Josna Rege

192. Jam Today

In 1970s, 1980s, Books, history, Inter/Transnational, Nature, Politics, Stories, United States, Words & phrases on April 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm

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In my mid-twenties I participated with many others in an effort to stop the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power station from being built. We did not succeed in Seabrook, although we did raise awareness about the costs and dangers of nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement grew and flourished throughout the 1970s, but in 1980, the election of Ronald Reagan, like that of Margaret Thatcher in Britain the year before, began a long period of what we called the clampdown (echoing The Clash’s prescient Working for the Clampdown on London Calling), and put a serious damper on the movement, along with so much else. Early in 1980, though, oblivious of all that was to come, we were making serious preparations for non-violent direct action to occupy the site, in a decentralized system of self-organization based on affinity groups and consensus decision-making. One of the affinity groups, friends of ours, called themselves Jam Today.

I never asked any of the members of Jam Today what lay behind their choice of name, but it seemed clear enough. They refused to go along with a society that demanded endless deferral of desires and their fulfillment to some indefinite future.

illustration by John Tenniel (from thevictorianweb.org)

illustration by John Tenniel (from thevictorianweb.org)

The phrase “jam today” comes from the exchange between Alice and the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871), in which the queen offers Alice a job with the promise of “twopence a week, and jam every other day.’ Pressed further, she reveals “the rule. . . jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam today.”

‘It MUST come sometimes to ‘jam today,”‘ Alice objected.

‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: today isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

Having been raised to believe in delayed gratification, part of me secretly found the idea of Jam Today a little self-indulgent. But my friends showed me otherwise: they combined concentrated hard work for a better future with an irrepressible joie-de-vivre. They lived in the moment and clearly loved every moment. And time was to prove them right: throughout those long Reagan years, as unemployment skyrocketed, unions were smashed, public services defunded, and environmental protections gutted, the rich only got much, much richer, while continuing to dangle before the rest of us the lying promise of Jam Tomorrow, a tomorrow that would never turn into today.

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  1. Beautifully expressed activist view.Love the elaboration of Jam Today.
    Interesting to note that while our generation was occupied with trying to get Jam today, The current generation seems to believe that Jam Today is their entitlement.

    • Thank you for your comment, Asghar. I’m glad you appreciated this. Wasn’t sure if many readers would. You make an interesting observation about a generational difference in attitudes toward Jam Today. But if some members of the current generation feel a sense of entitlement with regard to the fulfillment of their every desire, doesn’t our generation bear some responsibility for that?
      Nice to see your comment after a long time. I received your email, thank you, and now can’t remember if I replied–I meant to. The lovely photo you sent explained everything I needed to know about why you haven’t been posting many comments! Congratulations! J

  2. I love this. The queen’s logic echoes what some think life should be for the rest of us. Never heard it before. My knowledge of Alice in Wonderland is quite superficial.

    • Thank you for commenting, Kristin. The White Queen has some more choice logic, too. For example, she kicks up a fuss in advance of getting hurt (but later, when she does get hurt, she doesn’t react at all). And the Red Queen says that in her country, you have to run as fast as you can simply to stay in the same place. That certainly feels familiar! Now I want to go back to the Alice books; and I’ve never read The Annotated Alice.

  3. Isn’t it horrible that we are now having to start living through that all over again, with this nasty sequester? The rich are getting definitely richer and the poor are getting much poorer, but many who are talking on shows like Chris Hayes “UP” and his new one in the evenings, seem to be raising the understanding and educating at least those who listen, about much of what is going on now.
    It is really awful what is happening in Congress, I sometimes think that this country is going to the dogs faster than any other.
    Perhaps it is time to get out the old banners and start protesting again but this time, digitally.

    On the other hand, there is some hope that the GOP seems to be rotting from the inside and may just annihilate itself. As the old bigoted people die off there may be young ones who will try a different way of thinking. I suppose one can hope, although with the sense of entitlement getting in the way, who can say?

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