Monday June 29th, I gave this speech to
the open mike crowd at Red Rock
coffee house in downtown Mountain View. They enjoyed it, so I thought
I'd share it with you to. When Steve introduced me he said I was going
to "share a political message with us." Read on...
Good evening Red Rock! I heard on the
radio that last year on the
campaign trail, President Obama put a lot of effort into sharing two
words with us, "hope" and "change". Being less than a block from Hope
Street, I thought it would be a good thing to talk to you about change.
Back in the '80s the only constant was change. Every year another
series of American coins came out, and every year the quarters had
eagles on the back. Since then there has been a lot of change in the
Sometime in the mid '90s Congress
realized that one of our problems is
that too many Americans don't know much about American history. Their
solution to the problem was to legislate the State Quarters Program.
The idea was that every State in the USA would pick the art for their
quarter using a democratic process, and then that would be their
character on the national stage. The first quarters came out in '99,
and they have been coming out at five a year ever since. (At this point
I pulled out my 50 quarter collection to show them.) Now that series is
One of the things I've learned from
this program is more about the word
"only". Only keeps its bite because of the fact that when you are
busted, and the police give you one phone call, telling whomever it is
"you are my only hope" compels them to action. When Princess Leah
sends her droid to tell Obi-Wan-Kenobe "you are my only hope", it's the
same thing writ large. Corporate America likes only, because being the
only product with some feature is an advantage in the marketplace.
In politics only doesn't work quite
that way. Let me illustrate with
some examples from the State Quarters. The only quarter with a guitar
on it is Tennessee. There are lots of quarters that
mention food, but the only one that features somebody farming an
indigenous crop in what could be a sustainable manner is Vermont, which
shows somebody in a coonskin cap tapping a maple tree. The only year of
the program when all five quarters came from adjacent
states was 2007, when Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah
quarters came out.
For years I was
telling people the only quarter that featured an environmentalist was
California, which features John Muir, the patron saint of the Sierra
Club, looking out over Yosemite Valley. Yosemite was the first
State Park, and that project was where the idea of State Parks came
I had to stop saying "only" in connection with that one when the Hawaii
quarter came out,
featuring King Kamehameha and his quote "the beauty of the land is
preserved in righteousness." The slogan is on the quarter in the
original Hawaiian, which I can't pronounce for you. It's still the only
circulating quarter with a non European language quote on it, but that
later this year.
In politics even when it's over it's
not over. While the State Quarters were coming out all of the
territories and possessions were saying "we want quarters to", and this
year it's happening. So far this year, the DC and Puerto Rico quarters
have come out. We can still look forward to seeing quarters from Guam,
American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana
Islands. Then it will really be over.
This is change we can believe in. I
picked my favorite quarters based on their slogans. Those are the New
Jersey quarter, which claims to be "crossroads of the revolution", and
the DC quarter, which proclaims "JUSTICE FOR ALL". I'd like to invite
you to look at the change in your pocket and find other interesting
lessons about American History. Maybe you'll find something that you
like a lot. Thank you.
During Q&A Steve asked what other
states had food mentioned on them. I told him "Wisconsin has a cow, a
wheel of cheese, and an ear of corn. Alaska and Washington have salmon
on them." More recently I've figured out that there is also rice on the
Arkansas quarter, wheat on the South Dakota quarter, duck on the
Arkansas and Minnesota quarters, buffalo on the North Dakota and Kansas
quarters, sunflowers on the Kansas quarter, a peach on the Georgia
quarter, and a pheasant on the South Dakota quarter. I still could have
missed something else on another one.
A year after Obama
took office, I saw him say it again during his first State of the Union
address. I've taken to telling people that for me, activism is all
about "putting the change in change."