Texas pride is a curious thing to me. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a Lone Star flag streaming on someone’s porch, a “Heritage not Hate” bumper sticker stuck to the back of an unnecessarily massive truck or a “Don’t mess with Texas” commercial on TV — and if I’m forced to endure one more, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could” joke, I might just snap.

The pride is everywhere. It has become a defining part of who you are. For the most part, it is a good pride, a pride born of seeing something worthwhile and being pleased to be a part of it. Yet for a people who are ostensibly so proud of themselves and their traditions and their way of life, there is not a dirtier, more trash-filled state in the nation. The same people who are the first to stand up and say “Heck yes I’m from Texas!” are the last people to bend over and pick up their own trash. The pride has its limits, apparently.

It really doesn’t make sense. The average Texan is more outdoorsy, more earthy, more environmentally inclined than Americans from any other state — and they are often unyieldingly proud of it. How can a people who claim so adamantly to love the outdoors treat them with such little respect? There seems to be a disconnect somewhere between being proud of Texas the idea and being proud of Texas the land. A person who claims to love this state and all it stands for, then proceeds to throw a beer can out the window of their vehicle, leaves their fast food wrappers out to be scattered by the wind or dumps their garbage in the woods is lying.

At a recent Commissioner’s Court meeting, the court got off on a tangent. Despite not being an agenda item, the commissioners starting talking about the trash epidemic in our county. While no one present at the meeting put it in exactly these words, I could tell the county’s leadership was deeply disappointed by the behavior of its citizens. I’m sure it is a sadly sobering thought to realize that the people who you have been elected to represent are collectively trashing their homeland and making you look bad — especially when the cleaner, more responsible alternative is so simply achieved.

Texas is trashy. There’s no use denying it. Even Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis — a Texophile if I’ve ever met one — admitted that Texas has a trash problem not encountered in northern states.

This problem is by no means limited to Cherokee County or even East Texas — all regions of the state are slowly becoming the nation’s dumpster. While living in San Antonio for two years, things were even worse. But considering that SA is nearly 24 times more populated than Cherokee County, it wasn’t that much worse.

So why do it? What’s the motivation for trashing up your home? Laziness can perhaps be the reason one small piece of rubbish misses the trash can, but driving along Cherokee County’s roads reveals a much more thorough refuse problem. The amount of trash littering our county does not point to a few isolated individuals ruining things for the rest of us, it points to a culture of garbage abuse.

Laziness may be a workable excuse for some littering, but the same cannot be said for dumpers — theirs’ is a more malicious, intentional crime. Dumpers knowingly and willingly damage our environment, forcing everyone to suffer and pay the price for their own irresponsibility.

Dumpers should face severe legal consequences — currently, if caught, they are given a meager $240 ticket and are forced to clean up the mess they have caused. For the sake of comparison, public intoxication carries with it a more substantial penalty ($300), and the fine for a minor in possession of tobacco is almost as much ($213).

Even more distressing is the prevailing idea amongst our youngsters that littering is cool — which a quick trip to Nichols Green will prove. All across the park are empty garbage cans with heaps of trash intentionally and rebelliously piled up against the can. I don’t think anyone who has witnessed these eyesores has thought “Man, that is so cool! I want to be like that!” It’s a lame attempt to be defiant without having to actually face the authorities. It’s the saddest type of bravado — no actual bravery required.

Litter abatement efforts by Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the personal efforts of concerned citizens to control the rubbish level in their area, are commendable, but amount to little more than a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Spending hours cleaning a road which will quickly be redefaced is not the solution. KJB’s newest program, where volunteers enter Jacksonville’s first-grade classrooms to teach the kids about littering, is a wonderful idea with the potential to affect long-term change in the county.

Children must be indoctrinated during their formative years to take Texas’ litter problems personally. Once they take ownership of the county’s trash problem, real progress will be possible. Adults need to take pride in themselves enough to set good examples for their children. Loyal sons and daughters of Texas should want to help clean up Texas.

I have no doubt that I will receive a few nasty-grams from proud Texans for having the audacity to call their beloved state dirty, but instead of using your righteous indignation to write me a harshly-worded note, go out and prove me wrong. That’s the kind of pride that will truly impress me. Where’s the pride?

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