At the State of the Union this past week, the President reminded Congress and the nation of what connected us as Americans. “We are part of the American family;” he said, “we believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed.”
In those words, I heard hints of a broader form of patriotism- a form of patriotism for a nation where the American flag should not just invoke images of politics or war, but rather scenes of citizens discussing their common hopes; where being a ‘real American’ does not have to do with your political ideology, but rather with how much you are willing to participate in our public life; where being a good neighbor matters; where lending a helping hand to a community project in your town is one of the most American things you can do in your life.
Having lived in Falls Church for 20 years, I find our town to be one of the most patriotic in America. As President Obama said this past Tuesday, “from the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.” We are indeed a town of community dreamers- from Lou Olom who dreamed of a vibrant school system; to Dave Eckert and Annette Mills who helped dream up a Watch Night, a robust recycling program, and a town-wide commitment to our trees and streams; to Mary Riley Styles and the Women’s Club of Falls Church, who helped develop our public library in the early 20th century; to Mary Ellen Henderson, who dreamed that African-American children in Falls Church deserved just as quality an education as their white counterparts; to Laura Hull and Creative Cauldron, who work hard everyday for the dream of a Falls Church-based theater; to the men and women of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, who dream that we can remain a village inside of 21st century Northern Virginia; to Barb Cram, Nikki Graves Henderson, Edwin Henderson, and all involved in Falls Church ARTS, Falls Church C.A.T.C.H. and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, whose commitment to the art, culture and history of Falls Church are unmatched. In America, President Obama said Tuesday, “we do big things.” One would be hard pressed to find something bigger than the creative drive of our community groups towards a more perfect community, the ambition we have for our city’s schools, the willingness of Falls Church residents to lend a helping hand to neighbors, and the big communal spirit of our Little City.
One would be hard pressed to find something bigger than the creative drive of our community groups towards a more perfect community…
In this spirit, I have – for the past month – been helping to set up a community web platform for Falls Church called “Falls Church’s CommonPlace” to help bolster everything that makes our town great. Falls Church’s CommonPlace is designed to make it easy for residents to connect and share community information with their neighbors and local organizations. If you sign up at www.FallsChurch.OurCommonPlace.com, you can start receiving community announcements from your neighbors and local organizations in Falls Church. Falls Church’s CommonPlace is like an online bulletin board for Falls Church residents- use it to notify your neighbors about a lost cat, or to ask to borrow a ladder; use it to keep up with local events happening in Falls Church, or to publicize your own; use it to get announcements from city services and other organizations in town, or to start your own group in the community. The goal is to build a robust community information infrastructure for Falls Church, helping make our Little City an even better place to live in- more engaged and more connected.
Where some might say that being a good citizen involves supporting this or that candidate or party, the driving spirit behind CommonPlace is a belief that – at its core – American patriotism is about being a good neighbor- sharing with each other, working together on ambitious community projects, and finding common places (physical places, modes of discussion, shared visions, and in this case, web tools) to connect with our fellow man. People have already used Falls Church’s CommonPlace to find babysitters, borrow a Colonial Day dress, raise money for our city’s homeless shelter, and recruit volunteers for a school event. Who knows what other exciting things can come from lowering the barriers to engagement with those around us? The more Falls Church residents who join CommonPlace, the better a tool it will be for our town. I hope you can join those who are already plugged into the community network – including the City government, FCCPS, VPIS, Creative Cauldron, Falls Church ARTS, the Chamber of Commerce, the Library and 400 of your fellow residents and counting – by signing up at www.FallsChurch.OurCommonPlace.com.