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Cat Zavis
Cat J. Zavis
Cat J. Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and a collaborative divorce attorney, mediator, coach, and conflict resolution, Empathic Communication trainer.

I’ve Had It With Cynical Faux-Realists Attacking Bernie Sanders Idealists


by: on February 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note:We at Tikkun do not endorse any candidate or political party, and we know that there are people in our community who are members of the Green Party, and that some of our members in the Democratic Party are supporters of Hillary and some of Bernie. This article is not meant to take sides on how to vote. Rather, it is an expression of exasperation at one of the arguments made against voting for Bernie–namely that doing so is “unrealistic.” As those of you who follow Tikkun know, one of our major concerns is to help people move away from the notion that our political choices should be defined by what the media and political leaders tell us is or is not realistic. It is in that regard that we are sending you the article that appeared onSalon.com-written by Cat Zavis.–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley (AP Photo/)(Credit: AP/Nati Harnik)

I can appreciate the concern and fear underlying the words of John Avignone (“I have had it with naïve Bernie Sanders idealists”) and Paul Krugman (who wrote a piece in the NYT saying Sanders was not realistic and we can only hope for the incremental change proposed by Hilary Clinton) and others who are choosing to support Clinton, even though they want our country to move further to the ideals and values put forth by Bernie than those expressed by Hillary.

They articulate a fear that I have heard spoken by many – Bernie is not electable and if Bernie is the Democratic nomination, a Republican (i.e., Trump) will win and we will be in a very dangerous situation. Their solution is to support Hillary rather than rally behind a candidate who – yes, has shortcomings, as do all the candidates – is trying to build a movement that would be there to support his reform efforts. He recognizes that he cannot create the meaningful and systemic change he seeks for the betterment of our country and the world on his own.

There has been throughout history, and will continue to be, a battle between two competing approaches to social change and underlying that, two worldviews. On the one hand, we have the view of Clinton and her supporters – the realists. The realists (and many involved in social change work fall into this camp) argue that we have to fight for what is achievable because otherwise we will be way worse off. In this case that means cast your vote for Hillary because she is more “realistic,” and thus more likely to win. This is essentially casting a vote for the lesser evil. This approach to social and political change is steeped in fear. Those in this camp believe that the only way we can arrive where we want to get is through incremental (i.e., realistic) change. But what they fail to understand is that those with power and money define their definition of realistic. When we narrow our vision of what is possible to what those in power tell us is possible, we actually bolster their power.

But there’s a reason people limit their vision. Putting forth a vision for radical transformation is a vulnerable and scary leap of faith. Millions of people rallied behind Obama’s call for hope. He professed that we are one country, not a nation of blacks and whites, but all one. He promised to work across the political divide to find solutions to the pressing issues before him and our nation. Within months of being in office, after the collapse of the economic system, Obama chose to bail out Wall Street rather than help Main Street, even though it was Main Street that put him in the White House.

As his tenure in office continued, he implemented policies and approaches that were in direct conflict with his election message (failing to close Guantánamo or end the war in Afghanistan, to name a few). People who were inspired by his message and whose hopes were raised that they finally had a progressive president who would fight for their interests rather than the interests of the elite became disillusioned and disenchanted. Many withdrew from politics and/or became supporters of local efforts to work for “realistic” change believing that transformative, systemic change is “unrealistic.”


Fear and Response After Paris…


by: on November 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

I have seen on social media and heard from friends the depth of fear that is permeating our society since the attacks in Paris. Seeing and hearing the stories of Parisians who were impacted by the attacks is bringing the violence home in a way that is similar to 9-11. The media is bringing the lives and sorrows of Parisians into our homes with interviews, photos and stories of their lives. This pierces the veil of security and safety in ways that the children washing up on the shores of Europe, starving children around the world and bodies in Beirut did not do. When our government is sending drones into communities, dropping bombs in far away lands, and supporting economic policies and sanctions that create daily suffering and death around the globe, it does not pierce our sense of safety because we can easily (and even realistically) tell ourselves this will not happen to us. We will not be the target of a drone strike or a U.S. bomb and we fail to see the connection between U.S. economic policies on the daily suffering around us as clearly as an attack of the magnitude we saw in Paris. It is as if you can imagine, as one friend said, “Coming soon to a café or theater near you.”

