It was 7:40 am, a little too bright and early, last Sunday when I parked my car near St. Luke’s Church and heard from the interior of 1937 Historic City Hall at Central Square the sweat sound of table saws buzzing and the pop-pop-pop of the nail and screw guns. As I put on my work gloves and entered the building, I saw former City Manager and Police Chief Nick Willick, who is the daily construction manager and leading this huge project of rehabilitating the old city hall spaces for the new offices of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, side by side with Harvey Roper, of Roper’s Jewelers, as they lifted and secured the heavy piece of sheetrock into place. Rock music blared in the background and set the work rhythm. Turning my head, I saw a local insurance agent, executive director of parks, a landscape architect, a solar panel sales representative and two retired owners of small businesses in the mid-70s grabbing tools and going to work. All were volunteers. All were donating their time, energy and learned wisdom toward building a more dynamic Auburn for the future.

Seeing the enormous progress being made each week, I was reminded of the wise observations of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French civil servant from an aristocratic family, who visited the United States in 1831-32 and wrote the two-volume book, Democracy in America. In this classic work, one of de Tocqueville’s keen insights in contrasting the democratic and dynamic American Republic with the aristocratic and bureaucratic Europe was the phenomenon of American citizens creating voluntary associations to build stronger communities. He wrote, “In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.” It is not difficult to realize when, for instance, reading the August 7, 1906 Charter establishing the Auburn Chamber of Commerce as a “central body, always organized and always ready to take up any proposition for the public good,” that the numerous dedicated and civic-minded volunteers in Auburn are following a great American tradition.

You don’t have to be a physicist to know that it takes energy to create movement and dynamism. All successful organizations remember and cherish their past accomplishments but they also think anew to meet the needs of the modern era. The volunteer Board of Directors of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce is taking a gutted, asbestos-laden, 1930-era building and raising and investing over $100,000 in improvements to make the Historic City Hall a new center of dynamism for Auburn. The new wiring and enthusiasm of small business owners, non-profits, employees, and volunteers and our partnerships with business associations, the Placer Welcome Center and local governments will power the effort to create more prosperity and a higher quality of life for Auburn area residents. We will expand the Think Auburn First and tourism marketing campaigns and use enhanced website, search engine and video technologies to provide even greater support for small businesses. We will expand our efforts to bring in experts to give valuable information to small business owners and their employees to keep them up-to-date with the impact of new laws. We will be an even stronger voice before all levels of government to make sure that the voice of hard-working people is heard and heeded.

De Tocqueville wrote, “In the United States, there is no limit to the inventiveness of man to discover ways of increasing ways of increasing wealth and to satisfy the public’s needs. The most enlightened inhabitants of each district constantly use their knowledge to make new discoveries to increase the general prosperity, which, when made, they pass eagerly to the mass of the people.” Look around, in Auburn, residents and volunteers are everyday building a stronger community for all.

Published in the Auburn Journal on July 9, 2014