Monday, May 1, 2017

Happy Clean Up Week!

Shortly after the turn of the century...that's the 20th century...the Red Cross and local governments were facing the question of what makes a healthy city. The American population was becoming more urban and with bigger populations, American cities were increasingly crowded and dirty. Imagine living in an era before vaccines, when catching a cold or getting an infection could easily be a death sentence. In 1918 Spanish Flu would infect 500 million people worldwide and kill 50-100 million within days of their contracting the illness. The specter of death is a good spokesperson for national callings and (with a little help from Johnson and Johnson) Clean Up Week was born.

The idea was simple - clean up with antiseptic soap and you won't get measles, polio, or diphtheria,,,the science was only partially right, but the idea wasn't bad. So ads, articles, and pamphlets were circulated encouraging the populace to clear out clutter, dispose of junk, sweep the streets, and throw out trash. Do all this and your community will become a healthier, happier, and more contented place.

But there's a problem to be considered. When humanity doesn't understand what causes or cures a disease, it tends to fall back on its prejudices. Therefore the problem of disease became a problem of "the other" invading the good, clean, American community. Clean Up Week didn't just appear inn the pages of Cosmopolitan or Johnson and Johnson's Clean Home booklets, they ran in screeds like The American City along side articles like How to Americanize a City. It went hand-in-hand with efforts to clean up the language of youth by eliminating "un-American" words and the implications that "un-American" foods were unwholesome and could lead to immoral behavior. With this mindset sweeping away the filth is synonymous with sweeping away anyone who doesn't look, act, talk, or worship like you.

So, happy Clean Up Week. We all have an old old mattress to toss out or a bunch of cans and bottles to recycle, but while we're at it we might want to take a long hard look at our ideas and preconceptions. Some of those could be set by the curb too and the world just might be a lot healthier for the effort.

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