Saturday, February 7, 2009

The John Doe Clubs

In one of Frank Capra's cinematic masterpieces, "Meet John Doe", the citizens of the United States band together in local John Doe Clubs. Based on the "little guy", it mostly consisted of neighbors discovering and talking to each other.The clubs found after talking together they were all more likely to get along and actually help each other.

Ah, sweet, naive Frank Capra, thinking that people actually do get along when they know each other. Thinking people will lend a hand to somebody that needs that hand. "Capra-Corn" is what the critics deride his views as - sheer nonsense, nostalgia for times that never were. But the critics can be wrong. "Capra-Corn" isn't backward looking or romantic idealism. It was a call to action, a pointer to the future and a hopeful suggestion: help that guy over there because he may be able to help you or someone else later on.

And even if you don't need any help, ever, that guy may just amuse the heck out of you, do something silly, or artistic, or just plain fun, that will make your life richer, stronger and more optimistic. And in the words of Violet Bic, another Capra character from another classic, " What's wrong with that?"

The John Doe clubs go through a period of bitter disenchantment, but rally as the neighbors that had banded together realized they actually liked each other and were better off helping out than staying home alone. Call me an idealist (or a fool) but I think what this country needs right now are John Doe Clubs.

OK - I'll be honest - I'd rather call them something else, but it has to be corny. Obama's Economic Stimulus Parties just isn't very appealing. I'm bad with titles, so suggestions are welcome. But here's the thing: the bitter taste of contempt from the last uber-administration lingers in our country. After all the inauguration excitement, the talk of working together, a country renewed in spirit by the idea that someone will be leading us in the true spirit of America, that every single one of us matters, regardless - the politics of our country are stonewalling everything. In this I include both parties for different reasons - I'm not writing to call anyone out.

But President Obama is correct when he says America is in a jam and it will take everyone to help get it out of that jam. I have already had two family members lose their jobs and have friends in the same boat. And those that have jobs don't get too excited about going to them. The fear that grows into a knot in your stomach when you lose your job actually shows on your face. I've seen it. We all need to help everyone we know. And everyone we need to know.

Our neighbors, just as the John Doe Clubs realized, are just like us. Really. Maybe not in every way, and maybe they get you mad sometimes, but they are alive. Just like you. Isn't that enough?

So to the Democrats who think they can use the new administration to get theirs, just as Cheney and his cronies did the last eight years, I say "straighten up and fly right". You are owed nothing. You get paid to work for all the members of the non-existent John Doe Clubs. To the Republicans, whose antics seem to say they will block anything, enough. Time for new ideas. I see a Senator complaining the President isn't listening to him, screaming, literally, on TV. Well - call him. Seems to me he'll take your call.

And for all of us, take a hint from Capra. Simple pleasures -of family, friends, food and music - are really what matters. The CEO's we all complain about? Take a lesson. Don't envy their wealth. See it for what it is - excessive. Money cannot buy happiness. What it can buy is food, education and some fun. I believe in the new direction our new President believes in. But I also believe it comes from us. One act at a time. One day at a time. It's not easy. But it is the only way.


Nikki said...

Good to see you blogging again! :)

Gentian said...

Amen! Well said.

richmus said...

Hear, hear! Any thoughts on how already existing community organizations can fulfill, or have failed to fulfill, the function of John Doe Clubs? (e.g., church groups, political groups, environmental groups, civil rights groups, et cetera?)

Joe Muszynski said...

Yes, it seems redundant I guess - but existing organizations have their agendas just like everyone else. And they are often excellent agendas. John Doe was just an organic movement of neighbors saying "hello" and spending a little time together.

Maybe then with common interests found they can participate together in some of the other community groups. Or just play their harmonicas in the street like in Capra's version of "you Can't Take It With You".

We can all use a little more organic street music!