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June 8, 2014

The Positive Power of Taking It Easy

The Porch Sitters Union knows that sometimes less is more

Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339 in Louisville, Kentucky stands up for a greener world. (Photo by Step It Up under a Creative Commons license.)

"I arise in the morning between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world,” wrote the essayist E.B. White, “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Ah, that’s the dilemma. You want to strengthen the sense of community and the commons where you live. It’s a pretty nice place, but it would be even better if you could fix up the park, improve the schools, enliven the business district, create better paying jobs or slow the traffic.

So what to do first? You’d really like to just enjoy your neighborhood. Sit down for a while, soak up the sunshine, feel the breeze, listen to the birds sing or the kids play. But you really ought to be organizing a meeting, handing out flyers and enlisting volunteers.

Actually, it’s important to do both. If you don’t take time to savor your neighborhood, you lose touch with why you love it in the first place. Soon, all you see is what’s wrong. And that quickly diminishes your effectiveness as community advocate. No one is inspired by harried, humorless activist.

On a strategic, as well as a personal, level it’s smart to take a long stroll every evening, linger at the local hang-out, stop for a chat with neighbors, and just generally revel in all the great things your community offers. Otherwise, what’s the point of living there?

The Professional Porch Sitters Union

In the Irish Hill neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, a meeting of Local 1339 of the Professional Porch Sitters Union is coming to order. Claude Stephens, the founder, explains in Orion magazine that the organization attracts hard-working activists, professionals, artists, mothers, revolutionaries, gardeners. “People like you. They work hard, volunteer in their community, sit on boards, have schedules to keep and chores that need tending.”

Each meeting follows an agenda, but there is nothing written on it. Iced tea is served, followed by beer. Stories begin to flow. Andy brings up how his neighbor was visited by the windshield wiper fairy. Hillary talks about an article coming up in her self-published zine Bejeezus. Mike has got the inside scoop on how to get concrete bench tops for free. Then, Stephens reports, “ A neighbor walking her dog is enticed to join us. A lot is getting accomplished.”

The Professional Porch Sitters Union began on the porch described above in 1999 and now features chapters across the country from Waterville, Maine to Rocky Mount, Virginia, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Fort Collins, Colorado to San Francisco with international branches in Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

Stephens encourages you to start your own local of the union, keeping in mind that the organization is governed by only one rule: “Sit down a spell. That can wait.” He’d like to hear how it goes, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get around to letting him know.

Adapted and updated from The Great Neighborhood Book.