Civic involvement is the antidote to those who would disrupt our community

September 2, 2011 

The Puget Sound area, in particular Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, is a wonderful place to live despite any faults, real or imagined, one may wish to attribute to it.

It is a strong, resilient community of which I am a proud resident.

Because of this, incidents such as the recent one in downtown Olympia involving several dozen people, some of them anarchists, who damaged property and assaulted several citizens are cause for concern. They are also reminders that the strength and integrity of our community is not guaranteed.

The strength of the community is constantly tested, and weakened over time, by a variety of forces – mistrust, crime, incivility, etc. Like any home, our community requires constant maintenance, in the form of citizens actively engaged in the community, to maintain its integrity and continue to be a wonderful place to live.

Communities like ours are complex entities with inherent strengths and weaknesses. Communities like ours offer citizens some degree of safety, the ability to earn a living, and social interaction. These are great strengths.

Building such a community isn’t easy as most of us know. It takes a dedicated, concerted effort to build community. And there are many intertwined relationships, organizations, and laws necessary to keep things running smoothly.

All this complexity brings a weakness as well as a benefit. The weakness is a natural tendency toward decline, breakdown, and entropy. The incident mentioned above is a symptom of this, a reminder to us that our community is being tested.

In their disregard for law, personal/private property, and for public safety the people allegedly involved in this incident served as agents of societal decline. Left unchecked, actions such as these will lead to further decline in the strength of our community.

This same incident, thankfully, also gives us an indication of the antidote to this weakening of our community. The antidote is citizen involvement.

Someone noticed the vandalism and contacted the authorities prompting an appropriate response by police. Two individuals directly confronted those causing the problem.

Whether direct confrontation is the safest or most desirable means of involvement is debatable, but it is also beside the point. The point is that citizens are the key to counteracting the forces that weaken our community.

Without citizen involvement the ability of the police, fire departments and all of our community resources to act is severely limited. Without citizen involvement in the incident above, more damage would have been done, the response of the authorities would likely have been delayed, and the culprits would have received the message that our community is weak and ripe for more attacks.

Citizen involvement cannot prevent attacks on our society. Anarchists, bad politicians, and all of the other forces that weaken our society will always be there. Citizen involvement can serve to arrest the impact of such attacks as well as build up our community’s strength, cohesion, and resilience to better recover from such attacks in the future.

My hope here is to use a negative event to instill not fear of, or hostility toward, the people involved in this incident but to encourage and remind us all of the need to continually work to inoculate our community against such attacks through community involvement.

Many South Sound residents already are involved – volunteering, attending town hall meetings, and abiding by local laws. My message to them is simple: “Thank you, keep up the good work.”

If you aren’t involved, my message is to get involved in any way you can. You don’t need to confront vandals in the streets. You just need to be actively involved to make a difference.

Kevin Deleon, a employee of the state of Washington and of the Washington Army National Guard, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached

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