Facing Main

Pancakes for Unity

I wonder what it will take to bring us back from that steep divide

By Maggie Doherty

I often ponder, and with increasing frequency since the pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection, what will it take to end our deep division and reunify? What will end our bitter polarization? How can we shift away from the gross manipulations of partisanship, culture wars, and bold attempts at eroding democracy?

Heavy stuff, especially during the magical days of summer, isn’t it?

I’m not alone in worrying about the fate of our country, and it seems like most people, whether they’re historians, journalists, medical experts, and even your friendly barista, are concerned with the direction of our country. While much has been written and spoken about the myriad of problems we’re facing and politics does nothing to ease those separations, and in fact, seems to take it a perverse kind of joy in making it worse, I’m curious to find a way to recovery.

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of working for a fledgling company based in White Sulphur Springs with an audacious idea to make durable American-made workwear for women. Sarah Calhoun’s dream with Red Ants Pants was to reinvest in American clothing manufacturing, support women who did hard physical work and needed clothes to fit their bodies and not fail them when they ran cattle or swung a Pulaski. Part of her bold business plan was to sell the pants directly to the customer via house parties and, for a few years, I got to join Calhoun on these cross-country road trips, helping fit pants and hearing about the lives of women who lived in northern Wisconsin and worked at their local fire departments or met with ironworkers of California. My tenure as the sales rep was years before the cult of Trumpism and, what I learned after thousands of miles on the road, residing in a 1964 Airstream, was how open and kind most Americans were. Yes, I interacted mostly with women, but many men attend the pants parties. From the Midwest to southern California and all points in between, people in urban areas and small farms had many things in common, including a palpable sense of hope and optimism.

There was a sense that we lived in a country that was hospitable to the traveler and supported the ingenuity of entrepreneurs like Calhoun. These grand tours occurred a decade ago and I remember feeling such a sense of pride and community as we logged thousands of miles across the country. I was inspired by the landscapes this nation holds: from the dramatic Pacific coast from Oregon south to California to the seemingly people-less forests of the northern Great Lakes. In these places, I felt a sense of connection with individuals who’d only I just met as they told me their life stories, about the small farm they had built for their family or the pancake breakfast we should plan on attending if we should ever find ourselves in their town on the Fourth of July. All funds went to building a playground.

A decade plus ago social media didn’t have its insidious hold like it does now, altering our reality and damaging relationships. Trump was a reality TV performer and not the mastermind of a cult that pledges allegiance not to country but idolatry. At that time, I felt such hope and in the intervening years, I wonder what it will take to bring us back from that steep divide.

Perhaps a social media blackout one day a week would help: forcing us offline and into a space where we can talk with our neighbors. Perhaps we need a nationwide pancake breakfast where we can gather over stacks of pancake, chip in a few bucks for a community project, and laugh about the things that make us human instead of waving flags that demonize. A stack of flapjacks, big pat of butter, and some real maple syrup could help bridge the divide. I think all options are on the table, and at this point, it’s worth a try. Pancakes for 2024!