Ever notice how many Ocracoke businesses and rental cottages claim to be “in the heart of the village”? Ever find yourself wondering where, exactly, the heart of the village is these days?
Is it ticking away in a rocker on The Community Store porch? Beating against the restrictions of federal agencies? Pounding down a cold one at a bar on highway 12?
Maybe the heart of Ocracoke quietly thumps somewhere near the school. So many of our civic institutions are located in this area: the fire department, the library, and the medical center, one of our two churches, the Masonic Lodge, the WOVV tower, and Village Thrift. (Ever notice how the things you donate unexpectedly re-appear?)
Also clustered near the school are a theater, a book store, a coffee shop, a natural products store, a Thai restaurant, and a Mexican grocery.
Put that way, Ocracoke sounds like a real town.
Well, it’s not, technically speaking. Ocracoke is unincorporated. It is one of five districts in Hyde County.
5,800 people live in Hyde, where the median income of $33,000 is $10,000 below the state average, and almost $17,000 below the national average. 24% of the population lives below the US poverty line. 40% of the land in the county is held in public trust, by government agencies or conservation groups. All of that land is exempted from paying property tax.
Here’s a hint for visitors who want to engage a local in conversation: ask about Hyde County. You will be answered with a laundry list of frustrations, because the marriage of a poor population and a small tax base can be infuriating. Divorce is not an option.
Instead, Ocracokers have a love affair with non-profits. Over the years, motivated individuals and groups have created a variety of organizations that intend to improve the quality of life on Ocracoke. County, state and federal agencies assist and impede, because Ocracoke doesn't fit in any neat box.
A lot of fundraising goes on, and local businesses and individuals generously give. A few of these organizations have paid employees. Most do not, and are managed and staffed by volunteers.
Vacationers frequently say they dream of moving to the island. Moving to the island means you will fairly quickly be invited to serve on some board or another. Civic participation is part of Ocracoke life. The most prominent--or should I say talked about-- citizens invest their time and money to benefit the community as a whole.
Everyone on Ocracoke has a voice that is heard. We resist change until a clear consensus is apparent. The microphone gets turned up a notch for people who have lived here the longest, and even further for those with deep roots on the island. Yet native Ocracokers often are overlooked and misunderstood.
Ocracoke Current is a resource to enhance civic involvement. We want to increase understanding of the mission and scope of the many organizations, committees, boards, non-profits and government entities that make things happen on Ocracoke.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! OcracokeCurrent encourages you to check out the links, see what raises your blood pressure or makes your heart beat faster, and contact the people involved.
Democracy is not available to everyone, and we are lucky enough to have it, here on the republic of Ocracoke.