Atlas shouldn’t shrug

Published 12:01 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

Galileo once wrote, “Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.”

The suffering that Hurricane Irene inflicted on Washington and Beaufort County seems to lend credence to such a statement. What is equally true though is that such suffering can be a catalyst for systemic and fundamental changes in the way we think, feel and act in our personal lives and our community.

Our downtown has been suffering for some time because of a gradual process of apathy and indifference. Hurricane Irene has accentuated that suffering by inflicting losses on many business owners, customers and vendors through the historic district and the city at large, including the outright loss of several businesses. What we face now is a true crossroads. Do we abandon hopes of a revitalized downtown and give in to the naysayers, those clinging stubbornly to a lost past and to those who seem more preoccupied with the minutia of obscure ordinances, fees and rules? Do we instead stand up and demand that action be taken, and not tomorrow, three months from now or three years from now, but immediately?

We have accepted the notion that things just are, that nothing can truly be done, that this committee or that committee must approve every action taken to benefit the downtown. We can no longer afford to accept what is untenable. No less than the survival of livelihoods, businesses, communities and our collective futures is at stake.

So what, may you ask, can practically be done? Plenty.

The city should immediately suspend the collection of excessive fees, work with new customers to stretch out deposits, cease insisting on following the letter of regulations to the absurd detail and begin to genuinely look at making downtown a centerpiece of the city instead of a decaying appendage.

As individuals, we can all assist as well. Shop downtown whenever you can. Support the actions that will help to grow businesses and oppose those actions that hinder economic activity. Voice your opinion often and loudly. And, most of all, remember that this is your downtown and not the downtown of some special group.

Let’s use the suffering that Irene has brought as a motivator and not as an albatross. For as Helen Keller once wrote, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Let’s overcome it.

Gary Ceres is co-owner of I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store in downtown Washington.