Thursday, April 9, 2015

To Start The Revolution This Country Needs, We Need More Taverns

The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston.

City Tavern in Philadelphia.

Michie Tavern in Virginia.

Three establishments with intimate ties to the political movement that founded a new nation.  

The first provided drink, food, and shelter to The Sons of Liberty, the group of malcontents who plotted, planned, and executed The Boston Tea Party, the first salvo in a Revolutionary War that would wrest control of the thirteen American colonies away from Britain.

The second hosted gatherings of men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and others who met in Philadelphia that fateful summer in 1776, to draft a Declaration of Independence and pronounce to all the world that the indignities perpetrated upon them and their countrymen by a distant king and unresponsive parliament would no longer be tolerated.

The third was founded by Corporal William Michie, a Virginian who, in 1779, when support for the embattled Revolutionary Army was flagging, signed the Albermarle Declaration of Independence and encouraged patrons at his tavern to do the same, thus renewing their allegiance to the cause of the fledgling nation.

Though separated by long distances and primitive roads, each tavern served the same functions for their locales, the most essential of which was providing access to the latest news as patrons consumed their grub and ale.  At a time when printing presses were few and far between, and a good portion of the general population was illiterate, educated patrons served as the broadcasters of their day, reading aloud from newspapers, broadsides, fliers, and any other printed material available at the tavern.

More than one historian has argued that without the exchange of ideas, opinions, and strategies that occurred at those public meeting places, neither the war that started the Revolution, nor the Constitutional Convention that brought the warriors' efforts to a successful conclusion, would have been possible.  That James Madison and the states that ratified the Constitution believed this as well, is evident in their insistence that the right to a free press and right to assemble be protected in the clearest possible terms in the very First Amendment to that Constitution.

Today, electronic gadgets make information on virtually any topic readily available to anyone with access to the internet.  Theoretically, given the speed and ease with which everyday citizens in this country can communicate, it should be possible to start and fund a modern revolution to overthrow the growing plutocracy without firing a single musket round.  Yet the political influence of the wealthiest "One Percent" continues to grow, at the expense of governmental, social, and economic policies that could benefit the increasingly disenfranchised, and much less monied, 99%.  The reason for this disparity is also, paradoxically, the internet.

The internet has created a culture of anonymity in which opinions are offered, rebutted, argued, and ridiculed without the authors ever coming face to face.  Gone are the days when a disrespectful or offensive rejoinder leads to a punch to the jaw, a knife in the gut, or a pool cue upside the head.  Freed from the restraints of decorum in furtherance of self-preservation, commenters on today's websites too often devolve into hate-filled, sociopathic trolls who do nothing but shut down any type of constructive conversation. 

While intelligent citizens seeking political change and invective-free discourse are chased away from the electronic gathering space that is the internet, the "One Percent" continues the old-school method of planning strategy and peddling influence through in-person assemblies.  Whether at $25,000-a-plate luncheons, or invitation-only conferences, the operatives at the top of the political food chain continue to use face-to-face meetings to further their goals.

It would be simplistic to argue that more tankards on the table would cure this country's current political ills.  Yet even a cursory view of human history demonstrates that our specie's most notable achievements required in-person strategizing and action, whether those achievements involved the hunting and take down of the day's dinner, or the take down and vanquishing of a political foe.  Perhaps it's time to take a page from the Founding Fathers' playbook and start mixing in-person political activism with the consumption of lattes and frappucinos at the local internet cafes.