The inauguration of a president is always cause for a moment or two of reflection on what’s right with our country and democracy. It certainly doesn’t change what’s wrong or what we could do better, but it does remind us that addressing those problems is limited not by our government, but by our willingness to engage. While the president was outlining the national agenda for his second term, two groups were meeting locally to try and set agendas for community action. 

The D12 Energy Resilience Sub-committee sponsored a forum to gauge the community’s interest in joining the international Transition Towns movement. This is a concept originated in England where towns put together a plan to reduce CO2 emissions and conserve energy. On the same night, another neighbor invited the community to a conversation about school safety and violence, critical issues that were rarely addressed in the election campaigns but since Newton, have engendered heated debate.

Both initiatives are based on the growing sentiment that problem-solving needs to start locally, especially given the inability of governments to come up with meaningful measures to address larger, critical issues like energy and gun control.  Is this the start of a new, more engaged population committing time and money to change national priorities at a grassroots level? Our recent history suggests we get worked up by sensational incidents – Newton and Hurricane Sandy are just the latest manifestations of these larger problems – but when potential solutions hit the polarized meatgrinder that is DC these days, we lose hope and interest. 

I still think major change needs to be pursued at the highest levels, but am increasingly of the opinion that representatives of that ruling sector will only respond if they hear a loud, clear and sustained voice from the electorate. Those repeated references to  “We the people” in Obama’s inaugural speech are a challenge to all of us to re-engage in the local and national conversation. 

It’s not enough to get misty-eyed every four years about the peaceful transition of power that symbolizes our free society. Our democracy is only as strong as our participation in it. With the serious issues facing the world in 2013, now more than ever is the time to honor our system of government by getting involved locally, nationally and globally. 

D12 – There’s another Give & Take event coming up in the Creative Enterprise Zone. That’s the get-together that brings neighbors together to answer two simple questions: “What do you know?” and “What do you want to know?” Those launch an evening of interactive presentations, performances and social games. More than anything it builds community by bringing neighbors together to get to know each other and their roles in the CEZ. Thursday, Feb. 21, 6:30pm. Cash bar. University Enterprise Laboratories, 1000 Westgate Dr. Ste 101…The City of Saint Paul is holding a photo competition. They’re looking for great photos of anything to do with St. Paul transportation and the citizens that use it. Winning photos will be published in the Saint Paul Street Design Manual.  To find out more go to the 13th floor of the City Hall Annex (25 W. Fourth Street) form 10am-12pm on Wednesday, January 30th. No deadlines posted so far or info on the city website but they promise more info soon…The City is also gathering input from the community on recycling concerns and strategies. If you want to share, visit their online comment tool, Open Saint Paul 

Schools – I just had a great meeting yesterday at Murray Jr. High around the new science class started this semester in partnership with Wolfridge Environmental Center. We’re putting funders together in support of this innovative program to get kids (primarily of color) onto the advanced level science track through their interest and abilities in environmental science. The first class of 22 is already making progress in that direction under the inspired leadership of science teacher, Tim Chase. An important part of the experience is a 2-week summer residency at Wolfridge as well as field trips to local parks and environmental centers for research. It is a very exciting opportunity made possible by some very generous and committed Murray alums.  We continue to seek funding to extend the program to multiple years, so if anyone’s interest is peaked by this, let me know…The school district board approved a contract with Dell Inc. for $4.3 million to design an online portal where students, teachers and parents can access digital lessons, assessments and other resources 24/7. The portal will power a district shift toward "blended learning," where students learn in traditional classrooms as well as online…the district also decided to offer bussing to students who live a half mile from school or more. The old policy offered bussing for those who lived a mile or more but that left many parents turning their backs on neighborhood schools so their kids wouldn’t have to walk a mile to school, especially in severe weather. It will cost some dough but, in the trial areas where they’ve implemented it, has proven to increase community participation in local schools. 

Listserv – Great story in the Bugle about a young neighbor and her love affair with our local branch library. I can testify to the fact that our elementary school kids make good use of it as I see classes filing by the 3rd Place on their way to and from. It’s a foundational institution for them and for our community. Support it in any way you can so we don’t continue to lose hours of service…the Les Bolstad golf course on the St. Paul campus will get a scaled down rehab which will largely keep it the way it is only with a updated clubhouse…the Progressive Dinner is fast approaching on Saturday, Feb. 23. Contact Jane Leonard to sign up or find out more. I know I’ve said it before, but this is one of my favorite events of the year. A chance to meet new and old friends around a table of delicious food with warm hospitality. Don’t miss it! 

StAPnotes – Neighbors Jeff and Emily Blodgett and members of their family were in Washington for the inauguration, Jeff was Obama’s Minnesota Campaign director so was deservedly awarded chairs for some of his group. Son of the Park, Sam Powers, was also on hand serving a two week internship for the inaugural committee. He also got to meet the pres and first lady during a surprise drop-in on a White House tour group he was leading. Those watching on TV might have noticed a Minnesota cap featured prominently as congress filed out after the ceremony. It was on the head of the newly elected 8th district congressman, Rick Nolan. 

That’s all for now. Take care of yourself and be a good neighbor.