At one time in the history of Little Falls, there was “The Round Table.” From my understanding, this was a group of businessmen and community leaders that would regularly meet at a round table at the Pine Edge Inn in Little Falls, MN, in order to make decisions about the community.
You’d be hard-pressed to find documentation of The Round Table as it wasn’t an official group of the city. In all the years I’ve spent looking through the local newspapers, I have never seen it mentioned, but I have heard about it through the rumor mill. As near as I can figure, group members met somewhere between the 1950s to 1970s. Apparently, The Round Table had a lot of influence in the community, making decisions without input from other citizens, arranging things to their liking.
If you want the definition of “paternalism,” this is it.
While The Round Table no longer exists, Little Falls remains under a veil of paternalism, with very few community leaders and business people making most of the decisions about the direction of the city. Some of this is by design, but some of it, as I’m learning through my reading of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” is because the vast majority of citizens don’t get involved.
According to “Bowling Alone,” the heyday of civic involvement occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with later decades seeing a drastic decrease in participation that started with the Baby Boomers and continued on through the Gen Xers. The book was published in 2000, so it doesn’t really cover civic engagement among Millennials.
While the book looks at a number of factors related to the drop in civic participation, such as the influence of television and other media, urban sprawl, and etc., might community paternalism also play a part?
If a small group of people is calling all the shots in a community, with whatever they decide being enacted no matter what other citizens might want, could this lead to disengagement? I know I’ve felt this way about community planning sessions in Little Falls. I’ve taken part in these a number of times and here’s how it goes:
The organizers manage to get a lot of people to come to the first one or two meetings, where the group is broken into smaller groups and instructed by the organizers to discuss our ideas for the community. All these ideas are then brought together and put up for inspection by the group, which then has to narrow the ideas to the top 3 the community is supposed to work on. The vast majority of the ideas get dumped. Then the plan developed from these sessions gets shelved, with nothing ever to show from these community meetings. And community leaders continue on planning and implementing their ideas for the city, feeling as though they have “listened” citizens through these larger sessions.
Citizens have seen enough of this that they’ve become disgusted with the process. They know they are not really being listened to, so they disengage further, thus allowing a small number of people to make all the major decisions in the city.
Three questions for you based on this post:
What examples of paternalism have you seen in Little Falls?
What would have to change in Little Falls for you to want to get involved in civic discussions and planning?
Do you know anything about the history of The Round Table (when it operated, who was part of it, decisions made)?