American society is a time-bomb where the impending explosion is endlessly hinted at by horrifying “little” degradations of daily rape, murder, stupid violence of different varieties: urban gang violence, episodic mass killings, drug and alcohol-induced stupors and deaths, callous health care and classroom teaching, apparently crazy people talking on subway platforms, and so forth.
Attentiveness to daily lives is essential for those who would like to act purposefully to change the world. During the 1940’s and 1950’s The New Yorker ran a series of profiles by Joseph Mitchell of characters around New York. Mitchell wrote, “The people in a number of the stories are of the kind that many writers have recently got in the habit of referring to as ‘the little people.’ I regard this phrase as patronizing and repulsive. There are no little people in this book. They are as big as you are, whoever you are.” The profiles are collected in Up in the Old Hotel. The reader will find there scarcely a single “political” reference, yet Mitchell and many of the people he wrote about would have adapted happily to an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Hard Crackers focuses on people like the ones Mitchell profiled. It seeks to document their strivings to overturn the mess we are in, to be a place where young people can express their dismay at the world they are to inherit, where the “battle of the sexes” can be openly explored, and where black people can express their bitterness at the prolonged mistreatment they have suffered at the hands of whites and the resentment on the part of many whites at being blamed for a history they do not think is their fault can also be heard.
Our title was taken from a song popular among Union soldiers during the Civil War. Hard Crackers identifies with that history, and especially with the experience “on the ground” of those who made it.