There’s a new online magazine I recommend everyone bookmark. The Federalist focuses on politics, policy, and culture (with the odd cocktail recommendation/recipe thrown in now and then) and judging by the second piece posted by senior editor Mollie Hemingway, I’ll be reading a lot of what’s posted on the site.
In “What Your Neighborhood List-Serv Tells You About The Demise of America,” Hemingway highlights her neighbors’ odd reaction to a friendly posse of entrepreneurial children looking for some afterschool mowing and gardening work. In a post on her list-serve titled “Kids Cutting Grass,” Mollie was surprised to read that the writer wasn’t recommending these kids (or complimenting them on their attempts to earn their own money instead of just asking Mom and Dad for the cash), rather the poster was concerned about the kids and was looking for the neighborhood’s “general consensus” on the issue—that is, the safety of letting babies mow lawns “unsupervised.” Quell Horror!
Hemingway and I live only about a mile apart outside of Washington, DC yet the similarities in our neighborhood list-serv makes it seem like we’re next door neighbors.
Like Hemingway, I live in a very liberal section of Northern Virginia and am regularly stunned though thoroughly entertained at the Portlandia-like tone taken in the messages posted on my neighborhood list-serve. A personal favorite came years ago from a clearly panicked mom who wanted to know if anyone could advise her on how to organically de-louse her child’s hair. And each summer, you can always count on some newbie to the list-serv posting an innocent query on how to get rid of mosquitos and pests only to be bombarded with firm suggestions to go the non-toxic, non-chemical route along with a few emotional messages about butterflies and collapsing bee colonies. There was the long string of messages that erupted after one perturbed woman berated us all for not placing our sprinklers far enough away from public sidewalks. The complaints about dog poop are always fun and thankfully non-political as are the passive aggressive messages advising lazy parents to clean up the unsightly children's toys strewn in backyards “for everyone to see” (ahem…guilty!).
Hemingway goes on to say that a few of her neighbors piled on to the original post reminding people to use safety goggles when mowing and offering links to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on children and "dangerous" yard work.
Hemingway is braver than me. She posted a civilized yet pointed response telling her neighbors to, in effect, calm down. She reminded her neighbors these simple jobs teach kids life lessons that are critical to a growing mind. Happily, Hemingway writes that she was supported by many of her neighbors, but only off the list-serv in private emails sent directly to her. Of the lack of public support, Hemingway says:
Whether that was just a prudent decision in an overwhelmingly Blue neighborhood or an indication of a lack of courage is unknown. Either way, it’s alarming that I was the only one who spoke up. If we’re ever going to fix America, we have to understand that freedom’s just another word for letting the neighborhood kids mow your lawn.
I’m pretty quiet on my own list-serve. But I might just start speaking up. The saying goes that all politics is local…perhaps it’s even more local than originally thought. Maybe it’s time we quiet conservatives start speaking up to our neighbors and reverse the demise of American culture.