ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: SPARKS BECOMING WILDFIRES

By James M. Decker

If you’ve seen the national political news this past week, you’re probably exhausted, annoyed, and frustrated. Our news has been consumed by incivility, ugly behavior, petty wars of words, and a general lack of leadership and servanthood. This soap opera is fueled by 24 hour cable news and social media, which keep us in a constant frenzy in the name of ratings, revenue, and clicks.

If you’re tired of that, let me tell you about the news in Stamford this past week. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got our share of struggles and issues, but three developments stand out. First, an anonymous business owner offered to underwrite free admission to the city pool for the remainder of the summer, so that a cornerstone recreational opportunity in the community is accessible to everyone, as often as desired, regardless of financial limitation. Then, after news of a hospital layoff, our local bakery offered free sweet treats to any employees affected by the news. Finally, one of our churches announced a new summer program offering a weekly lunch at the city park to all school-aged children, free of charge, for the rest of the summer. Different people, stepping up in their own ways, with one goal: to improve their community.

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When I compare discouraging national news to inspiring local news, I think about America’s history. Our most powerful changes have risen from the bottom up. They were rarely issued from the top down. America wasn’t founded by a benevolent leader who kindly granted liberty to the people. America was founded by regular community leaders who threw off the yoke of a tyrannical monarch and created a new environment that fostered life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A segregated America wasn’t integrated by a government that eventually realized the error of its ways. Segregation was ended by the passion and energy of local community leaders who saw that right was right and refused to accept anything less, pressuring a recalcitrant government and a reluctant society, facing down death and danger until their movement finally sparked a wildfire of change across the land.

It’s easy to be despondent about our country today: we seem polarized, divided, and unwilling to work together. Don’t be. Instead, think about the tough times of our country’s past, which are too numerous to list in this essay. New leaders have always risen to the challenges of their era. The people rarely waited on top-down government to save the day. Instead the people and new leaders sought out better days and better ways, and bent the government and society to their will.

Don’t let the national story be the story of our collective future. I am heartened by the leaders rising up in Stamford—people putting their own stamp on a better future for the community through business, philanthropy, public service, and ministry. I pray that this spark turns into a wildfire that sweeps through our town and spreads elsewhere. We need not wait on Washington or Austin to fix our society. With a wildfire of community leaders across the country seeking better days and better ways for their place, we’ll be the ones who do the fixing.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.

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