You just wrapped up a conference of The Network of Spiritual Progressives earlier this month in DC that I attended. What were you hoping to accomplish meeting at this particular moment in time?
We had hoped to refine
a strategy for secular and spiritual progressives for the coming Obama years--a
strategy that would help push the Obama Administration in a more progressive
direction and yet simultaneously NOT give the Right or the Tea Party fanatics
any leverage to further weaken Obama. This is the particular challenge of the
Obama years: we believe that his abandonment of a visionary and transformative
politics, hopes for which he awakened and used to get elected in 2008 and then
subsequently dashed with his actual policies in the past 18 months, has created
the space for a deep disillusionment into which the Tea Party people were able
to opportunistically step.
So we think that the best way for Obama to have greater chance as President is to return to a program that could make people feel that the reasons they voted for him have been justified. That speaks for pushing him to a more progressive program. Yet we also know that if Obama is weakened, his replacement will not be with a more progressive force but a more reactionary one, so we have to balance our approach in ways that do not further open the door to the quasi-fascist forces that have done everything possible to destroy his presidency and prevent any successes of any sort.
So, how did your understanding of current political realities translate into what actually transpired at the conference?
most significant factor crippling liberal and progressive forces today is their
willingness to accept the notion that we must frame our political agenda in
terms of what the media, the political elite, and the captains of industry and
finance tell us is "realistic." One of the main reasons that we have
not been able to muster demonstrations of millions of people in the streets to
challenge the war in Afghanistan, to demand government price controls on health
care or a massive program to end unemployment or to insist that we stop
offshore oil drilling in light of the Gulf oil disaster is that we are told
that the Democrats in Congress and the President are acting like wet noodles
only because they are being "realistic." So the central message we
tried to convey in our gathering was that it's time to demand that those who
claim to represent us stop being realistic and start fighting for the ideals
that we sent them to Washington to support.
The most significant changes in the US in the past fifty years were won because people fought for ideals that were universally seen as "unrealistic" when their struggles began--the struggle against segregation and for civil rights for minorities, the struggle against patriarchy and discrimination against women, the struggle for glbt rights, the struggle for rights of the disabled, all of these struggles were dismissed as "unrealistic." Over and over again people have been told that "politics is the art of the possible" and therefore they should give up their highest vision of the good and fight for what is "realistic." But history actually teaches a different message: that you never know what is possible until you fight for what is desirable, because in that struggle many desirable goals that seemed impossible begin to appear to be quite possible as more and more people struggle to achieve a more humane and ethically and spiritually rational world.
The NSP conference was filled with people who know what America should look like and are working to achieve that vision, not waiting around for those in power. This kind of activism is very empowering. Despite the deep disappointment with this administration and acknowledgment of the many very serious problems we're facing,there was tremendous energy generated over those three days. Are all of your conferences like that?
Yes, they are. The reason is that we trust the intelligence of our members very much, so we ask our speakers to talk to us as though we were colleagues trying to figure out the difficult questions, rather than as an audience at a big rally that needs to be energized into supporting what everyone already supports else they wouldn't have been there. And we pick the smartest thinkers on each topic. And then we have small group discussions to make sure that everyone gets a real chance to express themselves. Finally, we are not afraid to talk about love, caring for each other, and a spirit of generosity and compassion that we ask people to bring with them and show towards others. When you put all those together in a context with lots of singing and dancing in the aisles, you get a really high conference!
I can attest to that! When's the next conference? And how do you keep that connection strong between conferences?