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Lita Kurth
Lita Kurth
Lita A. Kurth is a Jungian Anarcho-Syndicalist teacher and writer



Doing the Right Thing: From Tolstoy to Minimum Wage

Nov3

by: on November 3rd, 2012 | 5 Comments »

Recently two seemingly unrelated events came together: I volunteered for Measure D to raise the minimum wage in San Jose to ten dollars an hour, and I watched another episode of the BBC’s excellent production of War and Peace.

War and Peace BBC

In the episode I watched, a wealthy family, the Rostovs, is crating up their numerous possessions, china, furniture, dresses, vases, and clocks, to flee Moscow in the face of Napoleon’s oncoming troops. They look out the window: a long line of wounded Russian soldiers is wending its exhausted way through the city – now abandoned by most of the rich. At first, the family watches, curious, as the soldiers drag and are dragged past their front door. Then the daughter, Natasha, a person of great spirit and integrity, asks what it could hurt to let the wounded be brought inside and laid on the floor; the family is leaving the city anyway for their country estate.

Just as the family is about to leave, an officer begs them to take a few of the wounded along. Natasha’s father okays replacing a few boxes with soldiers. But when his wife hears of this, she bursts into an impassioned plea: These goods are our children’s heritage! You’ve mismanaged our money, made bad business decisions, and now you’ll deprive them of this too?

Her husband, chastened, goes back on his decision. Natasha, however, explodes: These are only things! I don’t want them! How can you save things instead of human beings? She points down at the soldiers: These are human beings!

In the end, they make the miraculous decision to leave their goods and fill the carts with wounded soldiers. As it happens, lying among the wounded is someone they know, someone very important, but they only find that out after the decision is made.

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Capitalism and Hope?

Sep29

by: on September 29th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

book coverWhen was the last time you read a critique of capitalism that included the word “hope”? Read on, dear reader. But first, let me lay the groundwork with a little story: I support Occupy San Jose more in word than deed, but one day while delivering food and Halloween costumes for the movement’s party, I talked with a few people dwelling in the well-ordered tents in front of City Hall. The participants were grads of “the school of the streets.” They sometimes debated the value of obtaining a GED, but one told me that an activist who had been living atop a light pole for several days was so affected by reading Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change, he decided to enroll at De Anza College, where the book’s author, Cynthia Kaufman, teaches.

Fighting Capitalism: The Practical Way

How wonderful that a book could inspire someone to positive action. I was intrigued. Well, Cynthia Kaufman has a new book that seems likely to have the same effect: Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope (Lexington Books, 2012). She described it to me as a hopeful book about combating capitalism.

So how does this brief (156 pages) but valuable book propose we get past capitalism? First, by improving our metaphors, seeing capitalism not as a monolith with a “command center” that needs to be taken out, but as an infection that has “become entangled with our cells and needs to be fought from within and from without.” Kaufman mentions being influenced by a talk given by the geographer Julie Graham, who suggested a feminist model of “pushing back on practices [we] are opposed to.” “It was exciting,” Kaufman notes, “to see that there are realistic alternatives to capitalism, that we thrive in those alternatives right now, and that society can be transformed to the extent that those alternatives become … more predominant in our lives.” We need to look for “advances” rather than “clear victory.” All the same, our long-term project is “getting rid of capitalism,” and it can be done.

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Writing for Change in San Francisco

Sep17

by: on September 17th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

At first, I was worried that a one-day conference wouldn’t be worth $99 or, at the last minute, $149, but the moment I was welcomed into the Unitarian church on Franklin, I received a nice string backpack containing three new books, all useful, and two, especially valuable. Already I had recouped $60! And there was much more. This is a conference I believe many Tikkun readers would appreciate.

photo by Marty Castleberg

Hawken and the Seattle Protests: Writing That Changes the World

The best moment – Paul Hawken’s speech – came first. It was wonderful to hear that someone hugely successful, the pal of people like Clinton, had shown up in person at the WTO protests in Seattle, an event he felt was grossly misrepresented by the likes of Tom Friedman who opined from a continent away. In response, he wrote a 10,000-word email. He asked for no payment from the publications that accepted it, but wanted them to give up exclusive rights so that it could be freely and widely shared. Eventually, it turned into his latest book, Blessed Unrest, a title that came from Martha Graham’s words:

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“Work is slow. Send the CEO home”: an Unhappy Labor Day

Sep2

by: on September 2nd, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Professionals, ask yourself, when is the last time you heard these words? “Work is slow today. So the CEO has to go home.” (and by the way, his pay will be cut down to the precise hours worked). And since some of the work he’s doing is not executive-level, let’s call him an administrative assistant while he writes emails, and a VP when he’s not leading a meeting but merely attending one, and pay him at lower levels for those hours.

Should a teacher be paid clerk wages while she photocopies materials for her class? Should a manager drop down to a waiter’s pay while he helps out on the restaurant floor? Salaried professionals and executives would scream if those outrageous conditions prevailed, yet millions of wage-earners have to accept them.

The Third World Here at Home

A majority of service industries in the U.S. have a third world within the company, one you don’t have to travel to China for. Two major abuses are rife in this sector: unreliable hours and temporary “promotions. Here’s how it works:

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How I Spent my Lent

Apr7

by: on April 7th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

One day in Lent went like this: another scattered stupid day of laundry, a crazy amount of mediocre cooking, bad feelings about myself and my negligible achievements, and attempts to pull myself out of self-absorbed self-criticism. Scurry, scurry, worry, worry, and meta-worrying about worrying. Tiring.

I got simple things done – a haircut, but only after wasting inordinate amounts of time surfing the web for “flattering haircuts for older women,” printing some images, doubting, looking for signs, irked at having to make all these decisions myself without clear divine commands. (Maybe the command I didn’t hear was, “Is this really important? Please live with more gratitude and now-ness.”)

That night, trying to decide whether to add doing a textbook to my list of tasks, I went to a Taize service at a local Church, a ritual I got into last year with my friend, Marilyn. I love to watch the candles, flickering as if they have a soul. Sitting in the dark, the computer well out of reach, I try to spare thought for others, think about Jesus in Gethsemane. Up above the altar, a big, round stained-glass window shows that scene, idealized. Why, I wonder, is Jesus’s face raised to the sky in prayer? Why that posture? Wouldn’t his head be down on the stone in agony and pleading? Around him are brilliant reds like chili peppers, and stunning blues. Closer to the congregation, two white lambs stand guard, one proudly holding a denominational banner, apparently with its leg. I wonder (but not in a harsh way) why martyrs need clean robes and how lambs can super-proud without dirt on their wool. Is this representation of myth an acknowledgment that daily life has so many dirty clothes and animals acting like animals? What would it be like if the lambs in church looked real, silly and fearful with maggots in their tails? What if Jesus looked like an everyday person in a country under occupation? Maybe we would find it hard to hope; maybe we’d resent being reminded of the world too much around us.

I believe in the value of ritual. Though not Catholic, I like to observe Lent in an interfaith way: a little bit of Ramadan for solidarity with the poor, a little bit of Judeo-Christianity for depth in simplicity, a little bit of Native American enlightenment through solitary retreat, a Jungian belief in the balance of feast and fast. In an unorthodox way, I decided to try out the experience of relinquishing several needless things during this period between Mardi Gras and Easter: candy was the first thing. For years, I never ate candy and somehow I’d started eating it regularly. The second thing was crabby negativity, a lifelong habit. You can guess which one was easier to give up.

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Occupy Faith: the Interfaith Tent at Occupy Oakland

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Occupy Faith: the Interfaith Tent at Occupy Oakland

Hate crimes? Robbery? Violence against police? If you Google “Occupy Oakland,” you might miss another deeper story, the story of Occupy Faith, the Interfaith Tent, now metaphorical, though no less strong, that has supported and borne witness to Occupy Oakland since October 24, 2011. Nichola Torbett,Director of Seminary of the Street (“At the intersection of radical love and justice”– my favorite neighborhood!) told me about the origins and activities of the Interfaith Tent which are myriad and moving.

Interfaith Tent at night (photo by Alexandra Childs)

Occupy the Present

Meditation, counseling, nonviolence training, singing, dancing, sharing food and clothing with those who needed them, creating posters -”Remember MLK, radical nonviolence…” “Peace creates kindness creates peace.” “Occupy the Present” and “Occupy Your Own Heart with Love and Compassion” – were all Occupy Faith activities. In Ms. Torbett’s words, they came to “provide a critical spiritual presence that honored and welcomed all religious traditions and people who were non-religious.”

