I was in West Des Moines when the strongest of the storms moved through around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. The rain was truly torrential -- visibility fell to less than 1/8th of a mile -- and the winds were enough to knock around lots of big, sturdy old trees:
But what really captures my attention about the event was just how quickly people set to work cleaning up. I saw a 2' diameter tree fall across a residential street -- and before the rain had even stopped, the homeowner was outside with a chainsaw, cutting it up and removing it from the roadway. I saw entire neighborhoods full of people pulling branches and fallen tree limbs out of their lawns and stacking them in the parkways. A neighbor of mine who lost a big tree was outside and, with the help of some relatives, breaking down the debris before the sun went down -- even though his household power was out, rendering all electrical power tools useless.
I don't think the "clean up after yourself" mentality is exclusive to West Des Moines, or Iowa, or even to America. But I do think there's something to be said for the bootstrap mentality that goes along with the pride of ownership. When a branch falls from your own tree in your own yard, there's no need to wait for someone else to take action, and in a community where all of your neighbors are quick to start picking up after a storm, then there's a healthy sort of peer pressure to do the same.
We can't legislate pride of ownership into existence -- though we could certainly diminish it if we're not careful. When people are happy to own something, that gives them reason to take care of it. It's what makes private property such a cornerstone of functioning self-government. In the words of someone much wiser than myself:
"The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."
- Margaret Thatcher
So: Good work, neighbors. You've made your fellow Iowans proud. Lots of you, taking care of your own property, cleaned up so quickly that you had yard waste already bagged and tagged, waiting for the refuse trucks to pick up on their regular routes this morning. This wasn't a victory for "red" voters or "blue" voters, but for community and for the pride of ownership that no laws can ever replace. That's not a political thing or a partisan thing -- in a phrase I'll borrow from United States Senator Ben Sasse, it's a pre-political thing. And it's much more important than most of the things people debate in statehouses and in the halls of Congress. You've done well.