Civic Health Clubs and… the Revolution?

We are excited to share with you today an innovative project that is an interesting twist on connecting communities through shared conversations. The project is led by Evan Weissman, a teacher, actor, and civic entrepreneur who has been working for over a year now to found a “civic health club” in Denver, Colorado called Warm Cookies of the Revolution – an effort that hopes to offer “an antidote to the loneliness that comes with Facebook and other online interactions” in today’s world.

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What is a civic health club, you ask? Weissman answers, “Say you go to the gym for your physical health, and to a house of worship for your spiritual health, and maybe a therapist for mental health. Shouldn’t you have a place where you can go for civic health?” So, as its website says, “Warm Cookies is where you go to exercise your civic health.”

As many of us know from our work, there are always people who want to connect with others who care about their communities, engage in conversations, find out about different points of view, or find organizations that need volunteers. But as we also know, it can often be hard to find a place to go to satisfy those wants and needs. So as a civic health club, Warm Cookies of the Revolution seeks to be that place.

But what’s with the name? It’s a question Weissman gets often. For starters, every event that Warm Cookies of the Revolution hosts offers free cookies and milk to participants. But the name is part of a deeper philosophy that Weissman and Warm Cookies hold about the need for deep, far-reaching change in our democracy. Thinking about what change like that could look like can be daunting and even a bit scary, so that’s why the “warm cookies” are there — Weissman wants these conversations to be accessible and fun:

What are the warm cookies of the revolution? What is comforting, enjoyable, desirable about the revolution? What will make the revolution appeal to regular folks that are scared by that word? Is there room for humor in the revolution? What sustains us as we work toward the revolution?

…People either spend their time on things that are necessary, like work and chores, or things that are fun. And just because something is compelling doesn’t mean that people will pay for a babysitter and come to discuss a civic issue. But if it’s fun, they will come… Most people react with a giggle to the name, and that’s important. For people interested in the fun stuff we do, they know there’s a civic purpose as well. And for the people interested in civic change, it’s important for them to understand that fun definitely is part of it.

So in addition to providing cookies at every event, Warm Cookies events are intentionally made to be part serious civic conversation, part fun social gathering. For one of its first events, Warm Cookies put on an event called “Bring Your Government“, where three different speakers — a Colorado senator, a former candidate for Denver mayor, and a local comedian — shared their thoughts on what their ideal government would look like, and steps for how we might get there. At the same time, participants were invited to collaborate on building a Lego city.

That is the feel of many Warm Cookies events: real conversation, but mixed with something fun to occupy participants’ hands or bring them together around food or a shared activity. It is an attempt to embody the reality that if we are really going to have a dramatic shift in our democracy, we are going to need to know our neighbors.

In addition to the “Bring Your Government” format, Warm Cookies has developed a number of flagship types of events that it hosts on a recurring basis, including:

  • The Civic Stitch ‘N Bitch initiates conversations on civic subjects are encouraged while participants get together to knit, crochet, sew, or do another hand craft.
  • Pie, Pie, and Pie Charts in which participants enjoy pizza, pie, and discuss current economic issues.
  • Sunday School for Atheists is a time for discussing issues of values, morality, and their role in society outside of the normal religious context.
  • The Huddle encourages participants to take time outs while they watch the Thursday night football game to discuss the social issues that revolve around professional sports.
  • and the Intergenerational Mixtape Show & Tell, where participants of all ages bring objects representative of their generation and discuss what it means to them.

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The civic health club idea has been catching on and attendance at the events has been growing. Weissman and his partners with Warm Cookies of the Revolution are working to open up a brick and mortar location for the club within a year that will house more frequent civic gatherings and events and, of course, offer free warm cookies.

Opening the space is part of the larger vision to make civic health clubs, as an important infrastructure for growing our communities’ capacity to really practice democracy, a more regular part of our cities and towns. As Weissman says,

The truth is, there’s a sports bar on every corner, shopping malls in every town, theaters and comedy clubs. How about one place you know you can go for some fun and to learn how and why you can take part in civic life? Like my friend Stephen Handen says, ‘You don’t learn to swim by reading a book.’ We have to exercise our civic health. There has to be an action component.

We are quite impressed with the creativity and innovativeness of this new way of getting our communities talking, and we will be following the way that Warm Cookies of the Revolution shapes up with great interest. We encourage you to do the same!

You can find out more about the new Denver civic health club at their website, www.WarmCookiesOfTheRevolution.org. You can contact Weissman and his team at [email protected]rg. You can also learn more by checking out the Colorado publications that have written about Warm Cookies and Evan’s thoughts here, here, and here.

Long live the civic health revolution!

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