Editorial: In praise of ‘localism’



The benefits of having an engaged, close-knit community are never far from the minds of Mount Desert Island residents. Knowing citizens have the ability to make meaningful change, as groups have worked to pass ordinances requiring night-sky friendly lighting, rebuild playgrounds with public and private funding and impose reasonable bounds on development and commercial use. Even the push to make the island energy independent in the coming years has remarkable momentum.

The community also rallies to support libraries and community organizations, to buy a commuter a bicycle, or to show a “Make-A-Wish” kid a memorable time.

Almost three dozen people applied to join or wanted to continue to serve on the Warrant Committee in Bar Harbor last year, and many are now taking out papers for a charter commission to recommend structural changes to town government.

The merits of ‘localism,’ this willingness to apply problem-solving energies and elbow grease at home rather than spending too much time worrying about what Washington or Augusta will do, are getting increased attention.

“Expertise is not in the think tanks but among those who have local knowledge, those with a feel for how things work in a specific place and an awareness of who gets stuff done,” David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last month. “Success is measured not by how big you can scale, but by how deeply you can connect.”

About a year ago, the Maine Seacoast Mission honored this newspaper, its publisher Alan Baker and its founding editor Earl Brechlin with the organization’s Sunbeam Award.

Mission director Scott Planting noted that the paper, like the Mission, works to cultivate this localist energy.

“In this difficult time of failed public expectations, when thoughtful people wonder where to look for hope, I keep returning in my own mind to the thought of the renewal of rural communities,” Planting said, quoting Wendell Berry.

“But to be authentic, a true encouragement and a true beginning, this would have to be a revival accomplished mainly by the community itself. It would have to be done not from the outside by the instruction of visiting experts, but from the inside by the ancient rule of neighborliness, by the love of precious things, and by the wish to be at home.”

Localism is not parochial, and it’s not insular. Elders make way for new ideas from entrepreneurs, adopting good ideas when they’re shown to “pencil out.”

Here at the beginning of a school year, and the beginning of a new year’s town budget process, and on the occasion of Baker’s retirement, Islander readers can give themselves a pat on the back for their localism.