In the on-line edition of the American Muslim recently, Rabbi Michael Lerner talked about the community of kindred spirits he encountered at the most recent vigil held at Ft. Benning, Georgia --site of the infamous School of the Americas. Lerner says he felt common cause with other participants, many of whom were Catholic, as they offered moving witness against America's role in promoting torture and mayhem. How, wondered Lerner, could we build enduring movements across philosophical and sectarian lines, based on commonly-held, deeply felt concerns without splintering over points of dogma, prejudice, personality and strategy, as we so often do?
Progressives and liberals of both religious and non-religious persuasions pride themselves on being open and accepting of differences, in principle. But, the fact of the matter is that we are having a hell of a time building any significant progressive movement in America--because we just can't get along. Why is that?
I think it's because we are--on the whole-- deeply, deeply bummed out.
Even the most cynical among us used to have, deep down, some intimation-- some hope--that we lived in a society where our voices could be heard; where, eventually, the truth would out-and, that when it did, it would make a difference. After all, the US did eventually withdraw from Vietnam. The Washington Post did uncover and publicize Richard Nixon's malfeasance, and Nixon did-eventually--resign. Civil rights, social welfare, clean air and food safety measures were passed and implemented, even though some powerful politicians and corporations were not pleased. John Kennedy's challenge to: Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country! inspired thousands of liberals and progressives to join government-run programs like Peace Corps and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in the altruistic spirit of those times.
Being older and wiser in the ways of the world, many of us now realize that, even then, cynical forces were at work and that, often, things were not as they seemed. But the point is that, back then, it did seem like there was a core of decency to America and we believed that, when things got off-track, we could-eventually-get our republic moving in a more progressive direction.
Well, that feeling's gone now, isn't it? Throw in the uncertainty we face regarding finances, health care, the environment and our children's future, and it's a pretty depressing situation. Face it: right now, a lot of us are no fun to be around. All our clever analyses and emotionally charged rhetoric bounces right off the resilient bubble that surrounds our government officials and, for that matter, the main-steam media. All we can do is rant at each other and, frankly, we're getting on each other's nerves.
We need a hobby.
I know: let's change our own lives into what they might be if we didn't feel controlled by the corporatocracy! Let's support worthy causes without consulting the tax code. Let's find a local farmer and pay "too much" for his home-grown eggs and vegetables. Let's hang out with "disreputable" characters: homeless guys and Catholic Workers at a Meals on the Street program; Muslims and evangelical Christians at a Habit for Humanity build; Buddhists and secular humanists at a Clean-Up-the-River day; Jews and lesbians at a Free Clinic. Let's get together and do real work that yields concrete results. Then, standing together with our new-found allies, let's see where else we can find common ground.
Virginia Lockett is an American physical therapist who lives with her family in Da Nang, Vietnam. She is president and founder of the non-profit organization, Steady Footsteps, Inc. She offers her reflections on life in Vietnam and in America here.