Interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner, co-chair of NSP
My guest today is Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and co-chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives [NSP]. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Michael. You have organized a strategy session for this Sunday to "reclaim America". What can you tell us about it?
ML: After the 2014 elections and facing a Congress determined to dismantle environmental protections and health and social benefits for middle income Americans and the poor in 2015-2016, and after the spate of well-publicized police murders of African American men and grand juries refusing to indict the police, it's critical that ethically sensitive people develop a strategy to: RECLAIM AMERICA. The first such gathering will take place this Sunday, December 14th at the University of San Francisco at 1 p.m. in the McLaren Conference Center on their main campus (don't confuse this with San Francisco State University or UCSF medical center--this is the University of San Francisco.
The Congress that will shape America in the next two years is committed to defunding government so that it cannot enforce the minimal environmental protections currently in place, provide health care coverage for those who need it, provide safety and health protection for our food and our workplaces, or protect the old, the young, the vulnerable -- while at the same time that Congress will seek to decrease still further the taxes on the super-rich and the corporations they own and control.
This is an ethical, spiritual, and religious crisis of monumental proportions -- and calls for secular liberals and progressives to join with spiritual or religious activists to work together to develop strategies to save our planet earth and protect middle income and working people and the unemployed from the assaults of the selfish. That's why we, spiritual progressives of every variant (including atheists and secular humanists as well as people in every religious community) must now take action to present a different world view, one based on the Biblical call to "love our neighbor" but also "love the stranger" (the Other/the powerless), and to pursue justice and peace.
Using their power to de-fund critical services, the New Congress will intensify class and race strains in the U.S. Given the fact that African Americans are disproportionately represented among the poorest in the society, they will be facing especially rough times if this Congress gets its way, adding to the racism and violence that people of color face even under "normal" conditions, as exemplified recently in Ferguson and Staten Island. In particular, in light of the justifiable outrage at the racism manifest not just in the verdict from Ferguson but also in the way most Americans don't seem to have a clue about the racism involved and how pervasive it is, we at Tikkun magazine and our interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives encourage us all to see fighting racism as not just as issue for African Americans or people of color, but as a priority as well for white people to address: what is the best strategy to both counter and transform that racism? How to do that without seeming to suggest that all whites are bad and hence provoke backlash that actually makes things worse for people of color is part of the discussion we hope to initiate at this conference.
Too many people have responded to the 2014 electoral victories of the Right by feeling powerless. "What can I do?" they tell themselves. "The Rightists have the money and are filled with passionate intensity, while those who seek peace and justice too often lack a coherent strategy. There are so many groups taking on one little part of the problem or another, but mostly they don't cooperate with each other and don't even try to educate people in each specific social justice, humanitarian or environmental struggle about how they are linked to all the other struggles. So, to those on the outside, it looks like everyone is just fighting for their own special interest, but not for the common interests of the rest of us. I can't see how I can do anything, given this mess."
But there is something we can do, not alone, but with a movement that we are creating. The liberal and progressive forces have made some big mistakes -- but we can change that, and we have a strategy for how to do that and how to Reclaim America.
That's why we are inviting people to come to San Francisco this Sunday. In the morning, we are asking people to attend some African American church, wherever you live in the country, because the Progressive Baptists of America have declared Sunday a day of solidarity around the assertion Black Lives Matter. Then, Sunday afternoon, we will start our conference with a focus on that theme, before moving to the larger issue of how to repair and transform the liberal and progressive forces in the US to become far more effective in changing our economic and political system.
JB: Who's going to be presenting on Sunday, Michael?
ML: Among the presenters at our Reclaim America conference: George Lakoff Prof. of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the UC Berkeley, author of Don't Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics, Matthew Fox Liberation Theologian, author of Original Blessing and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Marianne Williamson author of Healing the Soul of America: A Return to Love and Imagine What America Could Be in the 21st Century, Rhonda Magee Professor of Law at USF teaches Race Law and Policy, Cat Zavis Attorney, Executive Director, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, mediator, and teacher of Empathic Communication, Reginald W. Lyles from Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland and former advisor to Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, Jorge Aquino Liberation Theologian of the Theology and Religious Studies Dept. of USF, Rebecca Kaplan Oakland City Council President, Iftekhar Hai President of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance, Rev. Amos Brown pastor, Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. And I'll have some words of my own to share!
JB: Impressive roster!
ML: Yes. We will mourn what has happened to our country and to the planet, acknowledge our own responsibility (rather than just blame the super-rich and their ability to manipulate media and spend millions on candidates who serve their interests), challenge liberals and progressives to think more deeply about what changes are needed in the ways that they present themselves, draw upon the wisdom of secular humanists, religious traditions (all of them), and spiritual-but-not-religious thinkers, and the work of the (interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives. We will hear each other's ideas for how to move forward, build ties among the vast array of social change organizations, progressive religious and spiritual communities, and learn skills for improving our ability to have our most visionary ideas really taken seriously by our families, neighbors, co-workers, and even some of our most cynical friends.
Part of our intention is to reintroduce into public discourse the ethical values that could contribute to rebuilding a society based on love, care, generosity, awe and wonder. And you can play an important role by challenging progressive organizations to introduce into all their activities a shared vision of the world we want -- not just focusing on what is wrong with the way things are now, but presenting a positive vision of the world as it needs to be -- a New Bottom Line of love, caring, kindness, generosity, social justice, peace, environmental sanity and awe and wonder at the grandeur and preciousness of our planet earth and the universe of which we are a part.
JB: Who's your target audience?
ML: We invite liberals and progressives of every possible stripe to come together and strategize about how these kinds of values can reshape public life in the US. We ask you, the reader of this, to help us get leaders, activists, and members of progressive movements for social and economic justice, peace, environmental sanity, civil rights, feminism, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, unions, liberal and progressive political parties and elected officials to meet and strategize together.