Posts tagged Naked Slip ‘N Slide for Peace

I am shocked—shocked!—to find that politics is going on in here!

Meanwhile, among the state Leftists….

At Common Dreams, Progressives discover that party politics has mechanisms to favor insiders, and to make it difficult for candidates to get a nomination without the approval of the party aparat. Most react with horror, and decide to change this stifling state of affairs—by committing themselves even more fervently to partisan politicking. This time in the name of strengthening our democracy, which requires wresting control of the Party out of the hands of the very people who write the rules of engagement. See, if you can win, then you can change things so that the party establishment can’t keep you from winning anymore.

Elsewhere, Stanley Fish discovers that the government-appointed directors of politically-run Universities sometimes put partisanship and political cronyism above academics in appointing senior administrators. The way he reckons it, a good result, if there is one, will not justify a bad practice, and putting someone with no academic experience in charge of an academic institution is just that. Nor is it necessary, even in the straitened circumstances (hardly unique to Colorado) the university faces. There is another way, and Michael Carrigan, one of the three (Democratic) regents to vote against Benson, pointed to it when he told me, I can’t believe that there are no candidates out there with both business acumen and academic credentials. He is right. Those candidates were out there and they still are. Perhaps the next university tempted to go this route will take the trouble to look for them.

image: a hamster runs on its wheel

Mister Buckles is taking back our democracy from the party establishment!

Playing the government game and taking the government’s patronage means playing by the government’s rules. The longer you keep walloping at it, the more stuck in it you get. Primary goals — like solidarity and social justice, or intellectual discovery and creation — have already been replaced by secondary goals — like winning elections or tugging on legislative purse-strings. Soon the secondary goals are swallowed up by tertiary goals — spending four-year election cycle after four-year election cycle bashing yourself against the hardened barricades of the Party establishment, or wrangling with political factions over the best process to find and bring in a boss combining the right balance of academic chops with the political connections needed to keep the university mainlining politically appropriated funds. This is no way to make a revolution. It’s not even a way to make small change.

In anarchy, there is another way. When the things that matter most in our lives are the things that we make for ourselves, each of us singly, or with many of us choosing to work together in voluntary associations, there will be no need to waste years of our lives and millions of dollars fighting wars of attrition with back-room king-makers—because we will not need to get any of the things that they are trying to hoard. There will be no need to fight battles between academic senates and Boards of Trustees over the right balance of academic competence and political savvy in a university President —because when universities’ funding rises from the people who participate in, or care about, the academic community, rather than being handed down by the State, the university has no need for political bodies like Boards of Trustees or smooth-operator self-styled Chief Executive Officers. We will not need to get any of the favors that they might be able to grant. When we go after the State’s patronage, politics makes prisoners of us all. But freedom means that when the powers that be try to rope you along for something stupid, or try to snuff out something brilliant, we can turn around, walk away, and do things for ourselves—whether they like it or not.

Further reading:

In Ten Words or Fewer: brass tacks edition

From a recent MoveOn update/fundraiser on the importance of intervening in Democratic Party primaries:

From: Adam Ruben, MoveOn.org Political Action
To: Rad Geek
Subject: Victory! Progressives defeat a right-wing Dem in Congress
Date: 2/13/2008 9:50 AM

We’ve been working together for years to make sure Democrats hold to progressive values and stand up to President Bush. It hasn’t always been easy. But yesterday, something amazing happened.

In what the Washington Post called a stunning victory, progressive underdog Donna Edwards triumphed in her primary against right-wing Democrat Al Wynn. That’s one more vote for ending the war, for affordable health care, for ending global warming. And thousands of MoveOn members pitched in time, money, and shoe leather to make it possible.

. . .

In 2006, we helped Democrats take back Congress from the Republicans. And while many Democrats have stood up against the war and corporate interests, . . .

Oh, yeah? Name some.

That damned war isn’t funding itself.

