My Word's

a weekly column by
Marylaine Block
vol. 5, #11,
September 27, 1999


John F. Kennedy Jr. was every bit as much a believer as his father in the greatness of America, every bit as much an idealist who believed we could take control and make things better. One of his magazine's projects was interviewing 250 Americans -- artists, politicians, writers, rap singers, activists, young people -- to ask them how we could improve things. The result was the George book, 250 Ways To Make America Better.

It's an interesting and hopeful book. In some ways it's naive, because the large institutional changes some people recommend, like banning PAC money and soft money, require the consent of the very people who benefit from the current system, and as Jim Hightower points out, "The water won't ever clear up till we get the hogs out of the creek."

But there are things we can do as individuals that could go far to clean up the soul pollution that fogs our social relations these days. Sara Paretsky suggests we should stop tossing our garbage on the ground for lesser folk to deal with, because there are no lesser folk -- we all matter. In fact several contributors say respect for all other people is the single most important mental change we need to make -- E. Lynn Harris even suggests making Aretha's "Respect" our national anthem. John Perry Barlow says "America will improve when we quit telling our children to fear strangers" -- America, the Gated, is not going to make it. Barbara Ehrenreich suggests we treat all children "as gifted and interesting people who are temporarily trapped in small and incompetent bodies." Steve Tisch says "We need to be a Gumpier America. Listen to Mom. Love someone to a few more strangers while we are waiting for the bus."

I like the idea of that Gumpier, front-porch sort of America. Here are some things I thought of that might help get us there: