“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!
2012 ComFest Program Guide