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The Whole Earth Jamboree Wasn't Worth It Once

As anyone on the CQ staff couldn't help knowing, I had a negative attitude about the whole thing from the beginning, and lots of good reasons.   I don't like events with large crowds at them, I don't like meeting people I don't know, I didn't like trying to put an already complicated issue together in the midst of a bunch of people who were high on panic, I didn't like seeing Stewart: change from the well-organized small businessman I have known to a sixties artifact who believed in lack of planning as an article of faith ("Let's not ruin the spontaneity").  I didn't like never being able to place an outgoing call because all the phone lines were busy all day, and I hated more than I can tell you going to a 1-1/2 hour meeting about the Jamboree two days before the magazine was due at the printer.  (I swore I was going to tell Patty she had to go to a 1-1/2 hour meeting about the magazine two days before the Jamboree, but it turned out that that wasn't a good week for jokes.) And my reaction to finding out at that meeting that everyone on the staff was going to have to work 12 to 24 hours a day after having been led to believe that they didn't even necessarily have to attend, moved me from anger to a fairly nasty bitterness that lingered through the long hours and multiple surprises of working at the Jamboree itself. So you can imagine my surprise at finding out two months later that I now feel negative about the Jamboree for a whole new reason. I think it was such a good thing that it's almost criminal to only do it once. This does not change the fact that if Stewart announced that he was going to do another Jamboree, I would immediately apply for a job with Reader's Digest.  But I really believe that the kind of good feeling that was there present was designed to happen on some kind of continuing and regular basis.      '

The feeling at the Jamboree wasn't a high (that's why some people found it a let down), but was a very strong pleasant.  It was in fact a neighborhood feeling a relaxation and ease natural among a community that had temporarily become a neighborhood. A community can believe in itself, but a neighborhood can see itself and what a relief to see with your own eyes that a lot of people like you really do exist, and here a bunch of them are, being nice and not throwing trash on the ground.  I was surprised, and almost shocked, to find a neighborhood I liked at the Jamboree since I've always thought CQ subscribers were purer and more intense and more irritable than I. I wasn't at all sure that I'd like to be around a bunch of them for two days.

It turned out that the CQ people who write to the office may often be more like unfun true believers than my friends but the people at the Jamboree stunned me with their wonderfulness, and made me wish we could have hung out together longer, or more frequently. The volunteers, who were the people I spent most of my time with, amazed me by being hard working; cheerfully willing to do anything  however boring; intelligent in the face of pressure, disorganization and oddness; and they had a nice funny low-key cynicism they used to cover their generosity, just like all my sixties leftover friends. In fact, a lot of them were potential friends, and I only saw them once. That seemed silly. Why bother to like someone you're only seeing once?

And the volunteers weren't the only wonderful ones. The whole crowd flabbergasted me by dropping their trash into trash cans to an extent that was nothing short of miraculous.  I've worked on a lot of cleanup committees, and it was incredible to see at the end of each day that there was nothing, repeat nothing, to clean up.  Intense searching by the cleanup volunteers uncovered a few scraps of paper, but for all practical purposes, there was, before the cleanup, no way to tell that 8,000 people had been there - or that anyone had been there. This made me think that this neighborhood had interesting potential for other, larger-scale miracles, if it just stayed a neighborhood a while longer.

Since I'm messy, I never wanted to understand the saying about cleanliness being next to godliness, but maybe it means that if you've got the discipline for a minor goodness like being clean, you could easily use that discipline for major goodnesses.  Eight thousand people who could be that clean all at once could do other things all at once, if they talked about it enough, if instead of going to a pleasant Jamboree once in ten years they went to some kind of organic, alternative energy equivalent of church once a week.

In fact, a lot of this amounts to saying that I miss church.  You non-church-goers should know that Church As I Knew It, in the middle of the road, was nothing like Elmer Gantry. No one cried, and if you pushed people on what they believed, a lot of them were more vague than dogmatic something about God existing, something about Jesus being special, something about modified altruism being better than pure selfishness.  A lot of what was happening was people with lots-ef non-religious values in common (political conservatism, family life) getting together once a week to hang out.  It was a nice place to hang out.  If you didn't like grownups, you could volunteer to hang out with children without having to actually have any.  If you didn't like big crowds, you could volunteer for the cleanup or preparation committee and hang out with other people who didn't like crowds and sort of liked shit work in a way, like the volunteers at the Jamboree. Also you could find out if you wanted to be friends with people without doing something artificial like going out to lunch.

What my few friends and Tail have in common is that we don't have as many friends as we would if we were born sooner because we've renounced most institutions and are left with making friends at work or by inviting people we've met casually out to lunch. I find that un-ideal because it makes my stomach hurt and because if you take someone to lunch you just get each other's stories, but if you set up folding chairs together, you find out what people are really like and if you really like them.

Sixties leftovers have never really built a low-key institution to hang out together at, and make friends at and casually bullshit about what to do next at.  I think that's partly because compulsory education crippled us. We were in communities organized by grownups for so long we never learned to.organize our own. What happened to the sixties a lot is that everyone graduated from college and didn't see each other much. The clean grounds and lovely volunteers at the Jamboree reminded me that much of what people had in common then they have in common now. If they met, casually, regularly, they might have fun and carry it on it was, in a whole new way.

I was surprised by how little the speakers had to say that was new, and it made me think that the newness would be found in the crowd, if they talked to each other long enough, if they lived in a neighborhood together instead of meeting once at a one-time event.

What I think would be good would be some regularly scheduled low-key place where people could meet, maybe hear a hippie sermon about how given our beliefs, we're better than everyone else, or about how give our beliefs, we're totally hypocritical and aren't doing shit to live them out. (Those are the 2 kinds of sermons, and we could use them both.) We could sing a few songs, have a few pot luck suppers and accidentally possibly remake the revolution. I myself wouldn't do anything to make all this happen, but if it happened, I would set up folding chairs, I would write the newsletter, I would call up people to remind them to bring food to the potluck.

I'd love to help with maintenance, but starting things ain't my style. For one thing, I haven't got the intensity.  In fact, lack of intensity is probably the big reason nothing like this will ever happen. To start something cold, you need to get real intense and to get other people intense, and if there's one thing sixties leftovers I know avoid like the plague, it's intensity. We've had intensity. (Or, as Andrea said the other day, "I don't want to talk about politics. I've talked about politics.") Churches achieved low-keyness by being founded by fanatics who were followed by tired and low-key children. Somehow, we've become our own second generation and don't want to feel our own true belief of yesterday any more than the children of converts want to get involved in their parents' enthusiasm.  I don't know how we got worn down so fast. (Yes, I do, but I don't want to think about it enough to put it into words.) But however it happened, we may not be able to start any new processes, like a weekly small-scale Jamboree, because we've already started as much as we're going to start.

Then again, maybe not. Articles coming from different places for different reasons are coincidentally, inadvertently making this issue of CQ a neighborhood issue. The Jamboree stuff is about that neighborhood, Joe Bacon and I talk about our neighborhoods, Ray Jason writes about neighborhood performing all about neighborhoods that are and were and should be. So maybe sixties people are getting interested in neighborhoods and maybe in some strange and unpredictable way, we'll start building new ones to hang out in. We've done stranger things.