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Shovel for Democracy

November 21, 2010

How does snow-removal uphold the social contract? An open letter and apology to my fellow citizens.

Dear Bellingham neighbors:

Thank you for shoveling your sidewalks. I appreciate that even though “it never snows here,” experience led you to own a shovel anyway. Despite the fact that “the rain always washes it away,” you had the foresight to check the weather report and you removed the inch of snow BEFORE it magically turned into six inches of ice.

It is a comfort to know that even though “it’s not the law here,” my fellow citizens are libertarian enough that they don’t need to rely on government coercion to do the right thing. I’m especially proud of those of you who “are just renters” and yet still provide a clear path for our elderly and disabled neighbors to get to the corner store for daily necessities.

You renew my faith in humanity by acknowledging that, yes, snow-shoveling is part of the social contract. Instead of living in a tree in the woods where there are no sidewalks to shovel, you’ve accepted the responsibility of snow-shoveling in exchange for other rights associated with living in civilization.

Indeed, by shoveling your sidewalk, you are contributing to democracy itself. Because of you, your fellow citizens are able to walk to access information, exercise their right of assembly, and participate in civic life. We’re Americans. We assemble. It’s hard to assemble when we can’t even walk down the block.

I cannot forget to acknowledge all of you who take these rights and responsibilities so seriously that even though you “have a bad back,” you exchange goods, services, good will, or cash with other neighbors so that they will shovel for you. Speaking of stimulating the economy, who can forget the laudatory Bellingham businesses that provide easy access to their doors? By shoveling your walks, you are stoking the engines of commerce, providing me the ability to SPEND-SPEND-SPEND locally rather than online, safely at home.

This is the point where I must apologize. After this storm I, too, succumbed to the “but I have a corner lot” excuse. I shoveled the front, but not the “south side where it always melts by itself.”  I regret my inaction, as shoveling the snow yesterday would have taken a fraction of the time and pain it’s now taking me to break up the ice that is threatening my fellow citizens with bodily harm. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is interpreted as an act of terror: not shoveling my sidewalk so clearly disrupts capitalism, democracy and civilization itself.

Again, neighbors, I’m sorry. Taking your example to heart, from this time forward I pledge to shovel. I will shovel for you, Bellingham, and for America.

Sincerely, your neighbor, fellow citizen and pedestrian,

Elizabeth Jennings

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