Celebrating July 4th in the Trump Years

Celebrating July 4th in the Trump Years: Make it Inter-Dependence Day to Challenge the Ideology of Right Wing Ultra-Nationalism 

by Rabbi Michael Lerner  editor Tikkun magazine

 

A July 4th  “ Seder” 


In past years, 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 turned July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports and fireworks while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast. For the millions of us who have been outraged at the pulliing of children from the arms of their parents, and sent to places where it will be very hard to determine who their parents are, there will be an even stronger tendency to either forget about celebrating this holiday or to use it just to mourn the horrific developments that unfold week after week in this sectond year of the Trumpites. But I think we would be making a mistake to not use this moment to not only mourn, but also organize in a new way.

During the Trump years I believe all of us have a unique opportunity as well as a moral obligation to  use this holiday to connect with our fellow Americans and challenge the “America First” ultra-nationalist worldview that Trump and Right-wing activists are trying to popularize. They are shifting the mainstream dialogue from its previous center-right blandly pro-capitalist worldview to an extremist right-wing nationalism, already mobilized against immigrants, those seeking humanitarian refugee status,  and environmental protections. With yet another right-winger on the Supreme Court likely to happend within the next several months, there will be a continuation and deepening of Trump’s  assault on whatever remains standing of the New Deal of the 1930s (social security,  safety and health regulations, Medicare, civil liberties, separation of church and state,  retirement benefits, public education, workers’ rights to organize unions, etc.)

Yet the key to challenging this direction is to not fall into two traps that have limited the support for liberal and progressive forces: a. thinking that the alternative to ultra-nationalism is to focus only on what is wrong with America, thereby handing to the extremists the banner of being the only pro-American voice; or b. demeaning all those who have supported Trump as racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, antiSemites or just plain stupid. The shaming and blaming only strengthens the support of many for Trumpist politics, and must cease. Instead, we need to reclaim all that is good in America, and reframe that in terms of celebrating July 4th as Inter-dependence day. There are many who are focusing on the coming four months to win people to a different vision for America. Please read this proposal for a way to open that conversation with people who might not normally be open to it. Don’t despair. As terrible as the Trump policies on immigrants have been, when the ethical instincts of many Americans led them to raise the outrage at separating children from their parents to such an intense level, Trump backed down and changed that one little (but nevertheless significant for the children) practice. Don’t let the little victories be ignored just because there is so much more that needs transformation. We are in a long-term struggle for the soul of the people of our planet Earth, and to win we have to celebrate when we win something of value. So below are some of our ideas about what YOU could do during July 4th celebrations. Please read on.

We at Tikkun, and our many readers and activists in the Network of Spiritual Progressives believe that that there is much worth celebrating in American history that deserves attention on July 4th, though it is rarely the focus of the public events.

We also acknowledge that in the 21st 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 (and this time, nonviolent) 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. To understand our full picture of the world we can create together, read www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant

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 article at their celebrations, and that churches, synagogues, unions, community organizations, and neighborhood associations will incorporate this material into their public celebrations of July 4th. Feel free to pick and choose what makes sense to you, and invite people to bring their favorite poems, stories, and songs that emphasize our interconnectedness with all humanity and/or with the planet Earth.

Please have people at your picnic, dining room table, outdoor outing, or wherever you are on the holiday take turns reading out loud the paragraphs below:

Celebrating What is Good about the United States of America

Image Courtesy of Ted Eytan

Today hundreds of millions of Americans will celebrate all that is good in the history of the United States of America.  Even though we know there is much to criticize about America (including the use of the word “America” as synonymous with the United States, thereby ignoring Canada, Mexico, Central and South America) there is also much to celebrate.

Today we mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document that still inspires many Americans today.

Unfortunately, the high ideals expressed in the Declaration, “that all men are created equal and endowed with their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were not actually put into practice when the Constitution was created and the United States came into existence. The word “men” was applied not in a general sense to include women, but rather to only include men. And, in fact, for the first decades of our country the only people who could vote were white men who owned property. Worse, slavery was permitted and African Americans were counted as 3/5 of a European American in the census that determined how many people lived in a given area who deserved representation in the Congress.  Native Americans—those who had survived the near genocide of European settlement—did not figure at all in these equations.

