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 change.

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 finished.

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 from.  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 will change 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."