There is a woman in Concrete, WA who has started a campaign called Why Concrete Matters. Her strategy is simple: to photograph beloved places in her small town, with a sign that says “This Place Matters.” The first three photos were 1. the local library, 2. Concrete theater, home of the new radio station and venue for live shows as wells as movies, and 3. Annie’s Pizza Place, which we can attest is a cheerful spot. It was voted Third Best Pizza in all of Washington State.
The first two places are commons—public spaces; the third a small independent business supported by a community that has something to offer folks.
As teachers we were already intimately familiar and invested in the power and potential of public education when we began this trip. Support the schools and you support the whole community. In our travels these eleven months- 9700 miles by bike and a couple thousand more by other means, we’ve come to appreciate the magic of other shared public spaces. They bring a sense of community, of safety, of health, economic vitality, and, dare we say, enlightenment, to a community.
As bicyclists we use public assets more than most: not just roads, bridges and bike paths, but also libraries and picnic shelters, benches, parks, campgrounds, toilets, ferries. We are consumers of the best the community has: museums, public sculptures, murals and historical markers – not dwelling on those that glorify war, but the ones that tell you something about local ordinary struggles and triumphs, and the war memorials that leave you more committed to study war no more– because war is not healthy for local communities.
We relish public gardens, community theaters, ocean piers and those town buildings where dances, meetings, and potlucks happen. We gravitate to those public squares, inhabited in many towns this year by Occupy protesters; places where “We The People” can gather to provide a check on our system when it goes awry. Public protest is essential to a healthy society, and such events need public venues to congregate.
We are not just talking about government spaces and projects, although they are the majority. Community organizations; faith-based and non- profit community groups, the Lion clubs, Optimists clubs and Granges are all sources of the commons. Church buildings that open their doors and private enterprises that owners make public when share when put up a bench, or open their spot to those in need, or make their bathroom available to all.
In places that lack these shared spaces, where there are more gates than parks, fear reigns; and gross inequality. These places are good breeding grounds for dreaded crimes that immobilize people in this country, paranoia fed by a corporate media that somehow finds fear profitable.
Which brings us to the media as a potential commons, and back to Concrete WA. population 700. Concrete has the Concrete Herald an independent newspaper, and — new this year– KSVU FM 90.1 which mixes alternative national news sources like Democracy Now and Free Speech Radio News, with local news and music shows that represent diverse aspects of the community. With such news sources, people here may be less likely to fear their neighbors or Iranians and more likely to demand changes of their local, regional and national decision makers that will help build what matters:
WAMM members Anne Winkler Morey and David Winkler Morey are touring the country by bike. For their stories go to the facebook page Pedal Story or link to their blog. Click here for the blog.