Some of these distortions got partially rectified through the democratic process that had been set up by the founders of our country. History books focus on the people who were in power as if all change comes from those in positions of authority. The truth is, though, that much of what we love about America was created by ordinary citizens. Often they encountered resistance from those in power, their messages distorted by the media that has mostly been controlled by the rich and powerful, their activists sometimes beaten, jailed or even killed, their employment put in danger, their families suffering. On some occasions sometimes for struggles that did not threaten the class structure but only sought to widen the opportunities for people to compete in the marketplace, they found allies in some of the powerful  who joined in the struggle.

At this celebration, let’s give thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary Americans whose struggles brought about those changes. [ Take turns reading the paragraphs below. If you are reading this during a meal, ask each person there to raise a fork, or even take a bite of food if they are hungry and the food has already been served, for each of the following with which they agree.]

WE ARE GRATEFUL:

  • To the waves of immigrants from all parts of the world who struggled to accept each other and find a place in this country {raise fork}
  • To the escaped slaves and their allies, particularly Quakers, evangelical Christians, and freedom-loving secularists, who built the underground railroad and helped countless people to freedom {raise fork}
  • To the coalitions  of religious and secular people—women and men, black and white—who built popular support for the emancipation of the slaves {raise fork}
  • To the African Americans and allies who went to prison, lost their livelihoods, and were savagely beaten in the struggle for civil rights {raise fork}
  • To the working people who championed protections like the eight-hour day, minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and the right to organize, often at great personal cost to them {raise fork}
  • To the immigrants and refugees who fought against “nativist” tendencies and refused to close the borders of this country to new groups of immigrants, and who continue to support a policy of “welcoming the stranger” just as this country opened its gates to their ancestors when they were the immigrants and strangers
  • To the women who risked family, job security, and their own constructed identities to shift our collective consciousness about men and women and raise awareness of the effects of patriarchy {raise fork}
  • To gays and lesbians who fought and won the right to marry and who continue to struggle for full rights in housing, employment, and other arenas.
  • To transgendered people who are beginning a similar battle for respect, dignity, and equal rights
  • To all of those who risk scorn and violence and often lose their families to lead the struggle against homophobia and for the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people
  • To those who continue to work for equal access for people with disabilities
  • To those who advocate for sensitivity to animals and refuse to kill them
  • To all of the innovators and artists who have brought so much of beauty and usefulness into our lives
  • To those who fought to extend democratic principles not only in politics but also in the work place and in the economy
  • To those who developed innovations in science and technology, in literature and art, in music and dance, in film and in computer science, in medical and communication technologies, and in methods to protect ourselves from the destructive impacts of some of these new technologies.
  • To those who developed psychological insights and increased our ability to be sensitive to our impact on others.
  • To those who developed ecological awareness and are now building strategies to replace a system that privileges growth and consumption over preservation of the life support system of the planet
  • To those who brought the insights of their own particular religious or spiritual traditions which emphasized love and caring for others and generosity towards those who had been impoverished—and sought to turn those ideas not only into a call for personal charity but also into a mission to transform our economic and political systems in ways that would reflect those values.
  • To those who gave more money than felt comfortable giving to support the social change activists and the magazines, websites, poets and authors, who have developed detailed and persuasive critiques of our society and visions of a different world
  • To those who fought for peace and non-violence, and who helped stop many wars

[Invite other attendees to offer “toasts” to other groups who have contributed to the things that are good about America.]

[Sing songs of the civil rights movement, the suffrage movement, the labor movement, or any other song of struggle. Two such songs appear below. You can find recordings and lyrics for others at http://www.labor-studies.org/songs_to_teach.htm and http://creativefolk.com/equalityday.html#music]

Adding to the difficulty of the struggles listed above was the sad fact that groups who were struggling for their own rights and liberation did not identify with or give adequate support to other groups who were struggling for their own liberation and rights. Sometimes people in oppressed groups would say, “My suffering is more intense or more important than your suffering” to each other, undermining rather than building solidarity.  Sometimes one oppressed group was used by the people with power to fight against another oppressed group. Some people in each previously oppressed group would seize their hard-won power and turn their backs on the needs of others, even discriminating against or looking down on others whose struggles had not yet been won.

