By: Chris Warren
The news media is like air pollution: It’s never good and no one likes it, but no one can really avoid it, either. The election being just three months away makes things especially dicey. There are lot of high energy disagreements, and the media is happy to feed the fire. Getting away from from the stank is an invigorating breath of fresh air. I found that escape in the most unlikely of places: A big city block party.
I was invited to a gathering in Chicago and it happened to be on one of the few weekends I was not already overbooked. I’m not a city boy, so it sounded like a fun excuse to take a road trip and do something different. I didn’t know it was going to be a block party. I was expecting the average backyard BBQ sort of deal.
A block party is the ultimate community participation event. The whole deal can fall apart if even one homeowner objects. The fact that block parties exist at all offers hope that people can still get along. In a time when there is acrimony everywhere we go, amplified by the media, a group of people getting along and talking about pretty much everything except politics made me think I accidentally landed on another planet.
The weather was stunning. Little kids played in a bouncy house placed in the street while the bigger kids threw buckets of water at each other. The adults sipped beer and talked about our jobs, our kids, our lives, our retirement plans. It was surprising how much we had in common. Music and the smell of sausage and burgers on the grill whiffed through the air. These people really felt like my neighbors even though I didn’t live on that block and had not known any of them until that day.
For three hours I did not hear any political candidate’s name even mentioned, which is quite remarkable in a city where politics famously, or perhaps infamously, creeps into every aspect of daily life. The closest thing to an argument I heard was a tit-for-tat about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox. There is something about setting up beer coolers and BBQ grills in the middle of the street that makes everyone more civil. It was as if the the block party was relaxing force floating over the neighborhood. Hardly anyone even looked at their phones, including the teenagers.
I am proposing that a National Block Party Day be declared. It will be a regular guy’s version of a political convention, without the politics. On NBPD, everyone from coast to coast shuts down their neighborhood and turns their street into an open air party room. The only rule is that you have to talk to people you do not know very well and keep it light. No major issues facing society will be solved and no grand policies will be presented, but it will put a human face on those issues and allow us to see there are more similarities than differences between us.
People hate on others in part because the media encourages it, and also because no one hangs out in person anymore. The disagreements will still be there when people put down the keyboards and the cellphones and meet up face to face, but a conversation about what we have in common is more productive than sniping on each other over what we do not. For a few hours on a beautiful weekend we were not Democrats, and we were not Republicans. All of us were members of the Block Party.