Monday, November 20, 2006

What's Next for Progressives

Online Newsletter Article for this week:

Well, I was quite pleased with the outcome of the election. Some friends did not win and that was too bad, but some did and on the whole it was a very good day for progressives in the state and nation. I am particularly gratified that a huge message of dissatisfation was registered at the national level with the policies of the Bush Administration, which I truly believe are doing great damage to the country. Now there will be a Congress that can act as a genuine check on the President who has had no oversight for six years.

But will this election be a momentary interruption of the right-wing movement that has ascended to power over the last twenty years and set the political and cultural agenda for the state and country? Or is the beginning of a swing in a different direction? I believe going forward that the answer to that question depends more on the actions of you and me than on what our politicians do.

They, the politicians, even the best of them, are human. Whatever good intentions they have as they go to St. Paul and Washington, they will be tested by the lure of special interests and money and all the trappings of power. Some of them undoubtedly will not live up to our hopes and their potential. But as a whole they will not succeed in changing the direction of the state and nation unless we remain engaged and active and work to keep them honest and responsive.

This past Saturday Howard Bass and I attended a conference in Minneapolis of the midwest chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. We were joined by more than 600 spiritual progressives from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. (I suspect the Iowans were actually in town to attend the Gophers-Iowa game but showed up at the wrong venue!) We were there to hear Rabbi Michael Lerner speak. Lerner is author of The Left Hand of God, editor of Tikkun magazine, and together with Cornel West and Sister Joan Chissiter, shepherds the national organization of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

It was Lerner's contention in his talk, and in his book, that nothing will change in the country unless there is a mobilized organization of spiritual progressives around the country who hold politicians accountable to a new bottom line of thinking and voting. The old bottom line is fear-based, selfish (me-first, my salvation, looking out for number one), authoritarian, and violent; it is what he describes as the right hand of God. The left hand of God values community and social justice, nurture and compassion, democracy, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Both the left and right hands of God are present in every individual, and in our communities and societies we swing back and forth. In the 60's, for instance, when we made great strides forward in social justice for women and minorities, the left-hand of god was in ascendance. Over the last 20 years but particularly since 9/11 the right hand of god has been in control.

The recent election was a sign that the country is growing weary of the right hand of god. But there will be no genuine change unless we do our part. As Lerner says in his book:
What I learned from my brief encounters with the Clinton administration confirmed something I had known before. If your goal is to win narrow material rewards or ego gratification or fame, then getting close to the powerful, whispering in their ears, having "access," can make a huge difference. But if your goal is to heal and repair the society, and you want to enlist the politicians to pursue policies that require courage, if you want them to feel safe to examine the part of their own selves that is responsive to the Left Hand of God, then there is only one thing that can work: building a social and political movement in the larger society that is so visible, noisy, and persistent that the powerful cannot ignore it and instead feel that it provides them with the political cover to take stands that might otherwise be perceived as risky.
As Lerner noted Saturday, all those politicians who walked arm-in-arm at the front of the civil rights marches in the 60's did not start out in the front of the line. It wasn't until the movement was a large unstoppable force that they jumped in front to make sure history caught them crossing the finish line. Our new and returning representatives will lead our state and country in a different direction if we provide them with an energized movement that values and embodies the left hand of God. Open Circle is one small part of that larger movement, but we have an important role to play.

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