I started out trying to write an individualized response to each of you that sent me an email about the Professional Porch Sitters Union. But emails have kept pouring in and I never intended for this thing to cause me much work in the first place. In fact, the Union was founded under the premise that we are all way too busy in the first place. The PPSU was created as a counterpoint to that busyness. I believe that doing nothing is sometimes a very productive course of action. It gives us the space to think and to regroup so that when we do get up off of our porches to take action in our communities we approach our work from reasoned and rested thinking.
So, let me take this opportunity to welcome you into the Union with this group letter. I hope it will answer most of your questions. If not, make up your own answers. Once you are in the Union you are as much in charge of it as I am. If you are looking for leadership I suggest you look close to home. In fact, I think we should all be looking close to home for the things we need to make our communities better. I am sure what you may need is close at hand.
The Professional Porch Sitters Union is the fastest growing Union in the world. That gives me hope for our collective future. It is an international Union. There are now Locals in more than twenty countries and that number is growing. Most are in the US but I envision a day when there are enough of us that our communication network will consist of hollering down the street. Power to the Sitters.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
How do I become a member?
Origins of the porch
Like the United States with its melting pot of immigrants, the great American front porch owes its origin to several countries, including Italy, Spain, India and Africa, says Michael Dolan, author of The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place. African slaves were the first in America to universally build houses with porches.
By the 1880s, nearly every house in America, whether it was a humble shotgun-style or a Queen Anne mansion, boasted a front porch. The porch served as a cool and comfortable gathering spot that encouraged socializing and relaxing. The porch was so popular a setting that James Garfield waged a “front-porch campaign” for the U.S. presidency in 1880, meeting and greeting farmers and other folks from his own front porch in Mentor, Ohio (pop. 50,278).
“Nobody wanted to be in the backyard where there were horses, stables, manure and outhouses,” says Dolan, 58, who lives in a 1920s bungalow with a porch in Washington, D.C.
After a long day, families retired to the breezy front porch to sip cool drinks and talk. They brought out guitars and harmonicas and sang and told stories. Women snapped beans into a dishpan on their laps as they sat in the porch glider or swing. Couples courted on the porch until a parent signaled with the porch light that a beau had overstayed his welcome.
The front porch remained popular until World War II, when several factors contributed to its decline, including automobiles, air-conditioning, television and, most of all, suburbs. Backyard patios and decks and a desire for privacy spelled the end of the front porch.
Kim and Matt Thompson relax on the porch of their Waterford home overlooking the NianticRiver.
“We had just sat through these meetings with agendas,” he says. “Then we came to the porch and we were sipping bourbon and drinking lemonade and talking, and we all felt we were getting more done there — just sitting casually — than we had in the meetings.”
So the Union was born, and its mandate was simple.
“There are no rules. There are no dues. You don’t have to attend meetings. You don’t have to do anything. Well, you do have to sit on your porch, whatever that means to you,” Stephens says.
And yet there’s a pretty serious theory behind what looks at first to be a silly crusade. And that theory is probably why the Professional Porch Sitters Union and Stephens (known in porch-sitting circles by his porch-sitting alias, Crow Hollister) were featured last summer in a piece on National Public Radio and in media worldwide after that.