John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Milton Hershey, names synonymous with America’s great industrial past, powerful families, and great wealth. More recently, these names have also garnered an association with authoritarian means of production, and creating a school system purpose built to churn out worker drones.
Through the many commonalities between these historic names one commonality can be summed up in one word, one word which we use to inspire ourselves to realize our own latent greatness, a word embodying a piece of democracy itself: bootstrap.
Sometimes, the news outlets flair up with a story of some wealthy individual claiming to be a common man who was given a small hand up which they used to build their wealth. It often turns out this individual was from a family with an existing stock of wealth, and that “small hand up” is only small in relative terms to this large pool of personal assets. That’s all well and good, but it has tainted the American ideal of the self-made individual.
Many of the great industrialists immortalized in the United States canon began life in poor, working class families. Where else was great talent to be found in our young country? Only a couple generations removed from the founding of the United States of America, we didn’t have many powerful families. In fact, checking the power of great families was built into our country’s design.
The point is, our great cities, and the United States itself, were not built by great men from high means, they were built by incubating latent talent within our existing communities. Remember also that the United States was not yet a wealthy nation, and so this incubation occurred not just by handing out large sums of money.
The United States of today is a wealthy nation, and our powerful families have grown in number and influence. This however, should be seen as an asset, not a failing. Think about it, we are now in a time which might mirror the great European Renaissance when the Borgias and Medici families sponsored local artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, local architect Brunelleschi, and local scientist Galileo. Not that everything these families did was for the betterment of humanity, they tended to have a despotic streak as well.
Lucky for us, we don’t need to trust the whims of powerful families making handouts. The great democratic force that is the internet is available to us. For one, has made crowdfunding available to small players, and the SEC even just approved rules opening the field for equity crowdfunding to those without a high net worth. We can now make micro loans to people we’ve never met working on projects we truly believe in on platforms like Kiva Zip. Beyond just funding a project, we can let the world know of unique local projects with posts to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Our great Renaissance could very well be a Democratic Renaissance — of, and for, the people.
Found a great location to foster innovation within your community? Consider getting the neighborhood together for a meal by holding a Sunday Soup event. You might just meet that one person who helps make it all possible.
Bryan is a designer, artist, and writer — ever exploring what it means to be native to our time and place.
For inquiries and commissions email email@example.com
Let’s chat on Twitter: @bmock
Follow my work on Instagram: @bryanmock