Kropotkin on the real French Revolution

Those of you who watch the front page may have noticed a new epigraph added to the rotation. It’s from Peter Kropotkin’s book on the French Revolution; I encountered it recently thanks to a post at The Picket Line. Thus:

After the night of August 4, these urban insurrections spread still more. Indications of them are seen everywhere. The taxes, the town-dues, the levies and excise were no longer paid. The collectors of the taille are at their last shift, said Necker, in his report of August 7. The price of salt has been compulsorily reduced one-half in two of the revolted localities, the collection of taxes is no longer made, and so forth. An infinity of places was in revolt against the treasury clerks. … In this way the people, long before the Assembly, were making the Revolution on the spot; they gave themselves, by revolutionary means, a new municipal administration, they made a distinction between the taxes that they accepted and those which they refused to pay, and they prescribed the mode of equal division of the taxes that they agreed to pay to the State or to the Commune.

It is chiefly by studying this method of action among the people, and not by devoting oneself to the study of the Assembly’s legislative work, that one grasps the genius of the Great Revolution — the Genius, in the main, of all revolutions, past and to come.

— Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1909) The Great French Revolution 1789–1793, p. 108. Trans. by N. F. Dryhurst.

Besides being good on its own merits, the quotation is also a natural complement to one of my other epigraphs, a quotation from Proudhon on parliamentarism and social economy.

It’s made of people.

Zack Exley’s Preaching Revolution, which recently appeared in In These Times, is fascinating, and frustrating. The article’s about a diffuse set of Evangelical Christian mega-churches, which have begun to preach nonviolence, opposition to war and imperialism, solidarity with and aid to the poor, the need for radical societal change, and opposition to the theocratic power-grabs of the Religious Right. The leaders of these churches consider themselves revolutionaries, and aim to restore the radicalism that they see in Jesus’s mission and primitive Christianity. The churches, like the conservative mega-churches, are large, well-organized, well-heeled, and technologically sophisticated. Exley thinks that they are an emergent movement that could have a dramatic effect on both Evangelical Christianity and American politics; he also suggests that the secular Left has a lot to learn from them.

In his book Irresistible Revolution, 30-year-old author Shane Claiborne, who is currently living in Iraq to stand in the way of war, asks evangelicals why their literal reading of the Bible doesn’t lead them to do what Jesus so clearly told wealthy and middle-class people to do in his day: give up everything to help others.

The popular evangelical Christian magazine Relevant, launched in 2003 by Cameron Strang, the son of a Christian publishing magnate, contains a Revolution section complete with a raised red fist for a logo. They’ve also released The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, a compilation by radical, Christian social-justice campaigners from around the world.

Bell and Claiborne are two of the better-known young voices of a broad, explicitly nonviolent, anti-imperialist and anticapitalist theology that is surging at the heart of white, suburban Evangelical Christianity. I first saw this movement at a local, conservative, nondenominational church in North Carolina where the pastor preached a sermon called Two Fists in the Face of Empire. Looking further, I found a movement whose book sales tower over their secular progressive counterparts in Amazon rankings; whose sermon podcasts reach thousands of listeners each week; and whose messages, in one form or another, reach millions of churchgoers. Bell alone preaches to more than 10,000 people every Sunday, with more than 50,000 listening in online.

But this movement is still barely aware of its own existence, and has not chosen a label for itself. George Barna, who studies trends among Christians for clients such as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Focus on the Family, calls it simply The Revolution and its adherents Revolutionaries.

The article does contain a couple of gaffes that seem to come from the ignorance that all too many people on the secular Left still have about the varieties of Christianity. For example, Exley claims that Where Revolutionaries most part ways with many mainstream evangelical churches’ interpretation of the Bible is in their embrace of women as leaders, elders and preachers. This is actually nothing new in American Protestantism, or even in evangelical mega-churches. Southern Baptists, say, have been and mostly still are hostile to women preaching or leading within the church; but the Pentecostal churches have had women participating in ministry and leadership for over a century now. But there’s a lot here to like. Some of the most interesting things in the article have to do with the participatory culture within some of these revolutionary churches:

If you compare the Mars Hill complex to progressive community centers or union halls, it has no rival. The entire mall has been converted. Most of the stores are now classrooms for the different grades of its enormous Sunday school. One of the large department stores has been converted into an events and youth meeting space with a stage, and ping pong and pool tables. The broad, carpeted concourse is now filled with comfy sofas and chairs for sitting and talking. Though the complex is perfectly clean and attractive, you get the feeling that the church, in renovating the facilities, has spent the minimum possible resources to meet functional needs.

