When I was a child, my family celebrated Christian holidays in a fairly standard secular way, decorating a tree on Christmas and hunting eggs on Easter, not to mention joining in the customary consumption of marshmallow peeps, “jelly bird eggs” (whatever those are), and other foods invented by companies with a clever eye for turning a profit from a holiday.
My version of Easter lacks the radical Christian religiosity that Nichola laid out in her recent post about Good Friday as a time “to look at the crucifixions necessary to preserve the fiction of Pax Americana, or any false peace maintained by force, whether violent or hegemonic.” It lacks the progressive rethinking of the resurrection narrative that Rabbi Lerner highlighted in his spiritual wisdom of the week post with a quotation from Peter Rollins. But it’s still one of my favorite holidays of the year.
On its surface, the humanist Easter I grew up with may have seemed drained of meaning to religious onlookers, but it was actually highly ritualized and deep in its own way. I want to share my family’s three main rituals — an Easter eve afternoon of collaborative egg art, the collective reading aloud of a surprisingly feminist bunny book from the 1930s, and a morning of romping, outdoor egg hunts in bitter spring weather — as a resource for nonreligious families who want to celebrate a secular Easter that’s about more than just candy.
Why is there an olive on the Seder plate? Why is there an orange on the seder plate? And how can the liberation story of Passover relate to our modern-day struggles against oppression? Traditional Passover haggadot (the books of readings used at seder services) are full of answers but not to these questions. But then again, most seder plates don’t have olives and oranges on them …
I’m always interested in efforts to reclaim, reinvent, or renew religious holidays in ways that make them newly sustaining and politically energizing, so I was excited to learn through my friend Traci of a radical, anti-racist haggadah full of poetic writing and ideas about how to find new relevance and depth in the rituals of Passover: “The Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah Zine” by Micah Bazant and Dara Silverman. The authors intentionally did not copyright the piece and have made it available for free on the web, encouraging people to print it out and use it as the basis for a “choose-your-own-adventure progressive seder.” Traci used the zine as the basis for a joyful and politicized seder that I had the pleasure of participating in earlier this week.
The rush and anonymity of city life draws us apart, even as it draws us together. Jammed in the bus and streaming through the street, millions of strangers cross paths without hearing each other’s stories.
Those who do exchange a word or a glance often lose each other to the closing of a train door or a shy failure to exchange phone numbers in line at the pharmacy, and many end up posting plaintive regrets in the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist‘s online classifieds site. Sophie Blackall, an artist based in Brooklyn, brings to life strangers’ sometimes poignant, sometimes funny searches for each other by illustrating a new post from the New York City listings every week.
Students, workers, grade school teachers, and professors are marching in defense of public education throughout the country today, with more than 100 events taking place in 32 different states.
Hundreds of people gathered at the state capitol in Sacramento this morning to call on the state legislature to reverse the budget cuts and layoffs that are undermining California’s elementary schools and public universities alike.
Protesters gather March 4, 2010, in Sacramento. Photo by Randy Pench of the Sacramento Bee.
In one image a winged bird flaps her wings but remains rooted to the ground. In another a fork-headed monster rushes by, a small bird fluttering at its heart. Nearby a masked bundle of writing appears to be stuck in a toilet bowl.
These are just a few of the uncanny creatures that emerged three years ago when some friends and I started playing “exquisite corpse,” a collaborative drawing game invented by surrealists in the 1920s.
So many of the drawings evoke unexpected scenes of constraint. The creatures are tangled up in themselves. They’re tangled up in each other. They’re tangled up in the surrounding environment. But unlike most images of constraint in pop culture today, most of the drawings portray structural constraints (such as the bird’s physical rootedness in the ground) rather than overt scenes of domination. Many of the surrealist creatures seem oddly joyful and calm despite their limitations.
The subtle entanglements in these pictures are not unlike the constraints that global political, social, and economic forces exert on radical efforts to build a more just and caring world.
Hundreds of warm voices rang out Monday at the University of San Francisco as spiritual progressives sang together and debated how best to push our society toward a vision of economic justice, environmental sustainability, ethically oriented institutions, and a foreign policy based on generosity rather than militarism.
Hosted by the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun, the one-day conference in San Francisco included in-depth strategy sessions about how to develop a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not persons and how to support Obama while pushing him to live up to his progressive campaign promises. You can read Michael Lerner’s report on the conference to learn more about the proposed amendment and discussions about it. Here are some photos to give a feel for the event itself:
Medea Benjamin speaks at the Feb. 15 NSP conference in San Francisco.
MLK Day is drawing to a close. Have all the tributes and videos shaken us up, radicalized us, and renewed our resistance to the systems of imperialism and racism that Dr. King fought in his day?
At its best, MLK Day leads us to hear King’s powerful call for justice resounding in the present moment, to hear him urging us to dismantle our racist judicial/prison system and end the mass incarceration of black men, to oppose U.S. imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to take seriously his idea that militarism leads to the “spiritual death” of a nation. At its very worst, the memorialization process reduces King’s legacy by offering a saccharine history lesson that leaves people thinking that King did all the necessary work and racism is over.
Jack & Jill Politics has done a particularly smart job of projecting Dr. King into the present rather than freezing him into the past. In response to the Washington Post‘s call for YouTube videos about Martin Luther King, Jr., blogger Baratunde Thurston (aka Jack Turner) created this video to draw attention to Dr. King’s radical critique of militarism and imperialism, which has such clear relevance to U.S. foreign policy today:
Red-and-white striped poles spring up in the vacant lot on my block every year, even before I’ve fully digested Thanksgiving dinner. Topped by floodlights, these oversized candy canes tower over the neighborhood, a blinding reminder that Christmas is coming. Next time I check, the tree sellers will have finished setting up shop there, erecting their bristling forest of dead pines under the dazzling lights.
Paired with the blitz of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” ads that tend to flood my inbox and mailbox, this surreal invasion of my neighborhood always makes me feel like Christmas is breathing down my neck.
How did the commemoration of a homeless baby’s birth turn into this garish and materialistic extravaganza? And how can we start to reel the consumerism back?
All fifty states are buzzing with news about the $4.35 billion in federal education grants now available for school improvement initiatives.
Obama and Duncan announce education grants.
The Obama administration released the final rules for its Race to the Top competition Wednesday, outlining how states can prove themselves worthy of the grant money. States that experiment with charter schools, track student gains over time, use standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and overhaul struggling schools by dismissing teachers en masse are poised to rake in the most money. California and Wisconsin have already sought to become more competitive by changing their laws to allow teacher pay to be linked to student test scores.
It’s great that our executive branch is finally funneling some money toward education — what a welcome change from the last administration! But I can’t help but remain wary of Arne Duncan’s latest exploit, given his track record of inviting the Pentagon into Chicago schools and handing struggling public schools to private contractors.
Here’s what I really want to know: how serious is Duncan when he talks about educational innovation? Might there be an opening for a deep and substantive shift in educational policy right now — a shift away from educational programs that feel oppressive and irrelevant, and toward ones that are instead riveting, joyful, socially engaged, and empowering?
The Religious Right is cheering last night’s passage of the Stupak amendment, which threatens women’s reproductive rights by severely limiting insurance companies’ ability to cover the cost of abortions.
“This is a huge pro-life victory for women, their unborn children, and families,” announced the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian public policy group that lobbied hard for the amendment. “We applaud this House vote.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also played a major role in persuading lawmakers to adopt the amendment, which 64 House Democrats and 176 Republicans voted to attach in their last-minute wrangles over the Affordable Health Care for America Act. John Nichols raised serious concerns about the Catholic bishops’ involvement, writing this in his post for the Nation:
The tortured final negotiations put serious cracks in Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, as abortion foes such as Pennsylvania Democrat Jason Altmire openly acknowledged that they would not vote for health-care reform legislation unless they were told it was appropriate to do so by Catholic bishops in their home districts.
The health bill, with Stupak amendment in tow, passed the House last night by 220-215, simultaneously paving the way for the most ambitious expansion of health-care coverage since the creation of Medicare, and for one of the worst federal curtailments of abortion rights since the Hyde Amendment, which has denied abortion access to most Medicaid recipients since 1976.
Many newspaper articles are downplaying the sweeping nature of the Stupak amendment, failing to signal the ways in which it goes far beyond the Hyde Amendment (a version of which is already part of the House bill in the form of an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.) and could cause masses of women to lose abortion coverage that they already have. Here’s the alarming analysis of the situation that Rep. Jan Schakowksy issued during yesterday’s debate: