Thursday, January 6, 2011

Coffee Party, part II

One of the reasons I don't pursue political action is that I never know what is going on. This is true. I'm usually happily oblivious to whatever the latest trend is.

But I stumbled onto the Coffee Party in my usual Mr. Magoo way, which was to think, hey, we need a coffee party. Ok, the world has been there and done that. A year ago. Well, I have been thinking about this for a year too. ... my tendency to mull makes me a much better scholar than political activist ... :)

I went to the Coffee Party website, which is connected with Movement for the People (or perhaps Movementforthepeople). I agree that we need a government that works, an end to misinformation and a reexamination of the Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited campaign spending. Corporations aren't individuals. I agree. But it doesn't say much. What is a government that "works?" What is "misinformation?" Tea Partiers also want a government that works and an end to misinformation. Do we need another group to stand for these abstractions?

I am thinking about coffee and coffeepots in a concrete, tactile way as symbols of a particular period in American culture in which the country pulled together and became a powerhouse while promoting equalitarianism. This is the period from the start of the New Deal to, let's say, the Arab oil embargo. What images from that period give us the "warm fuzzies?" What are the sensory images that conveys prosperity with decency, community and equality? I would argue the coffee pot (or cup) is a good starting point. People used to sit around the kitchen table and drink coffee and talk. People used to gather around the coffee pot at work and drink coffee and talk. What is more American that the coffee break? Does anyone have time for a coffee break anymore?

For 30 years now, people on the right have been imagining themselves in a better world--the world of McGuffey readers and Little House on the Prairie schoolhouses with desks all lined up in a row, the 3R's taught and nothing else, and they believe a bloated government has overcomplicated and corrupted us. This vision of simplicity and self-reliance powers the Tea Party movement on a visceral level, I would argue. (Obviously, I'm reducing a huge amount of complexity, but this is a blog.) Much as progressives would like to delude themselves that those "not-very-bright right wingers" are being brainwashed by a flood of corporate money, no--they're a grassroots movement that grew under the corporate radar, isn't stupid, is sincere and goodhearted and has a vision. I know this, because having traveled in Christian circles in the 1990s, I was plugged into it. The corporate world is now trying to ride this horse politically, having to some extent ridden it economically, and should be worried. I think they are worried.

But my point is that there's an aesthetic vision that drives the small town, small government, personal relationship and responsibility group, aka the Tea Party, and it is a vision with a concrete, tactile quality that harkens back, as Glenn Beck says, to the pre-1912, pre-income tax era. It may be an idealized picture and we may say, but, but ... pre-1912, look at the racism, look at sexism, look at lives broken by the "Panics," the exploitation of the immigrant, the 60-hour work week, but the point is, people are culling out the best from the past and using that as an ideal.

I think what some on the right hate about progressives is the tendency to always react to history with negativity. I think progressives are simply trying to right the balance and speak for the once voiceless, but that can get tiresome without an alternative.

So, while the period from 1932 to 1974 was fraught with severe problems: economic depression, war, a war economy, racism, sexism, pollution, corruption etc,, that should not deter us from finding the good. Every period is fraught with many bad somethings. But why not use the coffee cup or coffee pot as a symbol of what was admirable in that period? Good things happened. People shared sacrifice--just about a week ago, my mother-in-law showed me a ration card she'd saved from World War II. People endured rationing for the common good! Ordinary people owned nice but not oversized homes and bowled together and attended low cost colleges, and were able to find decent-paying, secure jobs ... these things did happen, if imperfectly. People paid higher taxes and prospered.

Well, I'm not a politician, and yet I think we can all agree that our country seems to be suffering and that we need to do something about it, which starts with a vision. More lives have been moved by the Peaceable Kingdom than the laws of Deuteronomy, at least imho. I think, too, especially at this cultural moment, we need to create a vision for the future by pulling from the past.


Bill Samuel said...

I don't think the issue should be which past era we use as a model. They all have serious problems, albeit they all also have some positive attributes.

We need a positive vision for the future that is not a return to some faux "golden era" in the past, but one that reflects the realities of today's world and the coming years. Of course, some elements of that may reflect some of the better things in the past, but it shouldn't be a nostalgic vision.

Diane said...

But Bill,

I think we are culturally paralysed at this minute--so much of our culture is derivative--we look back to Spiderman or Jane Austen or True Grit--much of what we are generating presently that is "new" tends, imho, to be kind of sick or twisted or extreme. I'm not saying get caught in a nostalgic or sentimental past moment but to use the past to generate a better future vision.