Pablo Picasso, Guernica

So what do we do? How do we respond? Can we really be safe in a world in which violence seems to be the only response to violence? And if so, how? What would you do if someone entered a theater and started shooting? (I want to acknowledge that the likelihood of being killed by a young white man at a school or in a movie theater, or by a drunk driver or in a random car accident, or, if you are African American by a police officer is far greater than the likelihood of being killed by Daesh [ISIL] and yet at this particular moment, that is what is most terrifying.)

I want to explore what underlies this fear, how the Right (and even the hawks on the Left) capitalize on this fear to push their pro-war, pro-weapons agenda and how we might respond in the face of knowing that ultimately there is no way to protect ourselves from random acts of violence anymore then there is a way to protect ourselves from random accidents.


What I Want to Hear from a Presidential Candidate


by: on October 30th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

I just finished reading the New York Times this morning (that was a big mistake!) and learned even more gruesome tales of the suffering on this planet. I read of people fleeing their homes and countries because of war and the trials and tribulations along the way. A 7 year-old child is running along in the muddy forests near the Macedonian-Serbian border, his boots caked in mud making it hard for him to lift his feet when he suddenly realizes his family is no longer behind him. He sits down beside a tree to wait. A man asks him what he’s doing and when he explains he tells him there are police all over the forest and he needs to keep going. So this 7 year-old boy runs on in a strange land in the hopes of reaching a safe haven without his family. Young girls fleeing sexual and physical violence in their home countries are subjected (on the road) to multiple rapes and sexual violence so sadistic that their youth caseworkers choose not to detail them in their reports.

In South Sudan a bloody civil war has led to countless deaths from torture too grim to repeat here. In Nigeria girls continue to be stolen from their schools and families by Boko Harem and sold into sex slavery. And in Saudia Arabia (an ally of the U.S.) a 17 year-old boy is awaiting a beheading and then crucifixion for joining in anti-government demonstrations.

This is all some of the news from one morning.

And what are the Republicans debating? How to cut more money from government services. How to decrease taxes on the rich and corporations. How to squeeze the poor and working classes so the elites have more riches for themselves while the masses suffer.

I am angry and horrified. We are living in a time in history when we have the resources for all human beings to live lives of sufficiency – sufficient food, sufficient shelter, sufficient healthcare, sufficient education. And yet we choose to produce and distribute our resources in ways that ensure wars, violence and suffering.

I want a presidential candidate with a backbone who has the audacity and insight to put forth a vision of a different world. Not a world divided by borders – physical, spiritual, religious, racial, gender, or other. But a world joined by our similarities and our unity where our differences are celebrated and honored. We live on one planet. We share the same water, the same air and the same genetics. I want a candidate who will speak to our shared humanity – not just of Americans, but of all of us. If the President is the leader of the free world, then she or he should stand for policies and values that actually promote a free world – a world where everyone is healthy, safe, cared for, fed, clothed, provided shelter, education, healthcare and an opportunity to have a meaningful life.


#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: Will This Racism Never End?


by: on October 27th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

It was 1977, I was 12 or 13 years old, and Roots was released on television for the first time. I sat riveted to the screen with my parents and sister. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The living room with our white framed couches with bright colorful cushions, the big coffee table in the middle of the room and the small television screen built into the cabinet on the wall. I am sitting on the floor staring up at the t.v. in disbelief, watching in horror as Kunta Kinte is ripped from his mother’s arms and dragged kicking and screaming (as his mom and other family members and friends scream and look on in horror, having no power to do anything to stop this outrage) into a truck, sold to a new slave owner. As I watch this scene unfold, I am wailing and screaming barely able to hold my little self and my body together and yet I know I am safe – I am white, I am at home with my parents, this is not me, this is not now. Still, I am outraged and horrified at the capacity of human beings to treat one another with such disregard and I make an internal vow to do all I can in my power to contribute to a better, more just and loving world.

And then yesterday (and still today), 38 years later, I watch in horror as a Black school aged girl is ripped from her desk by a white police officer, thrown on the ground on her head and back, dragged and thrown across the room, and held down while handcuffed and eventually arrested. (Don’t even ask, “what did she do to deserve this” – the answer is nothing. No, she did not have a gun. No, they did not think she had a gun or other weapon. No, she had not threatened anyone, unless you think a teenager not complying with the demands of someone in authority is threatening – I suppose some might if that child is black.) The Black teacher had called the officer allegedly because the girl had supposedly refused to put away her cell phone. (That is disputed by the student who shot the video – http://goblackcentral.com/2015/10/6-things-that-should-enrage-you-about-the-assaultatspringvalleyhigh/.) Another student objected to the officer’s behavior and through her tears said, “This is wrong;” that student was also arrested for “disrupting” school. What? It is the officer who disrupted the school, not the student, the one student who somehow had the internal strength and clarity to speak up while both terrified and outraged. She deserves a medal of honor. I would hope my child would stand up in that situation and say, “This is wrong” and call upon others students to do so as well.

Just as my body shook in horror, grief and rage 38 years ago, and as tears flowed down my cheeks then, they do so now. And again, I was not there. This is not me. So if I feel this level of internal dis-ease from simply watching the video on my computer screen, I can only begin to imagine what the students must have felt and what every black and brown person in this country must feel and live with every single day.


Black History Matters, Black Lives Matter, Black Votes Matter


by: on October 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Requiring that people have photo ids to register to vote and then closing all the state offices that issue photo ids in black communities; having “history” books that refer to slaves as “workers”; being outraged at your “inconvenience” when Black Lives Matter take to the streets to demand justice when Black men and women are being gunned down on the street or end up “mysteriously” dead after a routine traffic stop; challenging affirmative action laws on the grounds that they “discriminate” against whites – these are just some of tactics and reactions of politicians, publishers, white people and police when trying to whitewash the legacy of slavery and discrimination that pervades our country.

Photo by Dread Scott, Flickr

Our country was founded on and built upon the backs of African American slaves, Native Americans, Chinese and other people of color as well as white indentured servants. When the founders of our country were drafting the Constitution they ensured that only white, male property owners would have a say in the shaping of our country. All the people who worked to build this country were excluded from voting, holding office or participating in the building of the democracy in which we reside today. So it is no great surprise that the needs of those excluded were not at the forefront of their minds and thus not included. To ensure that Southern States would have a larger representation in the House of Representatives, they fought to have slaves counted as 3/5 a person. In this way, Southern States would have a more equal voice in the House of Representatives even though those with the voice (white men) represented actually a much smaller proportion of the population of the country, thereby essentially giving the Southern States a disproportionate voice and power in the shaping of our country than they actually represented.

The Civil Rights movement began to challenge, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act began to dismantle this history of disenfranchisement. But in recent times, those opposed to these laws have been undermined and disassembled the gains made in the past, once again disenfranchising thousands of African Americans and ensuring that Southern Whites win election by gerrymandering voting districts, and passing laws that severely restrict people’s ability to vote (under the guise of “voting rights”). And now, McGraw-Hill has published a high school history book that whitewashes slavery by stating that the “Atlantic Slave Trade between 1500-1800 brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations” and claims that giving teachers stickers to cover over the offensive text along with a educational toolkit to use this as a teaching opportunity toschools that request it is an adequate way to address this egregious wrong. When our history and education books not only fail to accurately reflect the history of slavery, discrimination and disenfranchisement but actually paint an entirely different and inaccurate picture of what happened and when laws subtlety yet powerfully buttress this discrimination, together they undermine the voices of Black Lives Matter today. When people do not know this history or understand just how insidious racism is in our country, then the righteous outrage and call for justice by the Black Lives Matter movement can seem misplaced or an over-reaction.


Stop Telling Me It’s Impossible


by: on September 8th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Stop telling me it’s impossible . . .

We’ve put men on the moon,

We’ve counted the stars, planets and galaxies,

We’ve built weapons of mass destruction . . .

If we can compete to get into space,

If we can compete to produce more goods that anyone needs,

If we can compete to create the best weapons,

Then we can feed everyone on this planet healthy food that nourishes people and the planet.

Instead of competing to create the next best phone, car, or weapon, why don’t we compete to wipe out starvation and hunger?

If we can win the race to the moon, why don’t we win the race to stop the production of weapons and create peace?

If we can create a house that can self-adjust its temperature, why can’t we create enough homes so everyone has a safe place to live?

If we can build towers that span the sky, why are people living on the streets?

If we stopped caring so much about winning the “race” and cared more about caring for others and the planet, we would solve our world’s greatest problems.

So stop telling me we can’t and it’s impossible and let’s get down to the business of taking care of each other and the planet. Then we will all win.



Love Wins! Lessons from the Movement for Marriage Equality


by: on June 29th, 2015 | Comments Off

An artistic rendering of The Statue of Liberty kissing a golden women of justice.Wow. For a brief moment I am feeling such gratitude for our Supreme Court—well, at least for five justices of the court! This is a time to celebrate. Gay and lesbian couples are finally recognized for their commitment to love their partners just as any heterosexual couple does. What an amazing moment of honoring and respecting people who choose love and commitment. What an amazing moment of honoring the sanctity of marriage.  I am overcome with joy and celebration.

