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I want to share with you my experience and reflections on the D.C. peace march and rally Jan. 27

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I want to give you a bit of the flavor of the peace demonstration in D.C., particularly since the media coverage was so predictably inaccurate. It was immense (the "tens of thousands" described by the media was closer to a good 150,000 people-- at the least), joyous, hopeful, sad, and exhilarating. I'm going to describe the experience of those of us who went as spiritual progressives, a subjective account that will highlight our experience. (Sorry it's so long--I just posted most of this at Current Thinking on so you could read or download it from there!). It started with a deeply moving and beautiful service organized by Tikkun's Network of Spiritual Progressives national organizer Nichola Torbett. The service was rich and moving to the hundreds who packed the church to the gills and listened to the wisdom of Rabbi -...rthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, and Rev. Graylan Hagler the dean of African American ministers in D.C. and the chair of Ministers for Racial , Social and Economic Justice of the United Church of Christ. There was a teaching from a brilliant woman from the Muslim American Society and meditation from Bhane Shutia dharma of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and I did my own teaching. Plus a moving choir assembled from the Peace Choir assembled form religious bodies throughout Washington, D.C. and led by Leonard Starks, director of the Jubilee Singers. We then walked down to the staging area where a somewhat skeptical United for Peace and Justice leadership had agreed to allow the Network of Spiritiual Progressives to assemble a program for the first fifteen minutes of the rally. For this we are very grateful to them-- and think it is a signal of new maturity in the peace movement that this could happen not just by giving a space for some famous religious person (Jesse Jackson spoke later and spouted his tired and boring phrases born out of the 1980s and feeling to most of the crowd like a tired and hopefully soon-to-be-retired meaningless ritual) but to far less famous people like us who were not giving long talks but trying to create a spiritual experience. Unfortunately, our plan to bring dozens of NSP ministers up onto the stage to participate in a joint ritual was undermined at the last second by some decision of someone controlling the stage that we could not bring them and that our time was cut to ten minutes, so we had to rush through what we had planned. Still it moved many people enough, including those who heard it on Pacifica Radio or watched it on C-Span, to induce hundreds of people to approach us later with extravagant praise and thanks for bringing a spiritual element into the day. ************************ Here's the full version of what I said but had to rush through (or you can skip this and go to the next section if you prefer): Many of us in the religious community know that the only way to end this war is to cut the funding for it. If you tell a drug addict that you don't approve of his habit, but then keep on giving him the money that you know he is using to paying for the drugs, you are an enabler. And if Congress passes empty resolutions saying they don't approve of escalations, but meanwhile pass the funding to make it happen, then those who have become drugged to power will use that money to make war. Underlying that is an assumption which goes through both parties-- that it is power and domination of others that provides us with the only path to homeland security. But we in the religious world have a different vision: that the best path to security comes from love and generosity to others. It is a new spirit, not just some tinkering with legislation, that our country needs. And that is why Evangelical Minister Tony Campolo and I have put on the web an ad that we are circulating around the U.S. that specifically calls on the President in his own religious language to Repentance, and in the name of the United States to repent for the crimes we have committed. And we go on to articulate the Generosity Strategy by calling for a Global Marshall Plan-- let the U.S. lead the other G 8 countries by example-- and the example is for the U.S. to dedicate 1-2% of our Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to eliminating global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate health care and inadequate education-- and repairing the Global environment. With that one move we would accomplish more Homleand Security than all the military spending in the world. We hope you'll go to our website and sign the ad and donate to it. It is our idea of how you have a peace movement that not only knows what it is against , but also knows what it is for-- Now I want you to try something that has never happened before at a peace rally-- a moment of spiritual consciousness and inwardness. I want to ask you to close your eyes, yes everyone please close your eyes, even the speakers, even the sound people, everyone close your eyes and try to envision that you could see the tens of thousands of people already gathered here, and look down on this crowd as though you were ascending in a slowly ascending balloon, and you see these tens of thousands of people, including yourself, standing here. And I want you to then let that balloon go up far enough so that you could see that you are standing in Washington D.C. and on the North American continent. And there are millions and millions of people down here on this continent, many of them at this moment hearing about this demonstration, but tens of millions more not knowing, and just proceeding with their lives. And now let your consciousness go up further till you can see the entire planet. And there are 2 billion people without people living on less than 2 dollars a day, and 1.3 billion living on $1 a day, and many of them are hungry, and the U.N. tells us that every single day somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 children under the age of five will die because of inadequate food-- or inadequate health-care, so that in each year approximately 12 million children die of mal-0nutrioution and problems that could be healed with adequate