The Social Center For The Organization Of Country Life
PRESENT LACK OF ORGANIZATION
The farmers are more poorly organized than any other class, and probably they get a smaller proportion of the just returns from their industry. The isolation of the farms has made communication difficult and the farmer a self-sufficient individualist. This sturdy independence is a real social and moral safeguard to the nation, but it also has made cooperation difficult, and the farmers as a class ineffective in proportion to their numbers. To overcome the effects of this isolation is perhaps the greatest problem of the country at present.
This condition has not always prevailed. The pioneers may have been scattered over a large area, but they were drawn closely together in spirit. There were no carpenters in the early community, and together they erected the cabin of the newcomer. There were no reapers or mowers, and neighbor followed neighbor in the swath. There were no nurses, and each of the neighbors watched in turn with the one that was sick. It was essential to safety oftentimes that they stand together to repel the attacks of the Indians. Out of this condition grew a feeling of neighborliness, a sense of solidarity that has been largely displaced by the coming in of the different trades and the development of labor-saving machinery. The results of these developments have been good for industry but bad for the social life.
It cannot be expected that such a condition will create a community sense or that such a community will work for clean politics, good roads, good schools, good churches, or other common purposes. The community cannot well do this, because there is no real community. t has no organization or general meeting through which it can work. Thus the community loses the improvements, and the people lose the social life, the moral safeguards from an active public opinion, and the social education from working for the public welfare. Our cities are rapidly developing a sense of solidarity or mutual dependence today. It is becoming a part of the public consciousness that the welfare of all is dependent on the welfare of each, and there is a growing sense of responsibility for the conditions under which the weaker members of the community are living. But the farmer has very little class consciousness, and he cannot well have such a consciousness unless he meets with others of his class more. The social center is essential to the organization of country life.
I was told at Rocky Ford, Colorado, last winter that if they could get seventy-five cents for a crate of cantaloupes, they were well satisfied. Seventy-five cents for sixty is one cent and a quarter apiece. When I have paid twenty-five or thirty cents for one of these at the hotel or in the dining car, it has seemed to me that there had been a good deal of loss between the cup and the lip, that apparently the cost of production did not have much to do with the cost to the consumer, and that in general the farmer was not getting his share. Farmers can have what they want if they will work for it as a class, but the trouble thus far has been that they have not known what they wanted, and they have had very insufficient leadership from people who understood the problems of the farm. If the new facilities that are needed for the elevation of farm life are to be secured, they must come through the farmers themselves, and this can only be done by their working together. The grange seems to be the only organization at present that is prepared to attack the problems of both the business and the social welfare of the farming community. It is in itself a social and recreational agency of no small importance in the country. I quote from Butterfield's " Chapters in Rural Progress " :
The methods of work of the grange are many and varied. In addition to the regular literary and social programmes previously mentioned, socials are held at the homes of members, entertainments of various kinds occur at the grange hall, and in many ways the association becomes the center of the intellectual and social interest of the community. It is a debating society, club, lecture course, parliamentary society, theater, and circulating library. In fact it lends itself to almost any function that will instruct, benefit, entertain, or assist its members financially, morally, intellectually or socially. Of course not every grange is awake to its opportunities; but as a rule, where a live one exists, it is the acknowledged leader in social movements.
The grange has within itself the possibility of doing nearly all for the rural community that the social center may do. It is largely the question of inclination, except that it does not seem likely that the grange may ever receive public funds. The farmers, however, are poorly organized, and the member-ship in the grange is relatively very limited. The numbers are increasing, but Butterfield finds in the five states where the grange is best organized — New York, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania — that the total membership in 1905 is only 222,000. The rural population of these five states is probably not less than six millions, and as men and women and children over fourteen may be members of the grange, this would probably indicate that about five or six percent of the population of the rural communitics who are eligible to membership are actually members of the grange. It is often difficult to become a member. A friend of mine, a highly respected member of the community, had his name before the grange for six months before it was acted upon favorably, and my name was similarly before the grange for more than two months before action was taken. Such tactics prevent the grange from filling the real need of the country. t must become more democratic and invite all to become members without undue delay or red tape, or else let the membership be an inner circle but invite all to take part in its general activities. As compared with the labor unions the grange seems to be much more exclusive and membership more difficult. Every community needs what we might term a League for Rural Progress, — some sort of organization such as exists for New England and for several individual states, — that will concern itself with every phase of the public welfare. This the social-center association might do. This the grange or the rural church might also accomplish. The one that actually does it will probably be-come the dominant factor in rural life. If the grange takes in all and seeks to serve all, it will become the social center. If, on the other hand, the social-center association conceives its functions more largely and really reaches the community, it may on its civic side do the work that the grange has been seeking to do and make the grange unnecessary, or the grange may hold its meetings at the social-center hall and become a cooperating agency.
THE SOCIAL CENTER AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
The country-life experts seem to be pretty well agreed that the greatest weakness of the country at present is the lack of organization among farmers and their failure to cooperate in common enterprises. Only a small percentage of the farmers are members of any farmers organization. Although they are the largest single class in the country, they have little influence on legislation or national politics. They do not combine, and they consequently sell their produce for whatever they can get and buy whatever they need at any price that they may be charged. Cooperative associations have greatly improved these conditions abroad. In Denmark they have managed largely to eliminate the profits of the middleman, and to sell their produce directly to the consumer and purchase directly of the manufacturer. Cooperative credit societies have often been able to borrow, for three or four per cent, as much money as was needed. These facts are well known. But the American farmer is too much of an individualist to combine with others. He is leading too isolated a life. The rural social center may well serve as the basis on which to build up such a system of cooperation. It will overcome the suspicion and make the farmers better acquainted. It furnishes the opportunity for talking up and launching the movement.
The social center would appear from this study to be crucial to the larger education of the farmer and his wife, to breaking the isolation of the farm and providing it with the needed recreation and social life, and to the organization of the farm community for various cooperative business and civic enterprises. All of these things are just now fundamental to the welfare of the country, and all the organizations that are interested in promoting the welfare of the country may well combine in promoting the social center.
( Originally Published 1914 )
Play And Recreation:
The Social Center For The Organization Of Country Life
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