Andrew had walked around his suburban neighborhood many times, seeing how dead the monoculture was, but also seeing in his mind how much better it could be. The vision of the past, of rows of single family homes on tight little plots of grass and trees, was unsustainable because it killed the spirit. He had some ideas, and so he set about his task. Being an old retired guy gave him the time to do something, and just enough courage to try.
The plan was to organize the neighbors in Haddonwood to do two things simultaneously. The first thing (though no more important than the second) was to turn the bedroom community of the old neighborhood into a vibrant village, with stores, offices, and apartments, adding some life to this dead place. When he walked around the neighborhood, he walked in circles, because there was no place to walk “to”, except back home. But in his vision he imagined a few stores, offering dry cleaning, groceries, and a good cup of coffee. These he imagined along the main boulevard of the neighborhood, a road that people from outside of the neighborhood used as a speedy cut-through from one major road to another. He imagined much more foot traffic if the neighbors had places to walk to, instead of needing a car to get anywhere at all, to do anything of importance. He remembered his days growing up in a rural setting, where, as a young kid, he and friends would hop on their bikes and head for Salisbury’s Variety Store, or the hardware store called “The Hayseed”, where a well-stocked candy counter was the main attraction for kids. The Hayseed was also the place where, in the summer months, the bookmobile would make regular weekly stops. He had started to learn Spanish one summer that way.
The second object of his plan was even bolder: he wanted to create a new form of government built on cooperation rather than coercion. He had over the years become completely disillusioned with governments at every level. He believed in representative government, but became convinced that it didn’t really exist. It’s not that there were no elected representatives, because the town council, state legislature, and US Congress always had a full complement. But none of them represented him. He generally voted Republican, but the demographics of his town meant that no Republican had been elected to the town council for the last 40 years! Even when a representative from his party was elected in his congressional district, he knew that the person elected really represented the special interests that were needed to fund those ever-more-costly elections. Elections were a sham.
After years of pondering the situation, he came up with an idea that seemed to have good possibilities. He called the idea “Canton Nation”. The word “canton” comes from the territories of the Swiss Confederation, the government of Switzerland. Everywhere else in the world people call such territories “counties”. His idea of a canton was not of a territory, but something more like a political party. Members of a canton for a particular place would have shared values, similar in that way to a political party, but differing from a party in that the aim was not to get their candidate elected, but to provide a leader that would truly represent them. The leaders (“champions”) of the various cantons of a particular territory, such as a neighborhood, would meet as a group (a “forum”) to figure out how to get things done on the basis of cooperation. The idea of the forum was inspired by the structure of Lloyd’s of London. At its founding, Lloyd’s was a gathering place for ship owners who needed some insurance for their cargo (to share some of the risk in exchange for some of the reward of their voyages), and wealthy individuals who found that providing such insurance was a proven way to make some money. From this beginning came the insurance industry as we know it today.
This was the plan. But where to start? He knew it was time to dredge up that tiny bit of courage. Maybe after a nap.