funding. And on this planet there are millions of people trying to help in some way-- as doctors, and health care people and educators, and social change people and some have even taken up arms to struggle for a different social order; and then there are also mill9ions of people employed by those who benefit from the system of inequality and they are doing all they can to make sure than nothing much happens, and they are the soldiers and they are the torturers, but they are also the journalists and t.v. commentators and the professors of political science and sociology and other fields that teach that nothing much can be different and that the way things are is really the only way things can be. And then there are billions of others who don't want to know anything about this-- most of them very decent people who can b very kind to each other and to their children and ot their neighbor's children, but they don't want to know about all this, because they are so deeply cynical that anything can change in the world, and they've given up on social change, so they figure-- why torture myself by learning abut how much pain there is in the world, because I can't change it anyway and so why not benefit myself in any way I can by just focusing on my small arena of life, and switching the channel when something upsetting comes on. And many of these are lovely and wonderful people, though despair has narrowed their consciousness so that they don't want to know. And so all of this is going on at this very moment on the planet. And now, try to envision where we are in the universe. So imagine that you can see that this planet is turning each day, and now it is turning toward the sun, and the sun is one million times the size of the earth, and so get this picture-- the sun, one million times the mass of the earth, and the earth with 6 billion people on it, and you, standing here with thousands of others who wish to help bring peace and generosity to our planet. Got that picture? So can you stills ee where you are? Ok. Now our sun is one of millions of stars in our galaxy, and the scientists tell us that there are 100 billion galaxies. So now can you see what you are? l know, it's impossible to rally take that in. But we can see as much as we can, and we all realize that within 100 years each of us will be in the ground, buried, and another generation will look up at this same universe and see the same wonders that we see, and they too will say what we need to say-- wow, amazing, fantastic what we can take in even with ur limited understanding and comprehension. But this is YOUR moment, your moment on this planet, to thank the universe for evolving a creature that could celebrate the grandeur of creation, even with all our limited understanding. So, for some of us we say Thank you God, and for others we say, Thank you universe. Btu we can all say together: Wow, what an amazing universe and what a gift to be alive , even with our limited consciousness, to be here with other human beings who share our commitment to building a world of love and generosity. So lets say it together-- about the universe and about the goodness of it all-- Wow, Louder please a loud Wow. And now to God, or the Spirit of the Unity of All Being or to the Universe itself that has evolved us-- a loud THANK YOU < THANK YOU THANK YOU. So I'm Rabbi Michael Lerner and I again invite you to join us in supporting the Generosity Strategy at and sign our ad calling for a new paradigm of generosity to replace domination---at ******************** Now, I love talking to large groups of people, but this was definitely one of the largest I had ever addressed, because even at the beginning of the rally there were clearly at least 70-80,000 people there. And doing a guided meditation is not easy to do even with a crowd of 300-400 which is what we usually have for our Beyt Tikkun High Holiday services, so imagine my surprise when, opening my eyes, I saw that tens of thousands of people were actually doing this, not making noise, not interfering, not shouting out irrelevancies or disrespect, but actually doing this, and then shouting at the tops of their lungs "Wow" and "Thank You." It was truly amazing. And that set the tone for the day. The rally reflected little of the toxic anger that has emotionally undermined the hopefulness of many who came to the peace movement. Yes, there was righteous indignation aplenty at the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives that have been lost in the carnage let loose by the U.S. invasion. But there was none of the kind of blanket condemnations of the Americna people or of America itself-- the righteous indignation was almost entirely directed at the Bush Administration. It was no problem in this context for me to urge people to pray for Bush and others in the White House-- for the healing of their tormented and distorted consciousness, not for the success of their plans but for their returning to the parts of their humanity that have been so dulled that they could still hang on to the hurtful determination to destroy even as they bring their own party and people down in the wake of their ego-manaical fanatical dedication to the path of death and domination (a way of being that is best summed up in the Torah by saying "Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let the Israelites go"-- a point made in our Passover Supplement for this year's Haggadah that you can read in the March/April 2007 issue of Tikkun magazine, which you'll get if you have joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritual, and a point beautifully developed by Arthur Waskow who is an inspired Jewish teacher). Nor was there any of the Israel-bashing or Marxist rhetoric that has tended to make other demonstrations feel so distant from the people who attend them that no one wants to listen. So, curiously, and happily, people listened. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to listen to. The UFPJ was caught in the same trap that caused us in our two previous NSP conferences to over-schedule and give people ten minute slots-- the immense pressure on the organizers to a. show that they could have at least one of every possible identity group, and b. pay obeisance to the many constituencies that had helped publicize the event, and c. have famour named actors or actresses or other famous people to lure the media. The end product of this madness is that we got dozens of speakers each of whom had about two minutes to speak, except the really famous ones like Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda who seemed to have more time. Well, in two minutes there's not much you can say that goes beyond the affirmation of opposition to the war and most of the speakers used their time to repeat what everybody knew-- the endless ways in which the Bush Administration was distorting and destroying the America we all love so very much. So what's the problem? Well, if you think your audience is the people who have never heard these arguments, fine-- say it again to them. But the media gave zero time to allowing our arguments to be heard-- so there was little point in speaking that way more than a few times in the course of the rally (some rehearsing of the arguments is good for those who might be watching the unedited version on C-Span, though as I say, none of that was shown on any of the national t.v. or almost any of the stories in print media). What needed to be done was to use the time to speak in a serious way about our situation as a peace movement, what had been accomplished (this was mentioned several times, but in a self-congratulatory way rather than in a serious assessment of our successes and our obvious failures as well) but also to engage in a serious discussion of where to go from here. Instead of having two to three dozen speakers, instead what the pece movement needs to do is to have a few key constituencies speak about their situation-- from women, African Americans, Arab Americans, gays and lesbians-- and a few key constituencies talk about the problems and challenges of organizing (including the labor movement, the religious movements, organizing inside the Democratic Party and in the Red states), and ask each of these to address the real problems, not just cheerlead about how wonderful their work has been because we don't need to hear that as much as to help think through the issues that we need to struggle with as organizers. And then we need to have 2-3 people given a 15 minute time slot to each present analysis of the actual situation as it is now and what is likely to happen (e.g. Noam Chomsky presenting the global picture, someone presenting the picture in Iraq, someone discussing possible ways to deal with a coming attack on Iran) and then 2-3 people with serious alternative strategies for how to mobilize a majority and how to build challenges to those representatives don't yet agree with the peace movement (here I'd imagine the NSP could present in some detail our strategy that is embodied in Generosity Sunday April 15 and in the ad that we are trying to raise money for which you can read at ). That kind of a rally should be interspersed with short breaks to ask people to turn to 3-4 others around them and talk about what they've just rheard and their reactions to it (something that is likely to work-- if my guided meditation could work, small group discussions for a few minutes could easily work-- and then people from each of those groups should be encouraged to post the best ideas that emerge form them on a website that all the rest of the hundreds of thousands who were there and millions who cheered for it around the country could read and comment on. "Wait, this is a rally and march, not a teach-in" some organizers will object. Well, why not partly a teach-in? Instead of wasting our time with talks that repeat the mantras that we all already agree upon, a respectful leadership should present serious education and opportunities for a serious discussion of the strategic directions ahead, and include among them the ideas of spiritual progressives! Obviously we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives have a strategy about how to talk about the situation facing America-- and it's a strategy that we think could actually win majority support: the strategy of moving from the paradigm of domination to the paradigm of generosity, love and caring for others, articulated in a language that draws upon the shared spiritual experience of a country which is by everyone's account the most religious country in the Western world (80% of Americans say they believe in God and 60% say they pray at least once a week-- that's the majority to whom we have to appeal in such a way that they feel so outraged at the injustice and violence in this world that they refuse to elect anyone to office who isn't real about ending the violence and injustice once and for all). So, sure, read The Left Hand of God (it will be out in paper-back in late February, so you can use it for a study group if you want to bring some friends together to consider the possible impact of a spiritual progressive approach), and you'll get the strategy from which our Network of Spiritual Progressives emerged, and the Spiritual Covenant with America which embodies some of that vision (which you can read at, starting with the Core Vision). And as one Congressperson said to me while I was standing listening to the many speakers-- we progressives in Congess have been saying some of the ideas that you in the NSP have been articulating-- only you in the NSP have a way of saying it, a framing, that is better than what we have and we need to learn from you about it. Those were the words. Any event, back to the rally as it was. There were dozens of touching and moving moments, and I only wish tens of millions more Americans could have been there and seen it to see the one thing that was most impressive about the speakers and about the people marching-- how incredibly beautiful, decent and good they were and are. {Again, let me thank the leaders of United for Peace and Justice for putting this together-- they worked hard, need financial support, and are playing a very valuable rolel} During the subsequent march, I stood at one intersection for about an hour and watched as tens of thousands passed by (it took a full three hours for everyone to get passed that intersection). The amazing creativity, diversity both in racial, class and age terms (yes, finally there was a very large turn out of people in their teens and twenties, not much from the lost generation of people from 30-50, but then plenty of aging boomers and grannies for peace, vets and