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

Politics, Humility and Homophobia: The Strangest Bedfellows of All


by: on October 14th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

I opened my email to the news that Governor Brown had vetoed AB 1229 which would have allowed local governments to require a smidgen of affordable housing along with luxury developments. Immediately, I felt tense and angry, outraged that rent control is illegal in California, and now this further setback. I was despondent and disgusted that a liberal governor would veto one tiny step toward affordable housing.

Then I opened another email about a community college inviting for-profit education companies, at least one of whom had said public education was “broken,” to hold a conference on campus.

My stomach tensed. My forehead ached. I felt antagonistic, judgmental, enraged and ready to shout.

Once this state of mind didn’t trouble me. I may even have welcomed the adrenaline.


Miracles DO Happen: Low-Wage Service Workers on Strike


by: on September 1st, 2013 | Comments Off

Even a year ago, was anyone predicting that fast food workers would be on strike? Struggling, disrespected, mostly working in small franchises without the support of large numbers, they are among the hardest workers to unionize, and as a result, organized labor has, for the most part, ignored them. Each franchise requires a separate campaign but owners have access to the big-gun union-busting lawyers of giant corporations.

And many workers don’t know their rights. Where would they find out about them? One worker who acknowledged she wanted better conditions said, “If you walk out on your job, that’s grounds for dismissal.” Wal-Mart, for example, “illegally confiscated union literature, prohibited discussions of unions and retaliated against union supporters.” Supposedly, American workers have the right to form unions and go on strike. But Amy Traub pointed out on the website Demos that, “while many workers wish to join unions, they often change their minds after an intimidating one-on-one anti-union meeting with their direct supervisor once a week or more leading up to a union election (a tactic employers used in 66 percent of organizing campaigns), after their boss threatens to close down the workplace if workers decide to unionize (57 percent of organizing campaigns), or after those co-workers who most openly support the union are fired (34 percent of organizing campaigns).”

Photo Credit: L.A. Kurth.

It seemed impossible that they would even try.

But it happened and has been happening since last November. At McDonald’s, at Wendy’s, at Wal-Mart. And it wasn’t only in New York City. Far from it. Very far from it. Workers in Indianapolis and yes, the small town of Wausau, Wisconsin walked off the job in protest and picketed, while many coworkers supported them in their hearts without daring to go out themselves.


Sustainable Solidarity: Now Appearing in Wisconsin


by: on July 3rd, 2013 | 15 Comments »

Credit: L.A. Kurth.

Recently, I had an experience of solidarity so precious it stands out as a significant moment of my life. And it wasn’t associated with victory. On the contrary, it was accompanied by virtually nothing but defeat. At a recent Working Class Studies conference, I heard from and sang with members of the Wisconsin Solidarity Singalong, an overlapping and unofficial group who have sung historic and updated protest songs in the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday noon (so as not to disrupt official business) for over 600 days. Let me pause and ask: What would it take for you to protest every weekday noon for 600 working days – without ever being successful? How about if you were ticketed hundreds of times (the “conductor” of the singers had personally received 140 tickets), harassed, punched in the face, sent to trial? This is in the context of spectators being “tossed from the chambers for things like taking a picture, displaying a sign, reading a newspaper or wearing a hat.”

What happens to freedom of speech when you can’t put tape over your mouth to express protest at not being allowed to sing? What happens to you as a result of this commitment? I think the answer is your life changes – and the world around you changes, on an almost invisible yet vitally important scale.


What the Right Understands About Poverty and Dependency


by: on April 16th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:

When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?


Salvation at the Animal Shelter


by: on April 9th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Salvation. A word I view with suspicion. When I hear “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior,” I have to hold back a wave of revulsion. Though I know some people’s lives have been transformed for the good at revival meetings, for me, “getting saved” (which I did three times in different churches) brings up bitter anger at the adults around me and disappointment in myself. Each time, my “salvation” meant a child collapsing under intense fear, pressure, and manipulation, abandoning her true self in order to conform and be accepted. My real salvation came through therapy and therapeutic groups.

Lita's cat, Mimi, at her new home. Credit: Lita Kurth

So when the writers’ group at the church I attend gave the prompt, “salvation,” I was stuck. Finally, I decided to write about literal salvation, saving someone from a fire, from an oncoming truck, from death.

The Salvation Story

Ironically, it was a Sunday. We sat on the concrete benches under a dead tree watching the daisies and finding snails until ten o’clock when the shelter doors opened.

The woman behind the desk discussed the cat selection. One prize beast displayed in a prominent glass box was double-priced, highly desirable, and it would go quickly. We glanced. Too large. And walked on.


Gimme Shelter: (un)affordable housing


by: on February 6th, 2013 | Comments Off

I just came back from a superb meeting on affordable housing at Sacred Heart Community Services, an agency known for practical, street-level work. Then I started talking about the issue with friends. Here are a few jolts that stuck with me:

photo by Darafsh Kaviyani

  • In Silicon Valley, the greater San Jose area, the list for subsidized housing is around 40,000 names long; it would be longer, but they aren’t taking names any more, so we can’t know the true extent of need.

  • Even veterans have been bounced from one agency to another with no one making help a priority. One of them, an articulate person not immediately recognizable as homeless, attended the meeting. He said he had been homeless “only a couple years.”


Doing the Right Thing: From Tolstoy to Minimum Wage


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.


Capitalism and Hope?


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.


Writing for Change in San Francisco


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:


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


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: