from the mayor’s desk
Community service call to action
By ANN MARIE NAFZIGER
One month ago, I received the great honor of being elected as mayor of Marfa. I thank the citizens for your faith in me, and I look forward to working hard to earn the trust of each of you, regardless of how you may have voted in the election.
One of my first official events as mayor was participating in the Memorial Day ceremony co-hosted by Presidio County and the City of Marfa. Local citizens and folks in town for the holiday gathered together, like people all across America, to pay honor to those who died serving in our armed forces. I felt inspired as I read aloud the names, one by one, of individuals from our own community who lost their lives in service to our country. I was encouraged by the large number of veterans and their families in attendance—inspired and encouraged by the reminder that average human nature is, in fact, capable of extraordinary service.
Today in Marfa we could use a little more of that kind of inspiration and encouragement. Many of us have grown so accustomed to the deeply polarized nature of national politics that we default to mistrust, stereotypes, and cynicism in our daily lives. Even in our small town, we find ourselves estranged from each other by technology, preferring social media to meaningful face-to-face contact with our neighbors—especially those who are somehow different from us. Instead of earnestly seeking shared values and areas of common ground (of which there are plenty,) we take the easy route and get stuck in our use of divisive labels and judgment.
Fortunately, there is a remedy: civic engagement. It may sound simplistic to say that we need to have more potlucks and social clubs, that people without school-age children should attend and participate in school events, that every single volunteer raises our community’s collective sense of ownership. But it’s true. Every time and in every way we engage in our community, the dividends add up. And the dividends are greatest when we go beyond our own circles to build bridges with people who seem unlike ourselves.
On Memorial Day, Judge Cinderela Guevara told a great story about when she first joined the military, and Lionel Salgado, himself a veteran, told her (paraphrasing) to go kick butt, you’re from Marfa. You’re from Marfa. What a statement of pride and ownership! It means something, to be from this place. It means something to grow up here. It also means something to choose to raise a family, to own a business, to live and work here. Being part of this small community means that we take responsibility for Marfa, and Marfa gives us identity and character.
Together, we are Marfa. What does that mean to you? What would you like it to mean? And what are you willing to do to make that a reality?
I leave you today with a challenge: A Civic Call to Action. Let us all find ways to be bridge builders. Let us deliberately seek common ground and focus on our shared values. Let us each make a point to befriend someone who isn’t like us. Let us pull ourselves out of our old habits, ditch the labels, and give each other a break. The citizens of Marfa are far more interesting and complex than the shallow categories we so quickly put each other into. Let us meet face to face, in service, over a meal, and out having fun.
I’m pretty certain that each one of us can find something to give, some further way to connect with others. Government has a role to play, too, and over the next months you’ll see new initiatives by the city to encourage civic engagement and better communication. Yet true success comes from individual citizens stepping up, knowing we are better together and that each of us is capable of extraordinary service.
An influential book on the subject of community, which I recently revisited, is Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” In it, he explores how the ways in which Americans once related to each other and participated in public life – from volunteerism to attending public meetings to joining a church, club, or service organization – have declined over the past several generations. He looks at the impact this has had on our communities and outlines what we might do to re-engage in civic life.
Ann Marie Nafziger is an artist, community advocate, and the recently elected mayor of Marfa. You can reach her in the mayor’s office at 432 295 0048 or by email at email@example.com. Or stop by City Hall, where the door is open.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog