Our Purpose

The Community Festival Statement of Principles

We think that people ought to work for the collective good of all people rather than for personal gain. We support cooperation and collective activity rather than competition and individual profit.
The basic necessities of life are a right and not a privilege. People have the collective right to control the conditions of their lives.

People should strive to conduct their lives in harmony with the environment.

We recognize that there are primary attitudes which divide and oppress people. These attitudes are usually shown by prejudice against people on the basis of age, class, ability, income, race, sex and sexual preference/orientation. We seek to eliminate these attitudes.
The Statement of Principles is more important than any other writings of the Community Festival.

The basic necessities of life
are a right, not a privilege

If the statement on the back of the 2013 ComFest volunteer T-shirts sounds familiar, there's good reason. The slogan chosen by organizers for the themeof this year's fest leaps straight off the page of Community Festival's Statement of Principles:

 The basic necessities of life are a right, not a privilege.

That seems entirely reasonable, doesn't it? Healthy food on the table, a sturdy roof overhead, a safe place to study, work worth doing. Access to affordable healthcare, an inclusive culture based on common good, safe and well-funded public schools, knowing that everyone else has the same right: the right to live in peace.

Then why is it so hard to accomplish?

Certainly plenty of people have been working toward such simple justice for whole lifetimes -- that should count for something.

Every day there are hundreds of organizations raising awareness and funding to try to fix every part of the problem: ending hunger, homelessness and war; stopping repression and oppression; securing education, healthcare, jobs; saving the planet from ourselves. Surely that's progress?

Yet Guantanamo. Yet drones. Yet wiretapping and war profiteering and pension-stripping and hate-mongering and earth-fracturing.

Still rape and toxic spills and land grabs. Still more fear, uncertainty and doubt. Still obstinate obstructionism and resolute rejectionism.

What can anyone do?

The answer is simple: ORGANIZE. The same message that has built every successful movement for social change and economic justice, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.

Working cooperatively for the common good is the only thing that works to bring justice. As the ComFest Principles emphasize, "People have the collective right to control the conditions of their lives."

But it's only when huge numbers of individuals take collective action that those rights have any meaning. When too many people settle for being consumers of news, rather than makers of history, progress falters and more people are outside the circle.

So what can you do? You can become part of something bigger than yourself, and find out that together common people really can change the world.

Right now, the greedy of the world have two things to support them: They have no shame, and we have no organization.

One of these things is fixable.

Right now, you can get beyond your comfort zone to reach common ground with other citizens of Earth. Step away from the keyboard. Meet face-t--face with others who share your knowledge and concerns. If you're not in an organization, find one that thinks like you do, and sign yourself up.

Learn why the groups that are already working working on the problem do things the way they do. Search for training in organizing and leadership, initiate discussions of strategy. Study what works, and what doesn't work.

Seek out the coalition-builders. Find new ways to bring people together to work effectively for justice. Share knowledge and contacts and analyses.

And this weekend, bring your dancing shoes, because we're gathering again on common ground to celebrate common good, to awaken common dreams. There are friends to laugh with, songs to sing, plans to hatch. Let's get started.

Happy ComFest!

--Mimi Morris

2013 Program Guide

"The People, Yes!"

Welcome to Comfest! In the words of the great TV dramatist Rod Sterling, you have entered "a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind."

Beyond being the nation's largest independent volunteer-run festival, ComFest is an engine of change. It consciously and unabashedly provides a voice for progressive politics as well as a showcase for independent businesspeople. It offers a smorgasbord of local music. It creates a space where you can be yourself regardless of what others think. It presents a landscape of possibility - of What Can Be.

Here you'll find a classroom for political alternatives, a laboratory for social experimentation, a midway for cultural ideas, a meadow for your mind, an amusement park for your eyes, ears and taste buds.

This year's ComFest slogan"The People, Yes!" resonates on multiple levels. Minus the exclamation point, it's the title of midwesterner Carl Sandburg's epic poem of the 1930's, a collection of vignettes and meditations on the indomitable spirit of everyday people. It's also the name of the first continuing underground newspaper in Columbus, which in 1968-69 became part of a tradition of robust oppositional journalism, challenging inherited assumptions and the status quo and laying the groundwork for subsequent underground papers and today's less political "alternative" weeklies. With the exclamation point, it's an assertion, an affirmation of the fundamentals of democracy and ComFest's Statement of Principles.

Baptist minister Henry Emerson Fosdick, a fighter for social and racial justice in the early 20th century, observed that democracy "is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people." ComFest shares that conviction. Like Sandburg and Fosdick, we believe, in the words of poet Archibald MacLeish, that those "who believe more than they can prove of the future of the human race, will make that future, shape that destiny."

ComFest is a testament to belief in ideals, especially in this, it's 40th year. Sandburg's "The People,Yes" captures the multi-faceted American character, one that strives for a fair shake while recognizing how difficult that is ("The rights of property are guarded/by ten thousand laws and fortresses./The right of a man to live by his work - /what is this right?"), takes pride in its production skills and savvy ("the migratory harvest hands and berry pickers.../the metal polishers, solderers, and paint-spray hands.../...the riveters and bolt-catchers"), stumbles and falls, gets up and pushes on )"The peoplewill live on/The learning and blundering people will live on").

Sandburg believed in the inherent worth and dignity of every person -- everyone, not just those in corner offices, headlines, movies, and legislatures. He also recognized that power concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few is power abused, and that the struggle for democracy is the struggle between those who define value as money and those who define values as something less tangible and ultimately more personal.

ComFest has a proud and unabashed political point of view, but at the same time, it's a freewheeling celebration. It's a place where subcultures and tribes interweave, where central Ohio residents who seldom rub elbows with unusual ideas immerse themselves in a unique cultural milieu, where strangers absorb shared "good vibes" as they move through a gumbo of arts and crafts or plunk themselves in the shade to enjoy music. And its been building and expanding the concept of community for 40 years.

Comfest is an evolving organism. It began in 1972 on 16th Avenue as a street party for a bunch of friends and a celebration of alternatives in food, media, health care, and housing, it has "grown into its purpose," as most humans do when given the opportunity for insight and the freedom to change. It initially expanded into a showcase for music. Then organizers grew more aware of the festival's identity, consciously shaping it into an example of sustainable living, increasingly incorporating improved recycling and safety concerns. As its reputation and regional stature grew, ComFest learned to work more cooperatively with neighborhood groups and city government. More recently, with the creation of a Spirit & Purpose committee and this year's establishment of the Peace Village on the west side of the park, ComFest offers more education in support of it's Principles through workshops, panel discussions, and other activities to get us more involved in our own lives.

ComFest's growth has not been limited to it's own operation. In the past 6 years, ComFest has awarded $80,000 in grants to community groups dedicated to change through empowering people, and it has donated thousands of dollars in improvements to Goodale Park. Through your presence and participation, ComFest recycles resources to create change and build community.

Forty years. Historically, the number 40 has powerful symbolism, variably representing a period of testing -- 40 days of rain in the Biblical Flood, 40 years of wandering by the Israelites before entering the Promised Land, 40-day periods of fasting in several faiths. (Should you note that size XL commemorative ComFest T-shirt has the Roman numeral for 40 in the label? If you wish.)

Forty years. What were dismissed as pipe dreams (and all that implies) 40  years ago have, in many ways, become realities -- the breaking down of many racial barriers, progress toward equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people, increased awareness of and mediation of our impact on the environment, election of the country's first black president.

Yet it's easy to be distracted or disheartened. Texts, new cell phone apps, reality TV, the endlessly "new and improved" attractions of consumer culture, simple day-to-day survival -- all conspire for our attention. And change--what some hopefully call "revolution" -- is largely a slow-motion process that takes decades to form enduring improvements, and continued progress is never a certainty. The past 40 years has also provided three wars, massive transfers of middle-class wealth to a small monied elite, a roll-back of banking regulations that led to near-destruction of the financial system and massive unemployment, organized efforts corporations to undermine voting rights, a Supreme Court decision that allows the wholesale polluting of elections by anonymous rich men, and a frenzied counter-revolution against advances in women's rights Protecting the gains of the past 40 years and making progress against the corrupting political influence of corporations and what singer Paul Simon called "a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires" will take a lot of work.

There is a point at which the people say, "Enough!" The Occupy movement is part of this recognition that we're supposed to govern ourselves, not allow those whose greed and scorn for "the little people" warp governments, economic relationships, and, yes, communities. We see this awareness in the shared insights of Sandburg's 75-year-old poem, where a man asks, "Why is this what it is?/...Who is paying for this propaganda?"/..."Who owns the earth and why?" and todays popular music:

It ain't enough to pray.../Hey put your foot down/Take a look around...

-- "Hey Mr. President" - Fitz & The Tantrums

Improving the world is a struggle. There are other things we can be doing, but few better than choosing to commit to something larger than ourselves. And having done this, we can celebrate. Idealism often breaks its nose against a harsh world, but dreams grow out of whims as well as longings. For 40 years ComFest has tried to make real the value of collective effort and its collective benefits. The evidence of how well this ideal has succeeded is all around you.

Take it in. Open yourself to what you're already a part of. The sayings "The people united will never be defeated" and "Power to the people" are descriptions of beliefs and processes that are ingrained in our culture and our politics. We can ask Who or What is "The People," but we innately understand that it's more than a small group of wealthy contributors to politicians with corporate logos stitched inside their suits. As you enjoy yourself this weekend, know that everything happening here is the result of people working together to build something bigger than themselves, and that it's something you atre and can be a part of. You'll be surprised at how much you'll understand by simply saying it to yourself: The People, Yes!

                            __Steve Abbott

2012 ComFest Program Guide

                   Workers' Rights Are Human Rights

ComFest has always been politically progressive, explicitly celebrating the struggle for social justice together with the wealth of local talent.

So when thousands of citizens were locked out of the Statehouse last winter during hearings on legislation to strip away the right of public employees to bargain for wages and safe working conditions, ComFest organizers had no hesitation answering the challenge, "Which side are you on."

After all, Community Festival's governing Statement of Principles says, "The basic necessities of life are a right and not a privilege. People have the collective right to control the conditions of their lives."

That's why everywhere you look this weekend (ComFest 2011), you'll see volunteers in colorful T-Shirts emblazoned with this year's theme, Workers' Rights Are Human Rights, and why ComFest mugs urge a "Citizen Veto" to repeal SB5.

This summer, Ohio voters will be inundated by corporate-funded messages insisting that SB5 is necessary to balance the state's budget, and portraying public employees as spoiled brats who don't want to share sacrifice.

But Senate Bill 5 was never about money. It was always about power. Ohio is just one pawn in a national strategy to use state-level legislation to permanently cripple opposition to extreme free market crony capitalism. While at first glance it looks like the economic populism of the Tea Party, this national assault on workers' rights actually draws direction and support from the Chamber of Commerce and billionaire David Koch's group Americans for Prosperity. Workers in a half dozen other states are facing the same attempt to leverage new GOP majorities in state governments to finally destroy unions altogether.

The forces behind SB5 and its ilk want to bust the unions for the same reason as the original robber barons: because unions are the rock on which social progress is built. The collective power of unions won for all Americans minimum wage, health and safety laws, and the weekend.

Unions are the backbone of the Democratic Party. The union movement also provides the training and resources to sustain every other branch of social justice organizing.

It's time to turn back the greed. Join the campaign against SB5. Stand up, speak out, organize!

--Mimi Morris

2011 ComFest Program Guide


Welcome to Community Festival-three days of alternative politics,arts & crafts, music, reunions with old friends and introductions to new ones, sunshine (OK rain...), shared dreams and shared work in a shared space.

Those repetitions are intentional. The underpinnings of this annual festival were birthed in the cultural civil war of the early 1970's, frictions that have continued to be at the core of America's political and social change. These core conflicts in American culture developed out of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era, the second great wave of 20th century feminism, the rise of gay activism, the sexual revolution in the wake of widespread availability of birth control, and the postwar peak of organizes labor and the prosperity it created.

It's true that the original festival was basically a street party thrown by a bunch of hippies, radical hippies, and political radicals-now that was a stew-to reinforce the OSU-area cultural-political community that had emerged from the counterculture of the late 1960's. From a few card tables, some lightweight canopies, two dozen bands, a handful of beer taps and several hundred people on a side street in the University area in 1972, Community Festival has grown into ComFest, which now draws tens of thousands of visitors from throughout central Ohio and far beyond.

From the outset, ComFest has had a political core. It grew out of a union of community organizations focused on basic needs - medical care, media, healthy food, decent housing, information resources. A set of unifying principles guides and drives ComFest. We share with others our efforts, our fears, our successes, our failures, our flaws, and our dreams as part of our commitment to, and struggle for, a more just and peaceful world.

A major part of this sharing is that, although the celebration takes place for three days, the work on it goes on for eleven months - processing what works and what doesn't; discussing fundamental issues; working with city officials; acquiring permits; choosing vendors for the Street Fair; keeping up with local music; selecting performers, and scheduling six stages; recruiting and coordinating hundreds of volunteers; collecting program ads, writing copy, and producing the program; assessing grant proposals; planning for and setting up sanitation, clean-up, first aid and safety equipment; renting tents, tables and chairs; contracting with sound engineers; preparing the site and erecting stages, lighting, and sound equipment; renting port-a-johns and trash/recycling containers and getting them set up, and much more. Some people are involved for months, some for only a day or two of the festival weekend, but it happens because volunteers give something of themselves - time, talent, labor - to a greater good.

Let this be my annual reminder

that we can all be something bigger

                       - The Hold Steady

                               "Constructive Summer"

This year's (2010) theme, "Live Every Day the ComFest Way," is less a directive than a nudge toward reflection on a stark reality: we need each other, and we help ourselves most when we help others.

In the recent book, How, Dov Seidman suggests that, regardless of one's political views about it, a globalized economic system demonstrates our interdependence in unforseen, surprising and often invisible ways. Our desire for inexpensive shirts and sneakers made in Asia produces pollution that melts Arctic glaciers; our desire for personal mobility props up repressive regimes that fund terrorists and underwrites corporate policies that lead to catastrophic oil spills and the destruction of wildlife, ecosystems, and local economies. Seidman suggests that, in the same way that many work toward sustainable agriculture and more limited patterns of growth, we must embrace "sustainable values," behaviors that demonstrate awareness of our interdependence and that will sustain viable employment, communities, institutions, and natural resources. In other words, you create what you do. Do nothing and you'll get that; do injustice and you'll get that; do things as a community and you'll get community. And you can't do anything worthwhile without considering and working with others, most of them unlike you.

ComFest is not simply a party. It's also an opportunity to explore community in its most inclusive, expansive sense. Any true community is something cooperative, and you can make ComFest your own by joining in making it happen. There are volunteer opportunities throughout the weekend (stop by Volunteer Central to find out more) and throughout the year (check out comfest.com).

This year's logo offers an ironic nod to part of the ethos that inspired the original Community Festival: traveling a common road and helping others along the way. And the best way to attend ComFest is to "get on the bus" - to not simply be here but to be part of it. "Get on the Bus" works metaphorically on multiple levels. For Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters (as observed by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) being "on the bus" described being on the same wavelength, of understanding the nature of the Pranksters' cross-country escapades. In Spike Lee's 1996 film Get on the Bus, the phrase captures a parallel theme: a diverse group with a common purpose trying to accommodate the varied experiences, needs, views, misperceptions, and flaws of its members as each person participates in a larger social action. And of course, we have a thready historic link in the reverberation of Columbus' own Royal Crescent (R.C.) Mob's punk-funk "Get on the Bus" blasting from the (only) ComFest stage in the late 1980's.

ComFest happens because people work together to make it happen. People come together to create something bigger than themselves and to sustain a belief that individuals shape a collective reality, that our own contribution does make a difference, that sharing ourselves and our efforts - to help others, to improve our own communities, to initiate and sustain social and political change -- is the best way to help ourselves. That's the ComFest Way. Indian poet and essayist Rabindranath Tagore once noted, "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." St. Francis of Assisi put it another way: "It is in giving that we receive."

We are our only saviors

we're gonna build something this summer

                                  - The Hold Steady

                              "Constructive Summer"

We are our only saviors. There are no white knights, no U.S. Cavalry, no Great White/Black Hopes, no Great Leader, no manna from heaven, no rugged individualist. There's only you and me and we and us.

So, this summer, and next autumn, and winter, and spring, and as far into the future as you dare to look, it's up to you. In a culture that, for all of its benefits, teaches that out individual needs are the primary determinant of value and that the accumulation of more is our life's purpose, it's essential to accept and assert that we achieve little by ourselves. It's critical to our collective survival that we understand that our well-being ultimately depends on the well-being of others.

Let's build something together - The ComFest Way.


--Steve Abbott

2010 ComFest Program Guide



educate   advocate   organize

The most powerful words in any language, anywhere on earth, are "How can I help?" Even more than "Yes we can!", the offer to help has power to weave people together. Especially in hard times, this deceptively simple question, a reflexive expression of empathy, is the very essence of community building.

So this is the question ComFest organizers try to answer every year.

As honorees are nominated, grant applications considered, street fair vendors juried, slogans selected for volunteer T-shirts -- at every step, the question is, does this choice help sustain the community envisioned in ComFest's Statement of Principles?

One thing ComFest can do is provide an ever more popular platform for advocates of peace and social justice, along with constant appeals to get involved by volunteering at the "lend a hand" level.

ComFest prioritizes voter registration, education and mobilization. Voting is the bedrock of participatory democracy, so nurturing smarter, more committed voters is a way of helping advance all progressive causes.

Just this month, a new study by Pew Research found that a majority (62%) of young people completely agree that "It's my duty to always vote," a 14 - point increase from 2007. That's great news, as is the upswing in general volunteerism and charitable giving over the past year and a half. Voting, volunteering and sharing the burden are the first steps in moving beyond self into community-building.

"Gen Next" sees better times ahead. But reaching that better world will require more than just getting out the vote every few years. It will mean taking on a commitment to another level of activism. So ComFest put that message everywhere you look this year.

In past years, ComFest beer mugs carried slogansabout specific reforms. This year, ComFest organizers couldn't choose just one campaign. In the aftermath of the long epidemic of greed and apocalypse fever that ravaged the economy, shredding the Constitution and the safety net, the list of top-priority causes is overwhelming. So many public institutions desperately need rescue, so many lives need healing.

Re-regulation of financial markets. Meaningful access to to health care for all. Defense of workers rights. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prosecuting crimes against the Constitution and crimes against humanity -- those pivotal campaigns all need urgent attention, all at the same time. It is impossible to pick just one.

That's why the back of all 1,500 ComFest volunteer T-shirts, and every single ComFest beer mug, carries a simple theme:

educate   advocate   organize

The message is clear: Go raise some hell in the halls of government. Please.

Pick an issue that you can't stop obsessing about anyway. Find out what organizations are trying to level the political playing field, join one and ask: How can I help?

Ask pointed questions, demand accountability, propose constructive reforms, support real leadership. If you can't manage to get a fair hearing, sometimes a well-placed cream pie helps.

Whatever you do -- stuffing envelopes, walking door-to-door, raising funds, holding vigils -- it all helps. With every phone call, every meeting, every letter to the editor, you're sowing the seeds of change. You're planning ahead for the next harvest of ever more justice, peace and harmony and diversity. You're living every day the ComFest way.

And "that's" what we're celebrating. Happy ComFest!

--Mimi Morris

2009 ComFest Program Guide




Be the Change
You Wish To See in the World

    As volunteers go through their annual discussion of how best to capture the spirit of ComFest in a short statement/slogan, it's always an effort to include the linked concepts of struggle and celebration that are integral to a full life. This year (2008), no one needed to mention the obvious issues of war, economic hardship, collapsing infrastructure or a declining health care system to recognize that most people believe we're at one of those periodic tipping points when things have to be done differently, when there's a palpable need to re-assert the principle that government should serve everyone and not simply a handful of wealthy friends and business associates of those in power.

    There's a lot of talk about change this year, with politicians of all stripes selling - depending on your beliefs - fearful snake oil or pragmatic hope to the electorate.  Everyone, except for a handful of devil-take-the-hindmost free-market extremists, seems to understand that the current situation is drowning everyone except those with homes on gold-plated stilts.

   It's not that beneficial change doesn't happen, or that ingrained attitudes don't evolve. In 1968, five years before the first ComFest, over 440,000 Ohioans voted for a presidential candidate whose platform was based on racial segregation; this year, a black man is a major party candidate for the White House. Sometimes change seems to take too long; sometimes change is regressive rather than progressive. Real life ain't easy, or predictable

   When Mahatma Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world," he reduced our desire for a better world-and who hasn't wanted this, ever? - to it's fundamental unit: the individual. It isn't enough to simply desire change; one has to make it happen. In a street sense, one has to "represent."

   Change is about more than who's president (although that can influence the pace and direction of change). It has a spiritual dimension, one without which all the material stuff is nothing more than another sweep of the merry-go/money-go-round that drives day-to-day life. Ultimately, real change comes from within and then manifests itself in the world.

I could have kept my head down
I might have kept my mouth shut
"Horse to Water"
Keeping your head down and your mouth shut is on one hand a recipe for survival and on the other a blueprint for despair. And in the face of what the worst elements of runaway government, uncontrolled commerce or the unholy alliance of both can do to individuals, lying low and shutting up might seem to make sense. It's certainly less effort than the active alternatives.


    In discussing his work as a poet, William Stafford noted. "You much revise your life." He was talking about the way in which writers approach their own creations, but there is a larger wisdom in his words. If we expect the world around us to improve, we must first improve ourselves - our way of seeing, our approach to living. The desire for change - for a different, more cooperative way of interacting with others - brought the volunteers of the first ComFest together in terms of how people met basic needs: health care, housing, food, communications. And the changes those people thought possible have now become accepted as the norm.

    Legal segregation that typified substantial parts of American society only 40 years ago did not change because segregation was inherently wrong and unjust; the liberation of women from restricted social and employment roles did not occur because it denied women the freedom to fully realize their own humanity; widespread gay-bashing (literal and figurative) and socially enforced closeting of one's sexual orientation did not diminish because it denied individuals' inherent worth and dignity; wars have not been ended or prevented from starting simply because wars allow the awful unleashing of the worst in human beings.


   All of these changes in legal structure, social dynamics and public policy occurred because individuals changed their own perceptions of how they saw things. And as a result of that new way of seeing and thinking, they found it impossible not to act to improve the situation for themselves and/or some other element of society - that is, to make their inner change manifest. A personal and individual shift in perception had to occur before the larger shift in direction was possible.
And we are left to carry on
Until the day is done
- REM,
"Until the Day Is Done"
   It's almost amusing, yet actually profoundly sad, that in a year in which more people - young people in particular - have a belief that we can work together to change how we meet basic needs as a nation, a few sullen hipsters continue to regard ComFest simply as a "hippie festival" that should "get out of the sixties." They believe that the ideals of living in harmony with others (peace) and recognizing that we have obligations to others beyond ourselves (love) are somehow dated, as if humanity's noblest intentions come and go like last year's band-of-the-moment or fleeting trend in outsider clothing. These folks seem to believe that colorful tangibles such as tie-dye are the same as more enduring values, that symbols are more significant than substance. In the tepid swamp they inhabit, ironic detachment that trades in put-downs and one-upmanship is more meaningful than lifting a hand to ease another's pain.


   They want a party for the sake of a party (which is not a bad thing, but anyone can do that anytime). ComFest, which happens annually because of those willing to work to make it happen, is a Party with a Purpose. And that purpose is to showcase the ideals that most people, at some level, already hold but are afraid or unwilling to act on. ComFest says, "You can make change happen. You can be a better person. You can build a better community, a better country, a better world. And each summer, along with the thousands of other people, you can celebrate what you've accomplished." Ain't pragmatic idealism disgusting?
Got to get back to something
simple to save ourselves
- Van Morrison
"Keep It Simple"
   ComFest tries hard to keep it simple. Stick to your fundamental principles. Behave as if the rest of the universe is as important as you are. Clean up after yourself. Respect others. Take care of the weak and sick. Those with power and money are not inherently better or more deserving than anyone else. Don't be afraid to push back. Remember to laugh and dance. Don't wait to act; do it yourself, with friends, and incredible things develop. Right here, right now. We won't always get what we want, but little by little we'll all get more of what we need.