People of all walks of life are taking part in solution

Article was written by Amy Greil, Community Development Extension Educator. 
Originally published in The Kenosha News.

As I reflect over the past weeks of heightened safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been considering the critical institutions of government, nonprofit and businesses calling so many essential capacities to work.

Professional leadership has been tremendous on so many levels.

Community leadership has also been shown by those ordered to stay at home as many seek out and find ways to serve — some in large ways and others in small ways. These contributions combine to create a critical mass that keeps our communities strong in this time of simmering crisis.

Courage takes many, many forms and people of all walks of life are taking their part in solutions.

The emergence of community associations

The French philosopher working in the mid-1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville, writes in his classic “Democracy in America” about the unique civic structures of associations where community members come together to define problems, create solutions and implement projects as a political process of power making to achieve an end.

More recently, a Northwestern University community development practitioner, John McKnight, translated these notions to present day society. McKnight writes that the strength of community associations is often underestimated because our traditional focus on the three institutional legs of society as business, government and nonprofit obscures the presence and vitality of the fourth.

What are community associations?

Associations are groups of citizens pulled together by common consent. This consent is based upon a mutual concern or interest. In this consenting mutuality is the genesis of care — the personal commitment of one to another. Their members care about a goal, and each other.

Examples that come to mind are book clubs, prayer groups, parent-teacher organizations, social justice coalitions, neighborhood associations, addiction recovery groups, cultural organizations, on and on. These free-willed individuals come together to discuss issues of importance to their members, support one another, conduct funding campaigns for causes, serve meals, pack out-of-school lunches, share critical information/resources, spread abundant hope, etc.

What are features of community associations? Associational care is not a (paid-for-play) service. A “service” is the commodified product of an institution. Institutions provide service as a scarce commodity for a price.

Associational communities can provide abundant care without money. Society will never have enough money to pay for service substitutes for care.

Moreover, associations at their best provide a collective form of problem-solving because they usually recognize and synthesize the unique ideas of each member. Through this synthesis, the ideas of individuals become the basis for transforming citizens into producers rather than consumers or dependent clients.

Associations are an asset to other institutions, if viewed this way, because of their quick, agile response in mobilizing the caring capacities of locals. And at their best they can mobilize many more people than paid systems can achieve.

What is stopping more (associational) power?Associations need no “permission” to exist and flourish. I encourage readers to take time to reflect on what needs yet to be done, how to safely achieve it and how to tap into the latent power that resides in efforts to organize. Amidst this simmering crisis, let us chase ambitious goals and set our creative associational powers free.

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