Thursday, March 30, 2023

Etzioni, Freedom Summer, and Community


Israeli-American sociologist and author Amitai Etzioni, one of the few active advocates for communitarianism, aptly said that "The I needs the We-to Be."

This clever little maxim perfectly and succinctly encompasses the crux of communitarian thought. We are not just atomistic individuals, deracinated from a larger collective; we are members of groups. Those groups could be as small as an immediate family, or as big as a nation. 

When we connect with others and forge bonds, we open the door to incredible opportunities. These bonds could, over time, turn into lifelong friendships. 

Doug McAdam, who wrote about the Freedom Summer demonstrations in the 1960s, discovered that social activists, who frequented civil rights protests, established networks of trust and continued civic engagement. These young freedom fighters, who courageously worked together to combat racial segregation in Mississippi, needed a team effort to make a meaningful and effective impact. 

Freedom Summer was all about the "We"; emphasis on the "Me" would have been woefully insufficient. Civil rights activists understood that they needed each other in order to make a difference. 

Can you imagine isolated individuals effectuating civil rights reform? Of course you can't. The idea is preposterous. These activist networks were an integral part of the success of the movement. Again, "The I needs the We-to Be!"

The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a bottom-up effort, driven by dedicated groups who passionately believed in the cause. The bottom-up approach, however, only works in a collective capacity, where there is trust and delegation. 

While there were, of course, charismatic individuals who provided the movement with direction and morale, it was the voluntary groups of civic-minded men and women who, ultimately, changed the course of American history. 

They accomplished far more than any one solitary individual could ever dream of doing. 


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