But it wasn’t all warmth and joy

The beating of Iraq veteran Scott Olsen was a decision point for Occupy Faith. Following that incident, they formed a Planning Group and “helped to articulate

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Spirituality of Charlotte’s Web

Feb19

by: on February 19th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

A woman probably has about 450 egg cells available in her lifetime; in the U.S., perhaps one or two of those become children.

Human Egg Cell Gray's Anatomy

A man, of course, has millions and millions of sperm, but again, only a handful become children; even for overachievers, a couple hundred is high – and still a tiny percentage. Most of those potential lives go nowhere or at least nowhere we know of besides the clothes washer. So all of us here have won the big lottery. We held the winning ticket for a life on earth. Here we are. What should we do? A great question, and often surprisingly hard to answer.

Human spermatazoa

 

When my daughter was four, we watched a not-very-good video of Charlotte’s Web: mediocre graphics, unmemorable music. But one part stuck with me and gave me new thoughts.

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A Meaningful Christmas

Dec23

by: on December 23rd, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Nothing could be less celebratory than having to celebrate. Imagine someone holding a gun to your head: “Sing Christmas carols! And sing like you mean it!” Where does celebration come from? What does it mean? I’m inclined to think that any word connected to “celebrity” has to be suspect. 

The dictionary, source of so much wisdom, tells me something unexpected: “to perform with appropriate rites and ceremonies; solemnize, observe, commemorate, sound the praises of, make known publicly.” No wonder we can feel it’s a heavy burden. Appropriate rites: like holiday cards, Christmas trees, and end-of-year letters. I’m happy to observe and commemorate, but solemnize?

By Lourdes Cardenal (Own work)

In the mall culture, Christmas is light as a snowflake, but some part of it is heavy, as heavy as labor, a forced journey while you’re nine months pregnant, on a donkey yet. And what’s the journey for? To pay taxes. Then the hotels are all full. Joseph must have cursed a blue streak and Mary felt the floor drop out, facing her first labor far from home, from a midwife, from her mother.

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Reserving Libraries for The Best Readers

Nov10

by: on November 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

I know most faculty, much less students, will not have time to read the Student Success Task Force Draft that various people in CA are proposing to “reform” community colleges. My general impression is that, with a few exceptions, the measures proposed will be harmful to the poorest and bar them from college by assuming they aren’t making an effort if they cannot succeed within needlessly early deadlines even if they are learning and growing. It is also assumed that every student has a computer. So to illustrate the way it works, I imagined applying it to another realm: the public library. Here is my report.

Reserving Libraries For Those Who Can Make Best Use of Them: those with time, skills, and money

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Who Can’t Afford Community College?

Sep24

by: on September 24th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

What Kind of Person Can’t Afford Community College?

I’m going to begin this blog like a Cassandra, but end it more positively. No one needs another blog entirely dedicated to how awful things are.

Library of Congress public domainSo here’s the bad part:

I was talking with some moms recently and one, disparaging an acquaintance who was saving up to attend a two-year college, asked with an incredulous laugh, “What kind of a person can’t afford community college?”

The remark sent a chill through my bones. First, she was so insulated by privilege that she honestly didn’t know how a decent hardworking person could not afford the bottom rung of the educational ladder, and second, that she seemed to consider it a moral failing to be poor. Finally, she represents the people most likely to vote, most likely to lobby a school board, Congressperson, or Council member.

Textbooks

“Books are actually very expensive,” I pointed out, and later I wanted to kick myself for that answer because even without books, tuition at a community college – the very institution set up to serve all – is too expensive for a worrisome segment of the workforce. I recall talking to a waiter who told me that when the price went up to $20 a unit, he couldn’t afford to go anymore. He had two kids and he couldn’t work a second job. However, he was very interested in books for his kids. It was painful to think that someone willing to learn and grow, wanting a better job, wanting to contribute more knowledge to his kids and capable of contributing more skill, and taxes to the economy, should be barred from that opportunity. How un-American! And how troubling to meet a person with a great deal more power in the world who insists that he and people like him don’t exist.


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