even active duty military people, parents of children in the military, people in wheelchairs, and many others). And at various times I just broke down cried for joy to experience the life energy and love energy flowing through that crowd, the goodness of the universe, the God of the universe manifested in human form, however temporary-- it was a deep religious experience for any who would open their hearts to it. And yes, it was sad, because with all of it, we have not yet succeeded in convincing the millions of people who are agains the war that they could end it if they gave an unequivocal message to their elected representatives that they will be defeated in primary elections in 2008 unless they cut off funding for the war, and demand that the U.S. take the steps we've outlined at There still remains the tentativeness, the willingness to let their own elected leaders pretend to be courageous by voting for non-binding resolutions, and then coming back to their constituents and saying "see, I did everything I could be expected to do, because to do more would have been a risk for my future election." Until we let them know that the risk is more immediate from us, that we will not allow them to go unchallenged in the future when they seek our support, the charade will continue and so will the massacre and so will Guantanamo and so will the torture and the abuse of human rights, the undermining of our Constitution, and the willful deceits sent out by the government and repeated in ways that add credibility by many in the media. Still, I went away very hopeful, exhilarated, excited, and hopeful that our movement for peace could open itself eventually to the ideas of the NSP and through that deepen its appeal to tens of milioins of Americans who sort of agree with us but are not yet feeling personally mobilized to stand behind what they sense to be true and right. I was encouraged in that hopefulness when I met with about fifty NSPers at a gathering in another church Saturday night. It was a great opportunity to meet and talk to people from some chapters I hadn't visited-- and to engage in frank questions and answers and sharing of feelings and idea. These were people who were mature, smart, and devoted-- and I had a very good sense, just as I had when I spoke this fall in Minneapolis, Kalamzoo, Tuscon, Seattle, San Diego, and on some college campuses, that the message of the NSP is not only badly needed but readily understood and rejoiced in once we get people into the room to hear it, and that we are developing a crew of activists in our movement who can successfully get others into the room. So I again decided to offer that when any local group can get 100 people to sign up for a one-day or more training with me, I'll come and provide an intensive training in the NSP way of talking and thinking that I think will srengthen people's capacities to trust their own ethical and spiritual instincts and really apply them to the concrete situations we face as we develop programs and strategies for social healing and transformation. So, that's my short report. Hope it was helpful to some of you. Many blessings, and much love to all who yearn for peace. Michael Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor, Tikkun Magazine National Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives Author: The Left Hand of God (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) and eleven other books. P. S. One of the many media distortions: Jane Fonda started her talk by mentioning that she had not spoken at these rallies for 32 years because she did not want to make herself an issue which she knew the media had done and might do again, but that now it was impossible not to speak out. The media reported the part of her not speaking for 32 years and it not being possible to keep silent any more, but cut out the reason-- namely, that she didn't want to be the subject of the news reports. And, having cut that out, they then gave equal time from the rally of 150,000 to the 30 counter-demonstrators who were calling Jane a traitor-- thus, the media recreating the very focus that she and we had sought to avoid, while they avoided reporting on any of the critiques of the Bush Administration being made, much less the positive visions put forward by NSP or even the fact that this demonstration had a real spiritual component. Once again the media shows its "fairness" by ignoring the left (though the anti-choice demonstrations got a much fairer media response this past week when they brought 1/10 the number of people to DC==because the media, accused of being too liberal, bends over backward to give time to the Right and not to the liberal and progressive voices, while the right-wing media like Fox have no such compunctions and put out single-line versions of reality that have nothing to do wit h the facts but everything to do with their pre-cut ideology, and they have the courage to be unashamed at doing so, while "the best lack all conviction" and hence project the wish-washy-ness that makes many people afraid to depend on them. But lets end with a prayer that the God of the universe strengthen the hearts of those who want a world of peace, justice, love and kindness so that they feel empowered to act on their highest ideals and no longer cower in fear and trembling when others tell them that their ideals are "so unrealistic." If you can, please also read the editorial in the Jan/Feb issue of Tikkun (now on the news stands, but also a version of it is at P.P.S. Among the groups that cosponsored the interfaith church service on Saturday morning and with whom we hope to continue to work in building Generosity Sunday: and cosponsored by American Friends Service Committee Baptist Ministers' Conference of Greater New York and Vicinity The Buddhist Peace Delegation The Buddhist Peace Fellowship Catholic Worker Clarendon Presbyterian Chruch Episcopal Peace Fellowship Fellowship of Reconciliation Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice of The United Church of Christ Pax Christi Shalom Center Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur TIKKUN United for Peace and Justice Unitarian Universalist Association
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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
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