Local ceramic maker Nick Moen has teamed up with a number of fellow potters and illustrators from across the U.S. in a project that aims to unite a divided country, one cup of coffee or tea (or whatever other beverage you and your constituents prefer ) at a time.
The Democratic Cup, which Moen cofounded with potter Ayumi Horie, consists of 22 mugs handmade at Moen’s Asheville studio, The Bright Angle. These mugs come in various shapes, with octagonal, circular and square rims. Some have traditional handles. Others offer double-braided handles. A few have no handles at all.
The project launched in September, while the election cycle was in full swing. “We wanted to use the mugs as a vessel to start empathetic conversations and to promote progressive issues,” says Moen. It also doubled as a fundraiser. Those who purchase a mug can cast a vote on social issues that are important to them. Proceeds from the sales will go toward nonprofits that tackle the winning issue.
Each cup includes an individual illustration. The “Vote for the things that can’t” cup creates a call for greater environmental concern. In it, a bird flies in a cloud of exhaust, while a bear chugs a beer and a factory emits pollutants into the ozone. The “Poppy hand gun” cup offers two images: one of a hand holding poppy flowers, another of a gun with the same poppies placed in its muzzle. The “What did I do?” cup shows the faces of Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant and Alton Sterling.
Since Donald Trump’s victory, the mugs have taken on a new meaning. The election results had Moen reconsider what many politicians, journalist and other experts seemed to ignore: the art of listening. “That’s probably the most apparent thing that happened based on the election results. People weren’t being heard,” he says. “Rather than preaching or projecting values and being angry, it’s more important to listen to what people’s stories are, so we can empathize with each other and figure out how and where we have similarities.”
While the mug’s illustrations are devoid of profanity and stereotyping, many support progressive matters. Moen knows this can create an initial barrier for those who have more conservative social views. He says that moving forward, the project is considering additional works that reflect a larger audience. The reasoning, he says, is simple. He wants to better understand all sides.
“Once you have a constructive conversation that’s empathetic and thoughtful, and you’re responding rather than reacting, I think that’s when you can kind of cross value lines and figure out where common ground is.
“We’re all American,” Moen continues. “We all have our values. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to figure out why people believe what they do. These mugs and the act of sitting down and sharing a beverage together and listening to each other … can help remove some of the hatred and misunderstanding that’s being projected from both sides.”
For more information on the project, visit thedemocraticcup.com