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Coke vs. Pepsi 

This time of year, there's no question about the best food out there: fresh tomatoes. Late in the summer, when the vines are creeping and sagging everywhere, after the rains and bugs have done in the cucumbers, sweet, wet, seedy tomatoes are still ripening, waiting to be sliced fat for sandwiches and quartered for salads. Yet, there's no national tomato marketing campaign. Tomato farmers haven't put up millions to compete with Hot Pockets and Lean Cuisine. If you just watched the ads on TV, you wouldn't know they were an option. But we're so deeply dug into American commercial culture, so bombarded with advertising, that it's easy to forget about the fresh tomatoes of the world. It's true with food, and it's true in politics.

Bob Geary's report this week from the protests at the Republican convention in New York reminds us of the vibrant ideas that are key to understanding the real range of political discussion that needs to be taking place in the United States. It's not just about being for or against Bush or Kerry, for or against the war, but about our attitudes toward voting, toward the narrow range of issues covered by the major political parties. Of course, this year especially, there are key differences not just on the war, but on key issues such as gay rights, reproductive rights and stem-cell research. But those are really the only debates taking place.

The protesters in New York remind us that we should be taking a longer view. We need to promote not just voting, but political involvement beyond voting. We need a discussion that puts Iraq in the context of a century of American foreign policy driven by economic interests. We need to look at our economic structure in the light of slavery, cheap labor and immigration. We need to be more like Ruth Zalph, the Durham activist who went to New York because, "I worry for my children, and my grandchildren, and for the children of the world. We all need to get out and say we want a change."

If you have any doubt that it can be done on any level, just read Fiona Morgan's story this week about Durham leaders' re-examination of the purpose behind a proposed $30 million events center, a re-examination that downtown artists and activists in Durham have been pushing for.

And go pick some tomatoes before it's too late.

More by Richard Hart

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