A few days ago, I got a package in the mail. It contained a pamphlet, one that is not famous like Common Sense by Thomas Paine, but in the modern world is deeply relevant and useful. It is, simply, a road to revolution.
From Dictatorship to Democracy is the distilled wisdom of Gene Sharp, an 84-year old academic who lives in East Boston. His life has been quiet- he has written no best-selling books, held no prestigious professorships. However, he is the world’s leading expert on nonviolent struggle. He believes that ideas and willpower are more powerful than guns. Through case studies, one learns that even in the face of the worst evil, nonviolence had been used and been used effectively. Fear is what keeps people in line, supporting their autocrats. But if you remove your support, your obedience, then dictatorships crumble before your eyes. Nonviolent struggle is a way to empower people, and give them a way forward, past fear.
In a 2012 presidential campaign marked by vague promises regarding domestic and foreign policy, August 11th was a day that put ideas front and center. The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate brought a man with a strong, clear ideology into the mix. Whereas Romney has distanced himself from the work he did as an elected official, Ryan stands proud of over a decade of policy proposals and a radical vision for reshaping American institutions.
One of the most interesting parts of Ryan is the disconnect between the teachings of his Catholic faith, and the political and economic ideology he has developed. Firstly, let’s go over Ryan’s positions, and then the considerable criticism from Catholic circles.
There are 27 million enslaved people in the world today. To put that in perspective, that is more than at any other time in history. It is perhaps the greatest failing of modern societies- every country has abolished slavery, and yet it is an epidemic of unprecedented scale. In the twentieth century, we eradicated smallpox, stopped famine in dozens of countries, and made strong progress against malaria and cholera. It would seem that with technology and international cooperation, we are on the path to ensuring basic standards of living for all people. The Millennium Development Goals – an ambitious set of priorities created by the United Nations, is being met (PDF, look at p. 2 for a good chart) in many instances, or at least there is some progress.
Yet we have failed to stop humans from owning other humans. It is endemic to all continents- from indentured domestic workers in southeast Asia and the Middle East to sexual trafficking in San Francisco. Our own country has never wrestled away the demon that is slavery. Though the war between one half of American and the other eventually declared slavery an abomination, the white plantation society continued working with sharecroppers rather than slaves. California ignored the Thirteenth Amendment and continued to make ‘vagrant’ indigenous people into slaves- well into the 1870s.
Yesterday, the city of Buffalo moved $45 million of city funds out of megabank JPMorgan Chase and reinvested it in First Niagara, a community bank based in the city itself. The drive to put city funds in local banks and credit unions was led by Occupy Buffalo.
Occupy San Jose in the fall of 2011 also raised the issue of muncipalities placing their funds in banks that aggressively foreclose on struggling families, and push credit cards with high interest rates on the desperate. In the Bay Area, the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in San Jose took $3 million out of Bank of America and Wells Fargo and put it in a small community bank. Our good friends at People Acting in Community Together (PACT) were instrumental in getting that to happen. Along with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), they are aggressive in preventing foreclosures through a variety of means.
I started talking with my father about this in the context of ‘generations’ but since generations are an increasingly eroded concept, we just switched to our lives.
My father was born in 1952, and considered the most important events in his life to be from 1968-1974. More or less it went from the violence of the summer of ’68 to the resignation of Nixon in ’74. What he pointed out is that had he been a year older, he would have been in college when Kent State (for the non-Americans, this was a shooting of student protesters, four died) happened, and he noticed that those older than him were much more militantly political.
Personally, I was born in 1990. It is not September 11th that is reflected in my worldview, but rather that America has not known peace for over half my life, and almost all of what I remember well. For me and those of my age, war is not only in our minds, it is background noise.
I have for days forgot that the country of my birth has spent trillions in a war with no clear enemy. I am not alone for those people who are not, through family and friends, close to the soldiers that fight. If anything it is the chief difference between my father and I- I have lived through wars without a draft, and thus without serious, endemic opposition to the war.
What was the rarest thing in nature- animal, plant or inanimate phenomenon- that you have seen in its natural place? How did it feel to see it for the first time?
In short, I think the courtship ritual of the waved (or Galapagos) albatross, a fairly large bird of flight that migrates thousands of miles, but only nests on one of the Galapagos, far to the south of the rest. Their courtship is pretty hilarious to watch- it involves the clacking together of their beaks, putting their long necks under their own wings, then staring straight into the sky while making a strange “woo-hoo” sound.
Though I saw rarer species in the wild in the Galapagos- I saw a young wild tortoise that wouldn’t come out of its shell; also I saw a flock of Lava Gull, which only has 800 adult members and is endemic to the Islands. But the dance is so spontaneous, so bizarre, so downright fun to watch and to laugh at, it’s just amazing. We have some video that I probably would have to berate my father to find, so I’ll just post up a YouTube video. Most videos have hysterical laughing in them- it’s really infectious and you’ll find yourself at some point imitating the albatross.
I participated in the writing group facilitated by Rev. Dan Harper, head of the religious education at UUCPA. It was nice to hear memoir content from people decades my elder, including one who served in World War II. In response to the prompt about a ‘road trip’, I wrote a short reflection called ‘Handa’ about my trip to my ancestral town in Highland Scotland.
I’ll upload it when I’ve had time to type it out. It’s not presently very legible.
Dan also had the idea of collecting the group’s work into some sort of booklet. I am definitely interested, though this was my first time participating in the group and I know much less about the concept.