The Right to Dissent

Disagreeing with the majority is a right we hold dear and one of the many things we will celebrate next week as we observe the Fourth of July. Rights and benefits we take for granted today would not have been possible without strong disagreement in the past. Slavery, women’s suffrage, religious freedom, and the right to unionize are just a few of the ideas that people fought and, in many cases, died to defend or eliminate.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court established the right of same-sex couples to marry, validating what many states had already decided in recent years. I am sure the debate is not over, but the law is settled. What began as a concern of a minority of citizens a relatively short time ago now appears to be the prevailing national sentiment.

The right to dissent is not confined to issues of national importance. We frequently hear complaints from citizens about a broad range of issues that include everything from high weeds to the neighbors’ barking dog. More importantly, nearly all of our municipal laws are subject to criticism or disagreement over time. Our Council listens to these concerns and routinely makes changes in an effort to better serve the needs of the community and the desires of citizens. Sometimes these disagreements are unpleasant and personal, but they generally serve an important purpose. Our ability to voice our concerns without fear of retribution is important to the health of our city.

I believe the same principle is true for the City of Albany as an organization. I don’t think any of us enjoy being criticized or second-guessed, but we have some obligation to listen carefully and tolerate opposing points of view. Past criticism has led to a number of changes that have strengthened the organization and made it more productive. The old adage about being hard on the problem and soft on the person is generally a better path toward resolving the problem than a personal attack.

The City’s values haven’t changed much in the past decade, and I think those we have adopted still do a good job of explaining what’s important to us. Our policies and practices that reflect those values do change periodically in recognition of changing circumstances. Greater recognition of minority rights is one area where I believe we will continue to see needed change in the years ahead. I will probably be among the majority who will not agree with every new idea that’s proposed, but I will do my best to respect new proposals and look beyond my own prejudices before making judgments.

Dissent is a necessary part of a healthy society or organization, as it helps us to adapt to what’s happening in the world around us. The process of resolving disagreement is, unfortunately, often as difficult as it is valuable.

Our Past and Our Future

Last week, I wrote about my then upcoming vacation in Neola, Iowa. It turns out that my family reunion was really out in the country and not all that close to Neola. I did get the opportunity, however, to spend a fair amount of time visiting a number of small towns in Iowa and Nebraska as we tried to find information about our family.

I realize most people don’t spend their vacations sitting in libraries looking at local history books or tramping through cemeteries searching for their ancestors’ graves; so I assume I have seen more of these places than the average person. I learned many things on this trip, but something that stood out was the number and quality of libraries and cemeteries in very small communities in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. My favorite was the library in Central City, Nebraska, where we looked up information about my great-grandfather, who homesteaded there in the 1870s. The library, built in 1991, was attractive, well-maintained, staffed by friendly people, and heavily used. We found similar libraries in Harlan and the much larger city of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The number, size, and quality of these libraries seemed disproportionate to the wealth of the communities where they are located.

We visited many small towns, and I saw evidence of great community pride in most of them. My great-grandparents are buried in a beautiful cemetery in Shelby, Iowa; and one of my great aunts is buried in an equally nice graveyard in Newmans Grove, Nebraska. The message I received in these places was people here care about their past and care about their future. The message was reinforced every time we passed beautiful school buildings and amazing, historic government buildings. The county courthouse in Merrick County, Nebraska, was built in 1912; and the people inside showed the same pride in their work that was evident in the outward appearance of the historic building.

I think a visitor to Albany would find many of the same things I saw in my brief journey in the Midwest. People here, like people in Central City, care about their town and are willing to keep investing in the facilities that are an important part of community life. Swimming pools, libraries, parks, city halls, schools, fire stations, and cemeteries say something about what is important to us. They send a message whether we intend them to or not.

Work is underway at South Albany to replace the building that recently burned, and a new all-weather surface in being installed at West Albany to match the one built at South last year. Design work for our new police and fire stations is in process, and the bond sales to finance the new buildings will take place soon. Our annual cemetery tour will take place in July, and I will be among the presenters to talk about my ancestors at the site where they are buried. Our willingness to keep investing in these places says something important about who we are and what we believe. I believe the connection between our past and our future is worth the investment and is a necessary component of a healthy community.

Family

My wife and I are taking a brief vacation this month to attend a family reunion in Neola, Iowa, and explore family history in Nebraska. Vacationing in Iowa and Nebraska in the summer is not an indicator of good judgment unless there is some reason other than the weather and landscape to attract you there. My reason is family.

My grandfather, Isaac Hare, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska; and my grandmother, Jennie Campbell, was born in western Iowa. I know a lot about my grandparents because my grandmother lived with my family at various times when I was growing up and left us many pictures and other records of her family. We will be sharing much of what we’ve learned with other Campbells at the reunion, but we’re really hoping to learn more about my grandfather’s family while traveling around Nebraska.

My wife is the historian in our family, and she recently uncovered my great-grandfather’s donation land claim records from the 1870s, which revealed that he had great handwriting and was apparently a very hard-working man. He filed his claim in 1878 after constructing a 16’ by 24’-foot sod house and a slightly smaller barn. Adam Hare was also able to dig a well by hand and cultivate more than 30 acres that were planted in corn, wheat, and oats. I can only imagine how desolate and lonely he must have been while doing that work.

Adam married my great-grandmother in 1879, and they had four children together before the family fell apart. We don’t know what happened; but by the time my grandfather was eight years old, both his father and mother had disappeared, leaving their three daughters and one son alone on the Nebraska prairie. Neighbors found the children and shipped them to relatives in Iowa, where two were adopted out and two were taken in by family. My grandfather Isaac was lucky to be raised by his mother’s brother and his wife who treated him like their own child. Isaac named his first child after the aunt who raised him.

Family legend has it that Adam Hare left the family in Nebraska while he traveled to Colorado or Oregon to join his brother in a new homesteading venture. We know he made it to Klamath Falls where he worked as an itinerant laborer for the rest of his life. It may be apocryphal, but my grandfather was supposedly reunited with his father in a bar in Lakeview in the early 1900s when they ran into each other by chance. We have no clue about what happened to my great-grandmother, Ellen Atkins Hare.

I can’t explain the bond I feel toward family members I’ve never met, except to say it’s there. My great-grandfather Adam died in 1927 when he tried to jump a freight train near Chiloquin and discovered that he was too old to be doing that kind of thing. We have a very lurid newspaper article about the accident. My debt to my great-grandfather goes beyond his role in my eventual birth or the lesson of avoiding trains. His life reminds me of my good fortune and inspires me to learn more about the many people who helped build the road I’ve traveled in my life.

I think we all benefit from knowing more about our personal heritage, whether it’s a series of cautionary tales or a gallery of shining examples. I suspect most people will find both. Family history is something we can pass on to our children; and, if mine are like me, they may become interested in the later years of their life.