My guest today is Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and co-chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives [NSP]. Welcome to OpEdNews, Michael. NSP is hosting a national interfaith conference in June. Can you tell our readers about the network and the conference?
Rabbi Michael Lerner
We are convening a conference in Washington D.C. June 11-14 co-sponsored by The Nation magazine, Common Cause, Code Pink, Peace Action, the Washington Peace Center, Progressive Democrats of America, OpEdNews, the Institute for Policy Studies, Yes! magazine and many more--because liberals and progressives need a new strategy in the Obama years. This conference is a way that activists and those working for social change can come together to participate on the ground floor of shaping that strategy. We'll also be having a demonstration at the White House on June 13 as part of this conference.
What's the basic premise of the conference, Michael?
Progressives who expected to be participating in the process of shaping the national discourse after the election of Obama have found themselves deeply disappointed and experiencing themselves as far less impactful than they had hoped to be during an Obama presidency.
The 2008 election revealed the great yearning of a majority of Americans for a world based on peace, social justice, generosity, environmental sanity, and recognition that our well-being is tied to the well-being of everyone else on the planet. To the extent that Obama and Congressional Democrats have failed to fight for a world based on those principles, and have at times moved in the opposite direction, they have opened up a chasm of despair, thereby creating the space for a racist and potentially quasi-fascist movement led by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party reactionaries.
What is the challenge American progressives face today?
We progressives find ourselves in a very complicated and difficult position. Remembering how the Left in Germany in the Weimar Republic of the late 1920s and early 1930s spent their time critiquing each other rather than uniting to fight the growing Nazi movement, we cannot make the same mistake. Progressives have to protect the liberals and centrists from the anger that their policies have generated, because we don't want the quasi-fascists to take their place in positions of power. But we must also put forward an alternative that really embodies the best in liberal and progressive though and that might speak to people in a deeper way than the liberals have been doing.
This is our historic challenge--we must present a politics that can speak to Americans' deepest needs, push liberals in the direction of adopting the ideas and discourse of a sophisticated progressive vision, and yet at the same time not demean the liberals or leave them to be demolished by the Right. We cannot defend their decisions to give priority to saving the banks and the wealthy, escalating the wars of the capitalist global Empire, abandoning their promises on human rights and civil liberties, giving only lip-service to the immediate survival needs of the planet by reducing carbon emissions, or the other ways in which they have failed America--yet do all this in a way that does not further intensify the despair and retreat from politics that has happened as so many who supported Obama find themselves feeling abandoned by him and the Democrats. That's why it's time for secular progressives to come together with spiritual and religious progressives to try to develop strategies together.
What about the spiritual aspect of your group?
The Network of Spiritual Progressives is a voice for all those people who have progressive politics but who also have a spiritual or religious dimension to their consciousness--not necessarily one that connects to a God, but a consciousness that there are elements of the universe and of human experience that cannot be measured or subject to empirical observation. I discovered, in my years as a psychologist and researcher, that the progressive movements have alienated many of these spiritual people in two ways: first, by acting as though human beings are only motivated by a desire for money or a desire for power, and that therefore the Left should focus on economic equality and political inclusion of anyone who has been left out.
We at the NSP fully agree with their focus, but we also know that people hunger for a vision of meaning and purpose to their lives that cannot be fully answered by the achievement of equality and inclusion into the material well-being of American society. That's why our central demand of spiritual progressives is this: America needs a New Bottom Line. Corporations, government and social policies, our schools and universities, our health care system and our legal system, can no longer be judged efficient, rational and productive only to the extent that they maximize money or power or even inclusion of those who have been left out before.
They must also be assessed as efficient, rational, or productive to the extent that they maximize our human capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, ethically and ecologically sensitive, our capacities to see other human beings as intrinsically valuable and deserving of respect and caring (rather than seeing them instrumentally in terms of "what they can do for you"), and our capacities to respond to the universe with humility, gratitude, awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe and of consciousness itself. It is this expanded version of what progressives need to be talking about that, in our opinion, will provide a path for the Left to become a majoritarian force in the US and not simply a fringe asking for crumbs from the table of the Obama Administration centrists.
What kind of program do you have planned for the conference? Who's speaking?
We will be holding a demonstration at the White House on Sunday morning, June 13, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to support Obama to BE the Obama we thought we elected -- and to challenge many of his specific policies. The major speakers at our conference include Cong. Keith Ellison and Dennis Kucinich, Bill McKibben, Joan Chittister, David Korten, Medea Benjamin, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Robeth Thurman, Riane Eisler, Father John Dear, Sharon Welch, Rev. James Forbes, Reb. Brian Mclaren, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Peter Gabel, Jonathan Granoff, Paul Wapner, Lester Brown, Bill Moyer, Marianne Williamson, and more.
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