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?
Our next community celebration will be an honoring of the 25th anniversary of the creation of Tikkun Magazine. That is likely to focus more on the kind of ideas that it takes to do "tikkun" (which means, healing, repair and transformation) than on mobilizing for action, and it will take place in San Francisco next Spring. Between conferences the Network of Spiritual Progressives has chapters in some cities, and in other cities project groups that are seeking to 1. build support for our Global Marshall Plan (to get the advanced industrial societies to dedicate 1-2% of their Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty to once and for all end global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care and to begin the process of repairing the global environment) by getting local city councils and Congressional reps to endorse and sign on it to it 2. build support for the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment which will overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, prevent candidates for national office from using any private monies and provide public funding for campaigns, prohibit any purchasing of media advertising in the last three months before an election but require free and equal time for major candidates, and impose that large corporations get a new corporate charter every five years which will only be granted if they can prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens) by getting city councils and state legislatures to endorse it and Congressional reps to sign on to it. These projects are described in greater detail at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
A large and meaty agenda! The Tikkun 25th anniversary bash sounds great. You've been at this for a long time, Michael, and we're fortunate to have had all that energy and vision. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
Our Network of Spiritual Progressives is not only for religious people or secularists who have a spiritual practice. We welcome also any secular humanist who agrees with our "New Bottom Line"--that institutions, corporations, government policies,and social practices should be judged efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (the Old Bottom Line) but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behavior, and enhance our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at all that is.
believe that the progressive forces will never succeed in the West until they
can talk about love, kindness, caring for others, generosity, and other such
values with the same energy and enthusiasm that they now talk about equal
rights and economic entitlements. And we believe that the way to end all of the
wars is to help people understand that in the 21st century, our
well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the
well-being of the planet itself, and that the best way to achieve homeland
security is by adopting a Strategy of Generosity as manifested in the Global
Marshall Plan we've developed.
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