It was sad and shocking when people struggling for peace found that some of their allies were racist or sexist or homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic or anti-Christian or held hateful views about all religious people or about all secular people or about all white people or about all men.  Sometimes that would lead oppressed people to give up in despair not just about the difficulties of overcoming the obstacles that the powerful set in place, but out of disillusionment with groups that rightly should have been their allies. We cannot tolerate any more a politics that labels all people of any identity group as somehow evil or as responsible for the suffering of all others in this world. When we do so, we push those people into the Trumpist camp.

Luckily, many others did not give up, and so the struggles for human freedom dignity, human rights, economic security, and civil liberties were not abandoned.  Those struggles continue today, and it could easily take many more decades before they are fully realized.

The good news is that many people have retained their basic decency and caring for others. We are surrounded by people who care. True, it’s often hard to show that. When first approached, many people express indifference to the well-being of others.  Our economic system encourages selfishness, me-first-ism, “looking out for number one,” and indifference to the ecological and ethical impacts of our activities, and acting counter to those attitudes feels not only unfamiliar but risky. And in 2017 America, with hate and violence rearing its ugly head not only in random acts of violence against gays, African Americans, and immigrants, but also in the midst of our national politics by politicians manipulating people’s legitimate anger at the way their needs for economic security have been ignored.

 

Instead of addressing that and other fundamental human needs that are not being met, political opportunists in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries around the world manipulate the pain generated by our economic and political system and mis-direct it against the most vulnerable in our world—refugees, minority groups, or previously demeaned “others.” Yet this strategy to relieve fear, pain and suffering never works, so even in cases in the past where people have turned to fascistic and racist movements in their moments of despair eventually turn back to their own highest selves if there is a community of people that can validate the possibility of a different and more loving world.

Most people yearn for a different kind of world, but they think it is “unrealistic” to struggle for what they really believe in, since they are convinced that nobody else shares that desire with them. This is part of the reason we’ve created our interfaith as well as secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming

Network of Spiritual Progressives (www.spiritualprogressvies.org) to support each other in building a world that really does reflect our highest values.

If peace, social justice, ecological sensitivity, full implementation of human rights and a society based on love is “unrealistic,” then we at Tikkun and our Network fo Spiritual Progressives say “screw realism”—being realistic in a deeper sense is not accepting “reality” as it is presently presented to us.

Most people dismissed the civil rights movement when it began as “unrealistic” in its attempts to end segregation, dismissed the early consciousness raising feminists in the second wave of women’s liberation when it began in the 1960s, dismissed the struggle against apartheid, dismissed the idea that gays and lesbians could achieve the right to legally recognized marriage in the U.S., dismissed the possibility that a black man or a woman could ever get elected president. The truth is that the realists have almost always been proved wrong when people fight for their highest ideals and ignore the messages from media, political leaders, and the elites of wealth and power as they preach to us to accept “what is” as the criterion of “what can be.”

We want a different kind of world, and we have to engage in non-violent struggles to build it. And that has always been the way we have won the battles for precisely the things that make us proud of the victories of the American people: it was always people who were told that what they wanted was “unrealistic” and who essentially said “screw realism—we’re going to fight for what is right” who became the real heroes of the American story. Of course, the powerful often obscure that history, and teach us to think that all the human rights and liberties and freedoms were “given to us,” but actually it was precisely the little people like us who made the big changes that have made this country worthy of celebration.

Today we celebrate the moments when the U.S. and the American people have acted not only from self-interest but also from genuine caring. The people of this country have a huge amount of goodness in them, and they’ve shown that side to the world as well. They showed it when they supported the Second World War efforts to stop Hitler and the fascists. They showed it when they stopped the war in Vietnam. They showed it when they reacted with revulsion at the torture being done in our name at Abu Ghreib and Guantanamo. And they are showing it today when they’ve finally been told enough truth about the war in Iraq that they are turning against the killing in massive numbers.

{Here ask people to share their own stories about times when they’ve felt proud of the United States or of Americans. If there is a large group, break into smaller groups of 4-5 people. If the group is small, just go around to everyone in the circle. After allocating at least 3 minutes for each person, resume the larger group conversation.}

We are proud of our country. We love its physical beauty.  Many of us come from immigrant families who found refuge here when there were few other societies on the planet that would welcome our ancestors. Let us once again commit to overcoming the fear of the other and cultivating a spirit of generosity and love toward the stranger.

