IT IS DISMAL here now, and despite the weather and time of year, it shouldn't be. It's supposed to be the holiday season. We're supposed to be giving thanks, being joyous, celebrating life, peace, love and brotherhood. We aren't. Why not?
The most natural answer is that a person just can't. You simply cannot wish away the gloom and become joyous all by yourself. To do so, you would have to ignore pressures and renounce obligations-in other words, you would have to place yourself in jcopardy in a variety of ways. And few individuals feel they can afford to do that just now.
The only way, then, is for us all to act together. We are accustomed to opening ourselves up to one another, and certainly not to strangers. A communal ethos is a rare thing in any city or university, especially in America.
But it is important to realize that we don't have to start from scratch. There are a number of organizations and groups in the area that exist for the very purpose we are talking about. I don't know them all; maybe this will help them get in touch and cooperate with one another. I can only name a few and tell you what they're planning.
Today, at 2 p.m., a fledgling organization named HOP is going to have a street-sweeping parade. Starting at Sullivan Square, they are going to sweep and clean Mass Ave, all the way to Harvard. City Manager James L. Sullivan has arranged to provide the sweepers with all the brooms they need, and HOP is going to have plenty of plastic garbage bags on hand. All it needs now is a lot more people; everyone who wants to help should go.
ANOTHER new but more firmly established organization, Ecology Action, is planning a different sort of activity: a Christmas Crafts Workshop. Allen Berube, a co-ordinator of the organization, said that the workshop will tie in with a boycott against traditional Christmas shopping. Christmas these days involves a lot of unnecessary advertising, excess packaging, and garbage. It is a time of sales and profits more than anything else. The Craft Workshop, which will last from Dec. 7 to 23, is intended to provide an alternative way of giving at Christmas. People will come in and make gifts with the help of the workshop staff. Berube said that Ecology Action has already recruited the staff and is now trying to find a location for the workshop.
A third type of communal action is the Subway Festival to be held Thursday, December 17. It is being organized by the group of Harvard students who arranged the first two festivals earlier this fall. Both of them were highly successful: small groups of students, some in makeup and costumes, transformed the subway cars from moving tombs to places of joy, music, and togetherness. No kidding.
THE PEOPLE in these groups hope that some sort of movement will grow from their projects, extending far beyond the immediate actions and far beyond Cambridge.
Ecology Action is concerned with much more than Christmas garbage. It describes its members in one of its pamphlets as "people actively trying to reverse the massive destruction of our environment, our earth household. . . . Simultancously, we are trying to find ways to transform our own personal values, our life styles, and our 'economics' that will insure our survival and the healthy continuance of our earth's life support systems."
On November 25, members of the group picketed and testified at pollution hearings at the State House and later awarded "The First Blue Ribbon Pollutor Award" to the Boston Edison Company. The organization is planning a number of actions for spring.
Gene Smith would like to see HOP also involved in larger projects. He hopes that his group, along with Ecology Action and the Subway Festival and whoever else joins them, will inspire a national movement to bring people together in good works, create a feeling of community, and return "a sense of potency to the individual." Smith wants to persuade Harvard and M.I.T. to case their academic demands so people in the universities could participate in such a program more freely.
He also asked the Boston Globe and other local papers to devote their front pages to constructive community news. None has done it yet; none has turned him down so far, either. His plans may be fantastic-but who can tell?
In any event, the big plans and larger reactions are not what concern us now. What is important is what happens here in Cambridge. For a long time people who wanted to do this kind of thing had no opportunity to work together. Now we do; perhaps we can make something out of it.
And there are other small-scale things we can do. Many people have suggested ideas, and others can no doubt suggest more. For instance, we can volunteer to help the Cambridge Welfare Services, which badly needs assistance. Even a talk or a visit with the old and sick people in the area would cheer them tremendously. Some need help buying groceries and getting coal or firewood. And it would take no great effort to help them.
THE ORGANIZATIONS I've mentioned here have some things in common. They're all pro -things: pro-peace, pro-life, pro-love. They share the assumptions that there is already far too much division in this society, and that people must be brought together for really important reasons.
Much of what they do will probably happen after most students leave for vacation. There is no reason that we should not take their ideas home with us. Unless things have changed, home needs a large infusion of their spirit as much as Cambridge does.
BUT PARTICIPATION in community action is not enough. We should try, really try, to change our personal patterns of behavior. Such efforts will not take as much time as organized projects, but they will be just as difficult. Even smiling seems a terrific task at this time of year. How about greeting people whom we know but haven't greeted in months? Writing to people we haven't written to in years? Doing little favors for no reason at all? Finding people who deserve our thanks, and saying "Thank you," and meaning it?
Those of us who are serious about making a new life must realize that we have to begin acting sometime. If we don't start being joyous and peaceful in the holiday season, when we are supposed to be that way, when will we start?
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