Somewhere on the path to the Tea Parties and Town Halls of today where
civility is left at the door, we forgot about… well, civility.
America was founded on the idea of the community. The first tea party was a bunch of our ancestors dressing up like Indians and showing King George just what we thought about his taxes. Americans were united, for a cause. From that famous tea party in Boston, to town halls all across the Northeast, we learned to listen to each other, and began to realize that maybe the people who thought differently than us weren’t all that evil. (If the Greeks could do it in robes and sandals, surely we could!)
In the south, county fairs served as the main social event of the year. Once
a year the fair would roll into town and people got together to ride rides,
eat some good southern cookin’, and check out the show on Friday night. They baked pies to sell and put on their best pair of jeans with the hopes that maybe some southern belle would catch their eye. County fairs turned into political platforms. Candidates for local and national office would stump on the stage in between acts. People from all across the county came out to listen to what they had to say.
We used to read newspapers; we used to join bowling leagues and the PTA. We used to have bake sales and lemonade stands. But then something happened. This brand new thing called the television came out, and all of sudden we could find out everything we needed to from the comfort of our own home. We could watch the shows we wanted to and listen to the people we agreed with, and we could even ignore the people we disagreed with.
Then we started demonizing the people on all those “other” channels. We the People, became Us vs. Them. We assigned red or blue colors to friends,
families, and neighbors. We gave 30 second blurbs to each side then let them argue for the next 20 minutes. All of sudden the great American Democracy looked like an elementary school playground.
Today, at Tea Parties and Town Halls we’d just rather yell louder than
someone with a different view than actually listen to what they have to say.
County Fairs are no longer the great social gatherings they once were.
Tailgates are the last great American neighborhood. That’s right, tailgates. On Saturdays in the fall, tailgating means having a party with thousands of your friends. It means seeing old buddies and making new ones. College campuses are full of makeshift tent communities, where there are no privacy fences separating neighbors. It’s just a bunch of folks having some drinks, grilling out and actually talking to each other. If a fan from the other team walks by, you may trade the occasional barb, but it’s all in good fun. Come game time you leave your tent and chair unattended, hoping nobody bothers them, and for the most part they don’t.
Why can we come together around something like football, but can’t seem to agree about how to take care of the sick in our society? How come we feel no worry to leave our tailgate unattended but lock our doors and windows at night?
Bill Clinton once said that there is nothing wrong with America that can’t
be fixed with what is right with America. We didn’t forget how to be civil. We learn how to share and respect our elders growing up. We didn’t forget how to live in a community or the emotional rewards of having a unique bond with a complete stranger.
Sometimes we forget how to be grown-ups. I’m sure our founders weren’t
perfect either, but they were smart enough to remember that we are all in
this together. Win or lose, just like a tailgate.
So bake a pie, throw on your best pair of jeans. Sip some tea and put on that jersey, let’s go spread some civility!
–Village Square intern Luke Inhen is a Political Science graduate student at Florida State.