We are proud  of the people of this country in many of the same ways that we are proud of  our own families—not by denying that there are problems, sometimes even overwhelming problems, but that we are still proud and care very deeply about them, and are committed to working through the problems.

Celebrating Global Interdependence

Part of the cherished myth of this country is the notion of the rugged individualist who makes his own way—the rugged individualist is almost always male in this myth—without anyone else’s help. This image was never true. Even on the frontier, people relied on their neighbors, on the animals that provided their food, and later on those who built and operated the railroads, bringing supplies to frontier towns. Today it is even less possible to be a rugged individualist. We can’t drive on a road, operate an appliance, run water, or make a phone call without benefiting from the work of countless other human beings, some here in the United States and some in other parts of the world.

With the advent of a deeper understanding of how our global environment works, and with the increasing integration of the economies of all countries into a global economy, we’ve come to see that our well-being is linked to the well-being of everyone else on the planet. Our well-being depends on their well-being, and their well-being depends on our well-being. We are all fundamentally interdependent. And we’ve learned the same thing about Nature—when we pour poisons into the air, the ground, or the oceans, those toxics eventually come back to hurt us and other people around the world, just as when they do the same it ends up hurting us and not just people who live near them. Yet the ideal of individualism persists, and we’re encouraged to act as if we need no one else, no community support.

[Invite attendees to comment on the ways they see the archetype of the self-sufficient individualist influencing their own lives or the life of our country.]

Despite the persistence of this individualist mindset, our impact on others and theirs on us is huge, and manifests not only in personal and cultural terms but also in relationship to  economic and political conditions.

We want to communicate to the peoples of the world our own deep sorrow and repentance at the ways that our wonderful country has taken wrong turns in its foreign policy, and the ways that it has acted with arrogance and insensitivity to the needs of others, and supported an economic system whose insensitivity to the needs of the environment and its preaching of “me-firstism” and looking at everyone with a “what’s in it for me?” consciousness has already done immense damage.

{Sing here songs of other cultures and bring their poetry and fiction and spiritual practices as well, or go around the table sharing aspects of other cultures that you find inspiring.}

We are happy to celebrate this Interdependence Day on Independence Day for the U.S.

Some of us wish to invoke God’s blessing on our country, and will do so now. But before we go there, we also wish to invoke God’s blessings on all people on our planet and on the planet itself.

We know that nationalist chauvinism, thinking that we are or can be better than everyone else, the manic need to be “number one,” can lead us into wars and destructive behavior. That it has become part of the national discourse, and this year is taking the form of fear or hatred of Muslims and Mexicans, pains our heart. We will not let our Muslim, Mexican, or undocumented refuges in the U.S. or elsewhere become isolated and demeaned—part of our task as Americans is to defend all those who are subject to irrational hatred or are used to advance the political, economic or social interests of opportunists and haters.  Instead, we want to bless everyone on the planet, to celebrate with everyone.

So we rejoice in the people of this country, to rejoice with them as we celebrate all that is beautiful and good in this country, and at the same time we affirm our deep connection to all people on this planet and invoke God’s blessing on all of us, together, and pray that we soon will see a triumph of a new spirit of kindness, generosity, love, caring for others, ecological sensitivity,  and celebration with joy, awe and wonder at all the good that surrounds us and keeps us alive. This is our Interdependence Day—the day we affirm our deep dependence on and yearning for the well being of everyone on our planet and the well being of the planet itself.

Written by Rabbi Michel Lerner (editor of Tikkun magazine) and distributed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives. To spread this this way of thinking: Please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) at www.spritualprogressives.org/join  or send a tax-deductible contribution to TIKKUN,  2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200,  Berkeley, Ca. 94704.  When you join or donate at the $50 or more level www.tikkun.org/donate, you also get a one year free subscription to Tikkun Magazine.

You may also want to take the “Spiritual Activism Training: Strategies for the Trump Years”–sign up for more information at www.spiritualprogressives.org/training

Your reactions to these ideas welcome: RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com and/or

NSP Executive Director: Cat Zavis  Cat@spiritualprogressives.org  510 644-1200.

 
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