacked experience in roles such as mayor or governor that typically serve as testing grounds for those who want to advance in executive positions.)
Being in organizations together allows people to build bridges and forge connections that they otherwise would not have. I have only recently began to understand how this works. Relationships serve as scaffolding and a form of unspoken pre-screening. Need a contractor? You may not know any, but the guy in your hiking club may have worked in construction for twenty years. Not only can he give you inside information on who to trust, he can also put in a good word for you. His upfront assurance that you'll be a great customer with lots of referral potential can lead to you getting a little extra attention or a good deal. These kinds of loosely held connections facilitate the flow of goods and information in a community and benefit everyone.
Each of has only 24 hours in a day; time is precious and must be spent wisely. Some of us are introverts and can only handle so much "people time". But we all have dozens of opportunities to build connections and reap the benefits for ourselves, our children, our communities and ultimately our nation. So consider taking a fresh look at your life and then join a club... and take your kids! It may be one of the best lessons in democracy you can give them.