The (Civil) Society

An anti-social debut

IF THIS WERE GOING to be a traditional society column, it might start out with who wore what to a fancy party to which you probably weren’t invited.

Maybe it would include some photos from an event you couldn’t afford to attend and/or fawning descriptions of homes you’ll never visit unless you’re delivering a pizza.

There’d be space dedicated to debutantes and power deals and real housewives making drama.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that — clearly, reveling vicariously in the doings of the wealthy and well–known brings the masses much joy. But it’s high time the rest of the proletariat got some ink.

Savannah society includes so much more than the upper crust: This city is a mixed bag of historic bloodlines and Yankee imports, a hard–working but backsliding middle class and a largely–ignored underclass, those making their homes amid the midtown bustle and those living quietly among the egrets near the marsh.

Our skin is every shade between deep black and lily white, and though racism is occasionally lamented on both “sides,” most people will tell you that folks is just folks. We wear business suits, tattered jeans and flip–flops, sometimes all at the same time.

Savannah is lauded as a jewel of Southern progress and castigated for being 20 years behind the times. Depending on what facet of this diamond you’re focused on, both views are true.

We are surrounded by natural beauty and have set a national standard for historic preservation, yet we have yet to make any real progress on the issues of crime, poverty, a broken public education system, corporate hijacking of our local resources and petty in–fighting in our city council.

Yes, we have so much to be proud of in Savannah, and it’s so easy to toast ourselves and turn a blind eye to the less lovely parts of life here. But eventually all comes home to roost.

So rather than a society column that focuses on the pretty and shiny but ultimately shallow, this one is intended to dig deeper into what truly makes this community tick. A place for those people and events that bridge our differences, offer actual solutions and provide opportunities to create authentic community that are actually FUN.

It may be that we’ll have more luck uniting the colonies of fire ants and feral cats. But in these times of economic, political and environmental ambiguity, shining a light on what’s real and true and little bit crazy may be the only firepower us plebes have.

I expect that’s the cue for every non–profit in Savannah to inundate my inbox. I’ll do my best to accommodate everyone’s good works, though I suspect there’s so much goodness out there that y’all may have to temper your enthusiasm with patience.

In the meantime, those interested in a couple of wonderful examples of events that deserve support by our civil society, take note:

Global Mala 2011, a gathering of yoga enthusiasts, local restaurants and grassroots vendors (including the Savannah Co–op profiled on page 26) takes place this Saturday, Sept. 24 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at Mother Mathilda Beasley Park on East Broad Street near Gaston.

Coordinator Dawn Smith calls it a chance for yogis and non–yogis alike a chance to participate in “mindful community” and have a grand old time.

The suggested $25 adult donation for yoga ($5 for kids) goes to Backpack Buddies, a local project that sends nourishing food home with school–aged children in Savannah who might otherwise go without. Find out more at

If you spend your weekend morning trolling garage sales for an overlooked gem or just something cheap to furnish the living room, the great mother of all picker opportunities comes with the 64th annual Junior League Thrift Sale starting Friday, Sept. 24 at the Civic Center.

Sure, there’s plenty of highfalutin society involved in the League, but these ladies definitely give back: In the last two years, they’ve raised and dispersed over $100K to local projects and charities, including the Interfaith Hospitality Program (which teaches single mothers independent life skills) and the public school literary program In2Books.

If you’re one of Savannah’s seasoned pickers, you’ve probably already mapped out your strategy for this massive fundraiser, which costs for admission $5 on Friday and $3 on Saturday, when everything is half off.

The League ladies collect some rather nice swag from their attics, friends and neighbors to sell off in the interest of the greater good, so be prepared to fend off other eagle-eyed bargain hunters.

Trust me, there are treasures to be found; I have a friend who scored a vintage Gucci handbag in the piles one year but almost lost the arm she’d be carrying it over in the process.

For the most part, the people of Savannah understand that we’re all hanging out on this slice of coast together, and we do what we can to make it better for everybody.

Our accountability to our neighbors — not just the ones next door, but the ones tucked away on the islands, across town in the housing projects and the students in the dorms — can be summed up by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (though I’d like to think if Dr. King were still around, he’d surely substitute more gender-appropriate language in the following quote):

“At the heart of all that civilization has meant and developed is ‘community’ — the mutually cooperative and voluntary venture of man to assume a semblance of responsibility for his brother.”

And just so you know, I’m delighted to write about fancy parties, but I’ll probably wear my thrift sale prom dress.

Tell Jessica more at