News and Publications

What’s the Delaware story?

Back to Archive
What is Delaware’s civic story? Since Jim and Deborah Fallows visited us last week, this question has been occupying a lot of my time. The question is number four on their list of ten and a half signs of civic success: People know the civic story – one that everyone understands, even if only to say that it’s a myth or a lie.

So what is our story? And is it a myth or a lie? When I first arrived in Delaware about three and a half years ago, the story that quickly tripped off many tongues was…”ever since Dupont starting closing down, the place has not been as good.”

I also learned that in Delaware, everybody is connected, and if you don’t know somebody yet, you will soon.

We are a chicken raising state. We are a banking and corporate state.

During the civil war, Delaware was a slave holding state, but stayed loyal to the union.

In my book group, one member said when she arrived the story she heard was “Wilmington was occupied by the national guard for almost a year, and the building of Interstate 95 destroyed the African-American community there.”

The Delaware Way. Most of us have heard that said in both a positive and a negative way.

Different places I’ve lived have had a variety of stories – Cleveland was at the heart of America’s industrial era, but the story changed, as it came to be one of the “worst” cities in the country. It now calls itself the rock and roll capital of the world, and a city that is on the rise.

Vermont was a beautiful and scrappy farming state with great skiing and deep Republican traditions, until it was something else.

So what about Delaware? I think it matters. To quote the Fallowses, “the question is not whether these assessments seem precisely accurate to outsiders. Their value is in giving citizens a sense of how today’s efforts are connected to what happened yesterday and what they hope tomorrow will bring.”

We are, of course, the first state – we’ll never lose that – but it seems inadequate. We are a state with great racial diversity, but also with long-standing racial discrimination that has never been fully addressed. We are a state with deep liberalism in some places, and deep conservatism elsewhere. We are a rural, urban, suburban state, and “the canal” has important meaning. We are a state with a court system that drives the nation, where America’s businesses are formed. We are a state where people still work together to solve problems, and with distinctive events like Return Day. We are a state with strong traditions, but with a growing number of newcomers to look at problems with a new lens.

We are many things, and we constantly work to find the right balance. Which elements are our story? Which tie us together? I lean toward a state that was there at the beginning, and is charting a new inclusive diversity – racial, political, and geographic. A new Delaware Way?

What do you think? What is our civic story? I’d love to hear your thoughts.