A Project for Students and Citizens

Linden: Week Four

In Linden on June 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Blake Evans is living democracy in Linden, Alabama.  Originally from Deatsville, he is a junior majoring in communications in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

The amount of politics that take place in Linden without many of the citizens knowing is incredible.  And I am not referring to the negative, down-grading politics that people are so familiar with from Montgomery and Washington.  I am talking about the healthy, engaging talks that take place between citizens regarding their community.

Civic life in Linden is alive and well.  This is evident in the common areas of the city.  Not the official places of politics like city hall and the county courthouse, but the places where citizens gather daily to simply chew the fat. Many places in Linden, such as Scott Park, Church’s Chicken, Screamers, and the barber and beauty shops, are flourishing with deliberations that drive and mold Linden’s community to exceptional civic health.

One of the most important civic spots in Linden is, without a doubt, Scott Park.  Every spring and summer families gather there to join in celebrating one of America’s most well-known and treasured traditions: Little League Baseball. Wendy Lewis, the city clerk and a proud grandparent of a current little leaguer, described the ballpark as a place where the community can gather and just have fun.  Also, she said, “The league here, it’s for the kids, and if they didn’t have it, it would be bad because the kids love sports.”  Mayor Mitzi Gates expanded on the importance of the ballpark saying, “It really is a hub of this community, and it is a vital element of community development for both children and adults.”  Furthermore, the mayor stated that the ballpark brings people into Linden from outlying areas, and this boosts the local economy because they spend their money inside city limits.

Other civic spaces can be found at places such as Church’s Chicken and Screamers.  Church’s is well-known around the community for being the destination of many men who arrive early in the morning to drink coffee and discuss the latest news. Screamers, a locally owned restaurant, is the place many families go to relax, enjoy a delicious ice cream cone and talk about what’s going on in their lives and in Linden.  The local barber and beauty shops are great places for civic talk as well.  If a person is looking to catch the weekly news, these are the places to go.  In fact, the mayor even joked that her husband, Greg Gates, has learned information regarding the city before she has just from his trips to the barber shop.

Scott Park, Church’s Chicken, Screamers, and the barber and beauty shops are only a few key civic spaces in Linden.  Many more exist, and the talks and deliberations within each location have been, and will continue to be, of the utmost importance in shaping and engaging Linden’s citizenry.

However, the abundance of community discussions that take place in Linden puts great pressure and responsibility on the shoulders of both elected officials and engaged citizens.  Community discussions are excellent, and they are vital to the overall health of communities, but, too often, progressive deliberation turns into bashing gossip. Mayor Gates seems to have the antidote for unhealthy gossip.  Having held the mayoral office for four years, Gates is experienced and knows the rules of the road.  Gates said, “I came into office valuing every citizen’s opinions, but I didn’t fully realize until I got here that some people are just very pessimistic even when positive things are happening.  I had to quickly learn that such negativity was not targeted at me – that it was just an opportunity for me to learn and grow.”  She said she welcomes the viewpoints of everyone in the community, even those that do not align with hers.  “It certainly challenges me to think about issues from both sides, which is vital to resolving issues in any community,” Gates stated.

Despite the fact that differences of opinion exist, the mayor wants citizens to know that it is important to Linden that they always “believe.”  “Believe” has been the mayor’s buzzword throughout her time in office, and the word decorates various areas in city hall.  She uses the word to inspire not only herself but all citizens.  Through whatever political or social talks may transpire within the community, she wants citizens to continuously “believe” that great things can, and will, happen in Linden.

“We can never limit ourselves by saying, ‘That could never happen in Linden,’” Gates said.  She wants citizens to always be hopeful and “believe” because she knows the importance of optimism concerning community politics. If the healthiness of civic life can be defined by the number of thriving civic spaces, it is safe to say that the community of Linden will be alive and vibrant for a very long time.  Hopefully, the activeness and willingness of the citizens to talk, deliberate, and express their opinions in civic spaces around Linden will be an enduring practice.

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