Community not Communism

In this morning’s Oregonian (Wed, 18jul07; D2), there is an article, “Postage-stamp-sized service suits N.J. townsfolk,” that I cannot find on their own website. But, the Newhouse News Service is the source of “Tiny Post Offices Deliver More Than Mail“.

From the article:

“These smaller post offices are important hubs of the community.”

I’m reminded of the row over postal service in Olympia, and the Libertarian-Conservative hatred of any community gathering space. Places where people gather in community seem to be under some kind of reactionary knee-jerk encoded response to a threat of Communism.

We need community. It’s part of what makes it possible for a city or region to be flexible and creative in the face of adaptive challenges, like natural disasters or economic disruption. There has to be space for people to learn about themselves through interaction with others that are not like themselves. Too often, it seems to me, people assume their community is people like them and that anyone not like them in their community is some kind of alien intruder that doesn’t belong. It is our spaces where we gather together that allow us to see and become stronger because of our diversity; not by ignoring or destroying it, but because of that diversity.

I’m pretty sure that I ran into something about this in Place and the Politics of Identity [also], about the tension over postal service offices and community. I’d have to go back to find out, but I recall a discussion in this collection of essays about how social gathering places were being dismantled, and that post offices represented one of the important places where people could gather.

Of course, one merely need to wander in to the downtown or west side post offices in Olympia to realize that these spaces have become store fronts, places of business. These are no longer places where people come even in part to be in community. These are place that one stands around with a number waiting to be serviced as a customer and then get the heck out as fast as possible after.

That book, Place and the Politics of Identity, also has some other very interesting things to say about the waterfront in London that reflect for me on the layers of struggle in Olympia around the nuclear-free zone, the militarization of the port, and the gentrification of downtown. I also found the discussion of “spacialities” to be enlightening in relation to my sense that there are many layers of community in Olympia that exist in the same space but interact as if in different places from each other. I recommend checking that book out.

I think it was through engaging with that book that I also started to think about how it may be that the reaction to community space in American culture is coloured by some kind of learned, internalized fear of anything that suggests Communism. This is something that I haven’t remembered in a while, but deserves some more thought. If it’s true that the general hostility to community space is due to this learned reaction, then that might suggest a way to address that hostility through making a distinction between community and the fear of Communism.

Of course, Communism isn’t the same thing as communism, but maybe that’s something best left for the “advanced” class.