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Our View: Parade disinterest part of troubling trend

The Duluth Denfeld High School marching band participated in last year's Memorial Day parade in West Duluth. The future of the parade is now in doubt due to declining participation. 2016 News Tribune file photo1 / 2
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In 2001, Harvard professor Robert Putnam sounded an alarm — and the evidence, even here in Duluth, just keeps growing that we didn't pay any attention and still aren't paying attention.

We aren't taking heed to the reality that we're losing "community," as Putnam argued in his groundbreaking book, "Bowling Alone," his conclusions based on nearly 500,000 interviews over 25 years. We're becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors, he determined, and our eroding connections are eroding our communities and our very lives.

We sign fewer petitions, attend 58 percent fewer club meetings, eat as a family 43 percent less often, and have friends over with 35 percent less frequency.

And bowling, one of the most social — and socially revealing, as it turns out — of leisure activities: League participation dropped a whopping 50 percent from 1985 to 2002; and between 1998 and 2013, more than a quarter of bowling alleys in the U.S. shut down.

The latest evidence from Duluth that we're growing more disconnected, even here, broke last week. Only 16 units were registered for the annual Memorial Day parade in West Duluth, with only a handful of verbal commitments also on board, the News Tribune reported. Just a few years ago, the parade featured 99 units. Now, the very future of the parade — a tradition in Duluth since 1871, just three years after the first Decoration Day, the precursor to Memorial Day — is in jeopardy.

"It's a shame," Karin Swor, a member of the Northland Veterans Service Committee, told the newspaper.

But it's more than a shame. It's reason for concern. Real concern. And it can be a call to action.

Not that long ago, in 2007, Duluth and the Twin Ports seemed insulated from the troubling trends Putnam found around the rest of the country. We were more involved in our communities than the national average; 27 percent of us had served on a committee in the previous year, a Harvard study Putnam organized found.

"Cities with greater 'social capital,' or community networking and participation, tend to have higher educational achievement, better-performing government, faster economic growth, and less crime," the News Tribune reported that spring. "The more social bonds we have, the stronger the community."

So what happened? Can we blame the growing prevalence of smartphones, our heads always down, texting instead of talking to each other, even being able to watch Netflix or YouTube videos anytime, anywhere? How about the constant onslaught of messaging, advertising and propaganda?

"These are changing times," Brenda Haase, another member of the parade committee, said in last week's story. "People don't want to give up their three-day weekend."

But we also don't want to give up "community." Do we? Rather than passively accepting what doesn't have to be the inevitable — not here, anyway, even if the slide is happening elsewhere — we can take a stand. There's still time to sign up to march in the Memorial Day parade in West Duluth. There's still time to actively participate. Just send an email to northlandveteransservicecom@gmail.com.

Will it reverse a concerning national trend? Of course not. But it can be a moment at least, even if a small one, when we can say we're going to heed the alarm.

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