Last night we watched the PBS production of “A Capitol Fourth” via over the air broadcast in high definition using the TiVo Roamio box. It was a little bit surreal to watch the 40th edition of that fireworks show without any crowds in the background. It was a wonderful and engaging television show, all of the people participating tried to stay positive and communicate a message of hope, and the orchestra played the 1812 Overture which always reminds me of Farscape.
I spent a lot of time yesterday reading the news and trying to better understand where we are as a society in general. Within this time of quarantine it feels like we are seeing civil society running apart from the community. It is disjointed and hard to really comprehend. Twenty years ago back at the University of Kansas I went to the library and read entire shelves that were related to civil society. It was a curated way to experience knowledge. Somebody has gone to the trouble of including all of those books on the shelves. Each one had a deeper meaning to somebody and they were all included for a reason. Even now the bookshelves behind me contain a bunch of books about civil society, democracy, and community. All of those books at one point had a deeper meaning to me and were chosen for purchase for my home library. I remember having so many books to choose from in a university library that picking one was about looking at the table of contents and thinking about how the author structured the argument being presented. Based on the structure of the argument and how much it resonated with me certain books were read a lot faster than others. It was wonderful based on how many books they had to read and how much I wanted to learn more about civil society.
Right now we are a community living apart separated by a pandemic based quarantine that represents something very new as a challenge for our communities. What is happening within the public mind right now in this watershed moment of shared experience will profoundly alert our community when we come back together. We have all seen what happened. It was a shared experience. It provides a common context to a generation to talk about things. Having truly seen the backward linkages of supply chains and production fail to meet the needs of demand, a generation has now seen what happens in a prolonged demand shock where supply could not respond.
Everyone has now seen the reality of empty shelves and things that are generally unavailable being inaccessible. It was a strange experience. Walking into stores in masks to get food while social distancing was a very new and surreal experience. Foundationally the notion of having a community operating apart without access to the things that sustain it will remain at the forefront of the public mind for a long time. Crafting a method for support and engagement within the context of that foundational notion will require a lot of planning and very strong institutional memory and commitment. These are the types of questions that are keeping me up at night. Overall they have impacted my sleep quality for months now. Figuring out a path forward that builds out robust institutional frameworks capable of handling this type of disruption while maintaining strong and healthy communities will require a commitment beyond anything we have seen in the last few decades.
Watching “A Capitol Fourth” every year does relax my mind enough to engage in some reflective thought about community in general. It’s probably all the references to the general needs of the people and how that drives my thoughts toward civic engagement. Now is the time to really think deeply about the future of civil engagement and community development within the content of pandemic and quarantine driven events. We are going to see cycles like this again and being ready to have institutions that are capable of responding will be critical. It will be critical to every community. We have complex networks of communities of place, circumstance, and interest where people engage together. Figuring out how to engage within a community apart is a very complex endeavor that tests the realm of the possible. Digital divides separate access to the internet which includes community message boards, chat rooms, social media, and increasingly the news. We are seeing decreases in subscriptions to physical newspapers, to cable television, and magazines of all kinds. Figuring out the best way to broadly communicate and engage within a community is challenging. Even before the pandemic neighbors were often disconnected and had essentially separate patterns of daily life from even the people living nearby.