More striking than the size of Mars Hill is the intensity of participation among the membership. The Mars Hill house church program — where small numbers of people come together in a home for Bible study, fellowship, mutual support and as a launching point for outreach into the community — involves more than 2,000 members in hundreds of groups, each with its own leaders. Several hundred volunteer as childcare providers and Sunday school teachers. And hundreds more serve each Sunday as ushers, parking helpers and medics. (With 3,500 people in a room, you never know what can happen.)

Yet Mars Hill is not atypical. According to the Barna Group, nine percent of Americans attend house churches (up from one percent 10 years ago). And tens of thousands of churches are de facto community centers, serving and supporting virtually all aspects of their members’ lives, usually with a significant percentage of members acting as volunteers. In this way, churches have left progressives in the dust in terms of serving and engaging people directly. The union hall is the left’s nearest equivalent, but not only is it dying, it rarely attempts to serve anywhere near as many of the needs — spiritual and practical — as churches do.

At the Isn’t She Beautiful conference, the non-theological sessions were devoted to one of the secrets of this movement’s success: leaders — identifying them, recruiting them, loving them and letting them lead. The pastors at the conference all seemed to view their church memberships as seas of under-utilized leaders, and spent as much time as they could learning from each other and the Mars Hill staff how to be the best fishers of men they believe Jesus called them to be.

This high-density leadership organizing model stands in stark contrast to anything I’ve ever seen working in unions, progressive organizations and Democratic political campaigns. On the left, recruiting and mobilizing leaders has become devalued work that is typically left to inexperienced recent college graduates. The pastors at this conference, however, saw recruiting and inspiring leaders as one of their central callings. Too often, the left pays lip service to the grassroots, but lacks faith in grassroots leaders. The result is that too many of our organizations are one person deep and stretched impossibly thin. At the conference, I tried to imagine what Kerry campaign field offices (where I spent a lot of time in 2004) would have looked like if we had recruited leaders instead of bodies and expected them to be faithful, committed members of a team (words included in Mars Hill volunteer job descriptions). Some organizations on the left do include leadership development in their organizing models. But churches seem to assume that there are already plenty of developed leaders in their midst and go straight to giving them as much responsibility as they can.

We could use a bit more history here. The union hall is dying, now; but that’s only one of the visible remnants of what used to be a much larger, and much more vibrant, labor culture. Before the New Deal, when political patronage, political control, and professionalized bureaucracy combined to create a long, slow managerial stranglehold on rank-and-file unionism, the labor movement was much more than meetings at the union hall and negotiations in the board room. The radical wing of the labor movement, in particular—and these were, for what it’s worth, mostly anarchists—created and sustained a flourishing counterculture, which included not only the union hall, but also reading groups, schools for children, mutual aid societies, banquets, dances, newspapers, songs, stories, cartoons, posters, murals, and more, all organized by workers who unionized with the slogan We are all leaders here. If the radical labor culture can’t hold a candle to what these radical churches now offer, that is because of what the labor movement has become in the era of state-capitalist unionism, and indeed precisely because of the vacuums created by the collapse of labor radicalism in American culture.

What I want to focus on right now, though, is how Exley has missed out on one of the most important lessons that Mars Hill and other revolutionary churches have incorporated into both their preaching and their works. The failure comes out when he turns to speculate on where the revolutionaries’ strategy for social change might lead in the near future:

Andrew Richards is the local outreach pastor at Mars Hill, charged with driving the Mars Hill house church program to reach people in need in the greater Grand Rapids community. We’re not only taking care of the needs of our own community, but we want to respond to the needs that are in the greater community, he said before a recent Sunday service while trying to recruit more leaders. He laid out five areas of focus: urban at-risk youth, refugees, poverty, community development and HIV/AIDS.

Rob Bell and other church leaders seem to be building up to a big challenge. It is unclear exactly what is in the works. (Bell does not give interviews.) But he has been preaching more and more about systemic oppression, poverty, debt and disease — not just locally but globally. And other leaders have indicated to the membership that the current level of sacrifice for others in the community and the world is not in line with Jesus’ teachings.

On Dec. 10, 2006, Bell kicked off a series of sermons, titled Calling all Peacemakers, during which he said:

Never before in history have there been a group of people as resourced as us. … Never before has there been a group of people who could look at the most pressing needs of the world and think: well, we could do it … History is like sitting right there, in the middle of war, and great expenditure, and violence, and the world torn apart in a thousand directions — [waiting for] a whole ground swell of people to say, Well, we could, we could, we could do this. We could do what Jesus said to do.

But, as of now, the Revolutionaries seem to be embracing person-to-person, be the alternative solutions to the exclusion of advocating for social policy that is more in line with their vision of the kingdom. Boyd says, I never see Jesus trying to resolve any of Caesar’s problems.

Wallis believes this reluctance comes from the recent experience of being dragged into the mess of partisan politics on the terms of the Republican party.

… But where will their prayers lead them? Will they forever restrict themselves to person-to-person, relational solutions? Or will they choose to influence political leaders on issues they share with the left — poverty, war, environmental destruction — with the same force that the Christian Right exerted around abortion, gay marriage and other areas?

There is something important here that Exley does not seem to grasp, but his subjects do. Social policy, i.e., government making and executing laws, is not something that happens over and above person-to-person, relational solutions like direct action and person-to-person mutual aid. Governments are made of people, no less than churches are. When governments make laws, there’s no magical zap or mystical assumption that elevates the policy beyond the limited, work-a-day efforts with which ordinary people muddle through. There is only one group of mortal human beings writing down general orders, another much larger group choosing whether to follow those orders or ignore them, and a third group that tries to make the second group follow the orders from the first, by force if necessary. The demands might be just or unjust; the enforcement may be appropriate or inappropriate. But whatever they are, they are just human words and human deeds like any others.

So the question isn’t, actually, whether Christian revolutionaries should aim at person-to-person solutions or else advocating for social policy. Person-to-person solutions are the only solutions there are, and government-enforced social policy is just one more form of relational solution amongst many. The right question to ask is: what sort of personal relationships we should cultivate, between whom, with what structures and in what roles? Should our solutions to outstanding social problems come from person-to-person relationships between equals, based on spontaneous human concern and practiced with mutual consent? Or should they come from person-to-person relationships between government authorities and ordinary civilians, based on political lobbying and backed up by legal force? Should the people working to make a social change carry sandwiches and soup, or guns and handcuffs? Caesar has one answer; the revolutionary Christians have another. And I happen to think that Caesar is wrong and they are right. Whatever short-run gains you might be able to extract by getting into governmental politics and enlisting State power on your behalf, it comes at the strategic cost of making your movement dependent on the good graces of a privileged political elite, and at the moral cost of staining a just cause with coercive means.

But that answer will remain incomprehensible until we have first asked the right question, and Exley and Wallis—like all too many people in the so-called Progressive wing of the Left—have failed to understand it, and so failed to understand those (like the Christian revolutionaries that Exley intends to profile) who put it at the center of their concerns. It’s not about timidity or skittishness or the machinations of the Moral Majority; it’s about having a set of ideals about how you should deal with your fellow creatures and build a community with them. Judging from the views they express in the article, there are a lot of things I’d agree with the revolutionary Christians on; and a lot of other things I’d disagree with them on. But this is definitely something that they see correctly, even if only through a glass darkly, and I can only hope that Leftists like Exley will one day learn the same lesson.

Further reading:

Direct Action Comix #2

Here’s a nice follow-up to your Independence Day celebrations, out of the web comics archives. This is an early strip from Cat and Girl, but it makes me think of nothing so much as an even older Calvin and Hobbes:

This is what the revolution looks like. Freedom doesn’t mean ballot boxes and it doesn’t mean barricades. Freedom is made up of direct action. We will know we have won when we can walk away whistling and just ignore the bellowing blowhard brigade.

Further reading: