Commentary Upfront Blog

#HumanityStrong

The story of Refugio is remarkable for the sense of community it shows amid the most trying times. But the truth is that community is always there.

Genice Gipson (r.) comforts her lifelong friend Loretta Capistran in Refugio, Texas, Aug. 28, just after hurricane Harvey.
Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/AP
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Recent years have brought #BostonStrong and, more recently, #HoustonStrong and #VegasStrong. The hashtag encapsulates pride and defiance – the moment when a city realizes it can face its greatest fears and remain unbowed. 

The hashtag is new but the spirit is not. London stayed calm and carried on during the Blitz, the bombings of the Irish Republican Army, and recent terrorist attacks across the city. New York proved that not even the most devastating terrorist act on United States soil could take the heart out of the Big Apple. 

To this list, Monitor correspondent Carmen Sisson suggests one that you might not have heard before: #RefugioStrong. In this week’s cover story, Carmen visits a small town southwest of Houston that – like its better-known neighbor – is only now beginning to feel some sense of normalcy. But unlike Houston, Refugio has had to scramble back from the brink relying mostly on its own pluck and pride. Refugio’s ongoing recovery is a testament to how the people of the town – from high school football players to town librarians – pulled people out of the water and are rebuilding homes and lives on their own.

But Refugio’s story is, in some measure, the story of every town affected by hurricane Harvey. Or hurricane Irma. Or hurricane Sandy. Just as the strength of Boston mirrored that of London, New York, Paris, and Barcelona, Spain. 

The story of Refugio is remarkable for the sense of community it shows amid the most trying times. But the truth is that community is always there. Hashtags make for poignant rallying points and focus the world’s attention on the needs of the moment. But at times like this, when political scientists point to persistent divisions among many populations, it seems just as important to acknowledge the Refugio in all of us, all the time. 

In a conversation with author Marilynne Robinson for The New York Review of Books in 2015, President Barack Obama noted that the “virtues that you prize and that you care about” are everywhere. “They are there in Little League games, and emergency rooms, and in school buildings. And people are treating each other the way you would want our democracy to cultivate. But there’s this huge gap between how folks go about their daily lives and how we talk about our common life and our political life. And people describe it as the distance between Washington and Main Street. But it’s not just Washington; it’s the way we talk about our politics, our foreign policy, our common endeavors. There’s this gap.

“And the thing I’ve been struggling with throughout my political career is how do you close the gap. There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics.”

The point is not to take sides with Mr. Obama as a politician, but to recognize the need to close that gap. In the same conversation, Ms. Robinson suggested that “the basis of democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people.”

From Boston to Houston, New York to Refugio, we have ample evidence to do just that.

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