With this decision, the Supreme Court made it clear once and for all that anyone who loves another person can marry that person in any state in this country regardless of their partner’s sex. No longer will gay rights advocates have to waste time and money litigating the right to marriage on a state-by-state basis. No longer will they have to waste time and money fighting for partner benefits from their spouse’s employer. No longer will they have to argue with hospitals to be at the bedside of their loved ones when they are sick and dying. (I realize that some of these battles will persist but they will be resolved much more quickly than if they had been challenged on a piecemeal basis.)

The impact on the families is enormous—as one of the plaintiff’s from the case in California said after hearing the decision, his children will no longer have to explain to kids at school why they have two daddies. Gay and lesbian youth who suffer a sense of loneliness, separation, and bullying will now know they are not alone, they are not crazy and that their love of someone of the same sex is not only natural but even recognized and held in equal regard as heterosexual love. What a beautiful day it is. 


Channeling Our Passions Into Effective Action


by: on May 28th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

I recently had the honor, with Rabbi Michael Lerner, of speaking with over 20 amazing leaders, activists, authors and others about how we can build a politics of love and justice and a world based on these values.

As the executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), members often tell me they can imagine what a better world would look like – one that judges the efficacy and rationality of our institutions, not on how much profit they earn, but that they treat living creatures and the earth with the dignity and respect that we all deserve. Yet, many folks feel disheartened that this notion is not often discussed in popular media or that there isn’t a successful political party championing our shared values. These individuals have turned to the NSP because they want to be a part of a movement that holds that realizing this world is not simply naïve idealism, but, in fact, is realistic if we work towards making it so.

As with any movement, it’s important to glean wisdom and turn to those who are leaders in their own right for inspiration. The speakers in this series offered a profound sense of hope as well as real-world steps for action, which deeply resonated with the summit’s attendees. One of the participants told me that the calls had instilled in her a sense of inspiration and excitement she had not felt for years and did not expect to feel again.


Revolution: The Network of Spiritual Progressives Newsletter, May 2015


by: on May 19th, 2015 | Comments Off

Revolution: The Network of Spiritual Progressives Newsletter, May 2015

Politics of Love and Justice Summit

It all begins tomorrow! If you haven’t yet registered for the NSP’s upcoming virtual summit called The Politics of Love and Justice: Integrating Spirituality and Activism to Build a Sustainable and Caring World, then please make sure to do so now! It’s FREE for all to tune in live during the event or to listen for 48 hours after the broadcast. Plus, if you’re a paid member of the NSP, we’re gifting you a complimentary downloadable upgrade of the entire event so you can listen at your leisure. Not yet a member but want to take advantage of this amazing gift, you can join here.

We’re so thrilled to be able to share with you 15 different conversations with over 25 different people, including Marianne Williamson, David Korten, Charles Eisenstein, Rev. angel Kyodo Williams and so many more amazing change makers, thinkers and community leaders. Click here to learn more about our presenters.

I truly hope you’ll participate in this summit. We know that you’re already interested in how we focus the values and energies we have as spiritual progressives into real world activism and these talks are designed to do just that. So if you’re looking for something that’s interesting, informative, and filled with a lot of heart then please join us!

Register for free!

Happenings from Chapters

We are so excited by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support we’ve received as of late and the interest in building chapters and connections with others who share our vision. If you would like to start a chapter or project where you live, please click here to read our Starter Guide and then join our monthly calls — see below for details.


Integrating Spirituality and Activism – How to Change the World


by: on May 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?- Rabbi Hillel, Pirke Avot 1:14

Our world is riddled with tragedies: the epidemic of killings by police in the U.S. of African Americans, boats capsizing with hundreds of The Politics of Love and Justice Summitpeople fleeing war-torn countries in search of security, safety and well-being, children dying from illnesses stemming from malnutrition at alarming rates, women and girls being raped as victims of wars, and the list goes on. As spiritual seekers we desperately yearn for a day when peace and nonviolence, love and care, kindness and generosity as well as a deep connection with the sacred in one another and with the creative force of the universe reign.

Many of us, in our despair, turn to spiritual guidance and practices to soothe our pain and find solace. Feeling powerless to impact the enormity of the problem and recognizing that social change efforts often lack deep spiritual integration and wisdom, we instead decide to focus our energies on our inner work rather than align ourselves with larger social change movements. We find comfort in the belief that personal transformation alone can and will result in societal transformation.