High Society

“So have we solved all the world’s problems this evening?” he asked. Everyone chuckled and responded, “Again!” This group was no agency of the United Nations, nor was it even some sort of committee meeting for the city government of Chicago. What I just witnessed was the conclusion of yet another meeting of Café Society, which, every week, year after year, meets at Valois on 53rd Street to discuss matters of high importance in the political, economic, and social realms.

Run by the Public Square, a part of the Illinois Humanities Council, Café Society meets at a number of locations around Chicago and downstate on a mostly weekly basis. Each location hosts a meeting on a different weeknight, when everyone is invited to gather and discuss questions that the Public Square posts on its website along with suggested readings. A main aim of the group is “media literacy” and savvy interpretation of current events. This past week’s topic was the economy and the massive Wall Street bailout in particular: the discussion included whether or not taxpayers should suffer in order to save these massive corporations and what level of trust they have in the government to effectively contain the situation.

Although they usually have a facilitator sent by the Public Square to make sure they stay on topic, last week’s group didn’t seem to have much need for one. They went on tangents, of course, but they all had so much to say, and about so many things, that it seemed natural. Many in the group have been with the program for the past five years, and some lived through the ’30s and ’40s. Their perspective was, in the true sense of the word, awesome.