The Power of Potlucks

Texas activists change the world—one covered dish at a time

| January / February 2003

HOW’S THIS FOR a soul-stirring stew? Take a generous number of folks hungry to kick back and socialize; stir in a piquant mix of progressive groups; and serve with lots of food, libations, and laughter.

That’s the recipe concocted by the Austin Progressive Potluckers, who take the time-honored tradition of shared suppers a step further. Each month, one of the dozens of activist groups that enliven this Texas university town plays the role of host, and people join them to learn more about their work over plates of homemade fare. “We’re changing the world—one covered dish at a time,” says Bruce Kravitz, who helped found the potluckers with compadres Diane Miller, Selwyn Polit, and Charlotte Jernigan.

“Our whole point is connecting people,” Diane Miller says. The social ambience created when folks trade ideas over lasagna and brownies lends a resonance often unmatched by meetings, flyers, e-mails, or direct mail solicitations.

Planners of the potlucks solicit hosts with an eye toward timely issues—in November, the host group was Dialogue for Peace, which brings together Palestinians, Jews, and others to discuss peace issues. In October at the Austin Center for Peace and Justice, potluckers shared curries and other Indian dishes to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s 133rd birthday. In July they picnicked among the ripening tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers at the Oasis Gardens Community Supported Agriculture farm.

“We want to make these events fun, and we don’t want to add to the burden of already busy people,” notes Selwyn Polit. She and her fellow organizers linked up last year at a political gathering and decided that food, not meetings, connects people more effectively.

Their success reaffirms the political power of sharing a meal. notes Kravitz. “Food, conversation, cool people: You just can’t beat the combination.”