A New York Times map depicting Republican gains (indicated by striped areas) in the House of Representatives
1. Don’t let the media frame this as a defeat of progressives. Had Obama embraced and fought for a progressive agenda, even if he had passed none of it, he would have entered the 2010 elections as the champion of the huge idealism of the American people that was elicited in 2008 and which would have led the Democrats to an electoral sweep in 2010. Being seen as fighting for the needs of ordinary people — never letting anyone forget for a moment that he had inherited the mess that Republican and pro-corporate Democrats had created, positioning himself as the champion of those who resented the Wall Street and corporate interests — his popularity would have grown; he could have won a much bigger victory for the Democrats in 2010, and that would have allowed him to actually legislate the policies of a progressive vision.
Had Obama refused to give more money to the banks and Wall Street unless equal or greater amounts were allocated for a visionary New Deal-style program for jobs and a freeze on mortgage foreclosures; had the Democrats refused to fund the escalation of war in Afghanistan; had they advocated for “Medicare for Everyone” instead of passing a plan that forced 30 million people to buy health care, but puts no serious restraints on the costs that insurance companies or pharmaceutical can charge; had Obama fought courageously for a carbon tax and ended the bargain taxes for the wealthy; had the Democrats insisted on stopping the harassment of immigrants; had the Obama Administration called for a national effort to overturn Citizens United, such as the ESRA (the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution); had Obama set up public forums at which his supporters could give him public feedback and used the web creatively to allow his supporters to weigh in; and had Obama consistently spoken honestly to Americans about the constraints he was facing and who was putting pressure on him to do what… there would have been no electoral defeat.
It wasn’t the progressive agenda that got defeated, it was the corporate-military accommodation of the Democrats and Obama who couldn’t address popular outrage, not only at the economic problem, but at the way we had been manipulated in 2008; and the humiliation many felt at having allowed themselves to hope that someone in politics would fight for what they said they would fight for.
2. Challenge the elitism in the Left. Whenever you hear someone saying that it is the stupidity or reactionary nature of Americans that led to this defeat, remind them of why, absent any other voice that they would encounter expressing their outrage, it was rational for Americans to be attracted to the right-wing voices that were expressing that outrage (albeit with programs that will actually make things worse). When Americans thought they had a chance at progressive change, they voted for it in 2008 — so they are neither stupid nor reactionary.
Faced with July 4th celebrations that are focused on militarism, ultra-nationalism, and “bombs bursting in air,” many American families who do not share those values turn July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports, and fireworks, while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast.
This year that kind of celebration is particularly difficult when many of us are in mourning because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives believe that avoiding July 4 or turning it into nothing more than a picnic with friends is a mistake for progressives. There is much worth celebrating in American history that deserves attention on July 4th, despite the current depravity of those who lead this country, though the celebration-worthy aspects of our society are rarely the focus of the public events.
We also acknowledge that in the twenty-first century there is a pressing need to develop a new kind of consciousness — a recognition of the interdependence of everyone on the planet. A new revolution is necessary — one in which our actions reflect a realization that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and of the planet itself.
We’ve designed the following material as a possible guide for individual families or for public celebrations that share the values we hold. We hope that families will reflect on the themes raised in this holiday guide at their celebrations, and that churches, synagogues, unions, community organizations, and neighborhood associations will incorporate this material into their public celebrations of July 4th.
Here’s our official Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) report, followed by ideas for attendees and those who wished they could have been there about how to do pursue the ideas and work. If you would like to buy recordings of the conference or parts of it, please go to this page at ConferenceRecording.com.
Rev. Ama Zenya and Rabbi David Schneyer at the conference
The NSP/Tikkun conference was a terrific success.
500 people gathered at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C. and heard some of the most amazing speakers address the question of what is the nature of the political and spiritual crisis that we are facing in the world today, and what to do about it.
NSP co-chair (and Catholic Benedictine Sister) Joan Chittister led off with a powerful appeal for compassion as a central theme and NSP chair Rabbi Michael Lerner explained how the Global Marshall Plan and the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment were ways of giving substance to the central theme of the conference: Creating the Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.
Edwin Rutsch just sent me this link to a video he took of Michael Lerner at a recent event. If you want the one minute version of what the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) is about — the elevator pitch — go to minute 3:15 below, and go to around 5:50 for Michael’s take on moving social energy towards hope and love. Later in the piece he outlines the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the constitution) and the Global Marshall Plan, the two key proposals of the NSP that are a focus of our DC conference this weekend.
Michael’s work — and this video is a good example — constantly challenges me to think about the differences between personal spiritual transformation and collective activism for creating a caring world. They are related but distinct, and exactly how they relate is not easy to understand.
When you ask “spiritual” or religious people how the world will change, the most common answer is some version of “one person at a time.”