I’ve been volunteering with the Folkmoot USA International Dance Festival for about 15 years. It’s one of the most culturally rich, unique events in these mountains. It was going on before the Iron Curtain was raised, bringing dancers from those former communist countries to the U.S. for some eye-opening adventures.
Today, as terrorists lurk in shadowy places around the world and political divisions remain firmly entrenched, the message of this festival remains as strong as ever: people are more alike than they are different, and overcoming political and religious differences isn’t all that difficult when you focus on sharing instead of dividing. For the 28 years that Folkmoot has been in existence, politics has never won out over the sharing of traditions.
During the planning for many of the festivals in past years, some of us on the Folkmoot Board had nagging worries in the back of our minds that some countries would simply not get along. But it never happens, at least not for any kind of geopolitical reasons.
No, the worst we’ve had in 28 years are disagreements over who should do the finale, complaints about beds not being comfortable or rooms being too hot. Some of these are problems that have to be dealt with — and thank goodness for the Folkmoot staff — but these aren’t game-changers.
Folkmoot is an opportunity to forget politics and put xenophobic notions aside, and I would encourage everyone reading this to do just that and enjoy one of the performances happening in your community over the next week or so (July 22-31). You won’t be disappointed.
I wrote a story for this year’s Folkmoot Guidebook about the history of the festival. While doing the research, I learned about an early attempt to bring Folkmoot under the tent of Bele Chere, Asheville’s huge street festival.
Charles Starnes, a former Tuscola High School principal and Folkmoot volunteer, was a close friend of Dr. Clint Border, who founded the festival. After Folkmoot’s first festival in 1984, it became very popular very quickly. Asheville’s own Bele Chere started in 1979, and was a small event compared to what it has become today.
Starnes told me — and Brenda O’Keefe of Joey’s Pancakes confirmed — that early on Bele Chere organizers contacted Folkmoot about bringing the festival to Asheville and running it in conjunction with Bele Chere. The idea was that the two festivals together could turn into something really big.
According to both Starnes and O’Keefe, Dr. Border was absolutely adamant that moving the festival to Asheville was not even open to discussion. Folkmoot, he said, would always be based in Haywood County. Twenty-eight years later, it is still here and is very successful.
As for Bele Chere, well, it did not need Folkmoot to thrive. It has become Asheville’s signature event and one of the largest street festivals in the country.
And now for a little politics.
The current debate about debt and spending in the U.S. has highlighted a fundamental flaw of democracy: can people vote against their self-interest in the name of shared sacrifice?
As democracies across Europe — Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and now Italy — teeter on the verge of insolvency, governments are struggling to find a middle ground. Those on opposing sides of the political divides are whipping up their constituents, just like here in the U.S.
Many people have seen this coming and been writing about it for years. We have created social welfare programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — that have become very expensive. The senior citizens who get those benefits aren’t about to support cuts. Military spending here is huge, but those states and communities who depend on military bases don’t want them downsized or closed. The wealthy don’t want to pay more taxes, but they are the ones who can afford it. And on and on.
To fix these problems, I have to vote for leaders who will vote against my self-interest. So do you. The big question is whether any democracy can take this step, where the majority votes against what will benefit them in the short run.