On Monday October 3 citizen groups in over 100 cities and towns are resorting to satire to roast the Reagan government. The occasion is The First National Let Them Eat Cake Sale.
The reference, of course, is to the time some 200 years ago, when Marie Antoinette, on being told that the poor in France did not have enough bread, replied: “Well, then, let them eat cake.”
Politicians today, who are similarly seized with such aloof callousness, are more discreet in their public language. But even the “great communicator,” Ronald Reagan, became irritated enough at television coverage of unemployment miseries to declare: “Is it news that some fellow out in South Succotash someplace has just been laid off…?”
The President with the $1,000 boots will be the focus of attention by 500 grassroots organizations that are planning rallies, teach-ins carnivals and other public gatherings.
Peter Harnik, national director of the cake sale, is a veteran impresario of events premised on the adage that “in humor there is truth.” He has obtained the participation of six well-known cartoonists (e.g., Jules Feiffer, Paul Conrad and David Levine) to donate the artwork for the cake boxes. All the cakes — including Strawberry Short Recovery Cake, Pentagon Sponge Cake and Upside Down Budget Cake, among others, will be home-baked by volunteers and sold to raise funds for local citizen associations working on such issues as hunger, homelessness, peace, injustices to children, seniors, and the environment.
What Harnik wants to see, after the bittersweet laughs are over, is more citizen involvement in the future of their country. “Through the First National Let Them Eat Cake Sale,” he declares, “Americans can say no to half-baked Reaganomics that punish the poor, harm the middle class and subsidize the rich. You can join with us in demanding that government work with citizens — not against them — in feeding the nation’s hungry, assisting the elderly and handicapped, protecting communities from toxic wastes, putting the unemployed back to work, preventing corporate abuse, and enforcing the rights of minorities. We don’t want a government whose social conscience has been shut down.”
Over thirty years ago, the economist-philosopher, Stuart Chase wrote a book called The Tyranny of Words in which he showed how politicians succeed in camouflaging their deeds with their words. No one has done this more persistently than the former Hollywood actor. How eloquently he waxes about America, while he goes out of his way as President to deal cruelty to millions of Americans and their environmental heritage.
He ones out of his way to cripple the job safety and health program, leaving defenseless workers exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases in the workplace. He goes out of his way to destroy proven life-saving automobile and truck safety standards backed by enforcers, doctors and many safety groups. He goes out of his way to slash nutrition programs for needy infants and children, to try to abolish the small but successful legal aid program for the poor and to weaken meat and poultry plant inspections. He tried to reduce the safeguards for elderly Americans in nursing homes before public outcries partially changed his mind.
Much of this cruelty and more, he justifies on budgetary grounds. Saving a few million dollars a year, at the expense of more injury and fatalities, while he is propelling the military budget — ridden with waste — to a staggering annual government budget deficit must be Reagan’s brand of satire. Even some former Secretaries of Defense were not amused.
Nor will the many thousands of people at the Let Them Eat Cake Sales, scheduled from New York to Los Angeles, from Hartford to Houston and from Chicago to New Orleans, be amused. But they will be smiling nonetheless at their ability to smite Reaganite gravity with progressive levity. Look how far Ronald Reagan has come with his gags and shake-of-the-head smiles. Perhaps Harnik has come up with an effective citizen response — put aside the dour and sour and ridicule Reagan out of office.
If you want to organize a bake sale in your community on October 3, there is still time to call the Washington office of Let Them Eat Cake. The number is 202-347-6060 and their address is 918 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. They will send you an organizing and publicity package faster than Reagan can say that he is fed up to his keister — with cakes.