In the United States, where I live, a highly contested presidential election is underway. Candidates with widespread popular appeal have been swept away by a bombastic former reality-television star and a decades-experienced Washington insider whom many see as qualified, but uninspiring. Divisions appear to be deepening: Much of the U.S.’s working class is in an uproar, the middle class is disappearing; upper class Establishment guardians are wondering what went wrong. Black, Latino, and Middle Eastern populations feel unsafe and frequently used by the political process, while Millennials feel disillusioned and might stay away from the polls in droves.
Nationwide, our country’s mood feels fractious and in turmoil.
I contrast this with my lived experience locally in my home city of Raleigh, North Carolina.
It’s Wednesday, and my Community Supported Agriculture subscription box just arrived at my doorstep from Papa Spuds, delivering seasonal greens and meat from six local farms. Tonight I’ll drink some Harvest Time Ale, brewed by Big Boss Brewery precisely 2.5 miles from my home. Next week, I’ll be meeting with a small leadership circle of friends at Videri, a chocolate factory twelve minutes away downtown. Believe it or not, it’s one of three competing chocolatiers making local chocolate increasingly enjoyed throughout the city (Escazu is also delicious). Five years ago, a Starbucks went out of business downtown as they weren’t able to compete with the growing, innovative local coffee shop scene downtown. Raleigh restaurant designer Ashley Christensen is about to open her seventh successful concept restaurant downtown, and friends of ours are fund-raising to fully establish A Place at the Table, an amazing pay-what-you-can-afford restaurant that brings table fellowship to all. On any given First Friday, you can witness our monthly all-pervasive street festival where local storefront businesses support local visual arts, performance, music and even fashion. I wouldn’t be in the shape I’m in without the customized, friendly Kuzora Fitness studio down the street in Wake Forest. Rival gangs the Bloods and the Crips recently negotiated an historic truce as they seek to make their neighborhoods a safer place, and downtown, Love Wins Ministries – founded by my friend Hugh Hollowell – continues to reveal the humanity and solidarity of our homeless population.
This isn’t to say all is perfect: Our state legislature recently passed HB2, a bill restricting small business freedoms and the rights of transgendered people to choose which restrooms best serve them; racial tensions and poverty make their presence felt here, too. But our sense of hope is also palpable: Many in our community are mobilizing into the statewide Moral Monday movement, giving voice to woman, sexual minorities, people of color, working-classes, teachers, health providers, spiritual leaders and other change agents working on the ground for more responsive, proactive statewide governance. In the past several years, we’ve drawn crowds of 10,000+ for weekly teach-in pro-testifyings during legislative season, and drew over 100,000 for our most recent awareness-raising march.
Local consciousness is alive and well in Raleigh, North Carolina – just like it is in cities around the country as Millennials come of age and increasingly want to create culture rather than merely consume it. My own generation – Generation X – and many Boomers are following suit.
How can this revitalization of local consciousness – happening not only in Raleigh, but in renaissance communities across the world – give vitality to a planetary patriotism?