By CARY BOZEMAN<br>Guest columnist
Today we live in a country that is politically so polarized that it prevents government from getting anything done, at both the federal and state levels. We are being torn apart by some of the ugliness we see on television each evening, and we are led by the most controversial president in American history.
I am 76 years old and have served in public service for more than 50 years as a mayor and a leader of nonprofit organizations, and I have never been so worried for our country as I am today. Even during the civil rights movement in the ’60s and the much-hated war in Vietnam, we held out hope for a better America.
When I want to feel better, I take a long walk through my neighborhood. I live in an older neighborhood near downtown Bremerton, a neighborhood that is diverse in terms of people’s age, their politics, which church they attend, the color of their skin and their income levels.
What I see are people who like to organize a weekly farmers market, hold festivals, have food drives for the needy or help raise funds to upgrade one of our neighborhood parks. Their goal is to create a community where people live longer, healthier, happier lives. Shouldn’t that be the goal of any of our government institutions? Shouldn’t every action taken by our government have some positive impact on our ability to live healthier, happier, longer lives? Instead, our lawmakers spend more time fighting, without a willingness to compromise, only to end up getting nothing done.
I have come to believe that the local neighborhood might be the most effective and powerful tool we have today that can impact the quality of our lives. Organized neighborhoods can support local business, provide resources for entrepreneurs, help with job training, create a strong neighborhood business association, and encourage neighbors to buy local. They can improve our health with community gardens, walking clubs and walk-in health clinics.
Today, we should all do all we can to activate our neighborhoods by encouraging neighborhood associations, empowering neighborhoods to positively impact the community, and provide a framework and support for grass-roots projects.
Organized neighborhoods can connect people through neighborhood clubs and block parties, and can use technology for staying in touch and sharing information. We can work together and plant more trees, organize a tool lending library, and share our talents by offering classes and workshops. This is the America I want to live in, and it is right here in my own neighborhood.
So if you want to live a healthier, happier, longer life, here are my Top 10 suggestions:
• Develop a neighborhood association, or join one.
• Advocate for a department of neighborhoods within your city, or find out more about what they do and how they can help your neighborhood.
• Develop a neighborhood communications network.
• Engage and support your local neighborhood business.
• Advocate for increased funding for sidewalks, street lighting and community gardens.
• Build more bike lanes and walking paths.
• Lobby for better local transit service.
• Encourage the city to fund a neighborhood grant program.
• Create or join a collaborative, innovative neighborhood program.
• Realize that organized neighborhoods empower citizens to have a voice in their community
Let’s not wait around and depend on our dysfunctional government to improve our lives. Organize a neighborhood potluck, get to know your neighbors and prove that still today, right here in America, we can work together, care about each other, and serve as positive examples to our children who just might be the bright future we hope for.
— Cary Bozeman is a member of the Bremerton Port Commission and is the former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton. This column was originally published in the Sept. 15 edition of The Seattle Times. Republished with permission of the author.