Why the Network of Spiritual Progressives?

heal the world

Join us to create a new society based on love, justice, and peace. Credit: Creative Commons/Pixabay

Just two months ago, I was living in Bellingham, Washington working as a collaborative divorce attorney, mediator, coach and trainer. I had a successful business contributing in a meaningful way to my local community. And I was engaged in local activism in various ways.  Then I was offered an opportunity of a lifetime — to be executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. When offered an opportunity to try to build a spiritually progressive social change movement for one-third the salary I was earning as an attorney, mediator and trainer, I jumped at the opportunity.  So why would I walk away from a successful and enjoyable business contributing in a way I enjoy to take on a rather herculean task?

More about that in a minute. First let me explain the political landscape as I see it.
Here in the United States, there are thousands of wonderful local organizations focusing on either local issues or fighting against one or another form of injustice. And often they make contributions and progress to better the lives of some. But ultimately as activists spend hours and hours on end struggling to take out a right-wing bill or policy or win a lasting but limited victory (such as our gains in women’s rights and gay rights), global capitalists and the U.S. government emerge unscathed and continue to pound us with attacks that undermine all our efforts. Our government and the transnational corporate forces with which it is allied launch their attacks on social change struggles without any provocation at all or any care for the casualties of human suffering here and abroad. Meanwhile the tireless efforts of thousands upon thousands of people around the world continue to try to poke holes in the defenses of global capitalism—ultimately to no meaningful effect. Even when we win a few battles or a few rights, we do not change the larger context in which corporate power and right-wing ideology are becoming more abusive to the powerless, the middle class, and the earth that sustains and nurtures us.

Choosing Hope over Despair
I recently spent one day reading enough articles to leave me curled up in a ball on my bed feeling hopeless and powerless to change all the horror that is happening in the world. I first read a piece in the New York Times about prison guards beating mental health inmates while they were strapped to a gurney, even as mental health workers in the prison begged the guards to stop. Then I read about the Obama administration’s decision to send children who are fleeing Central American drug gangs back to their countries rather than accept them as refugees. I flipped through pages of bad news about Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, and finally turned my attention to the situation in Gaza. And none of this included pieces about the destruction of the environment — a looming cataclysmic disaster.
And yet, staying in bed is not an option because there is work to do: work to change the world, to put forth and bring into the mainstream a different discourse — a discourse of love, kindness, and compassion rather than separation, “other-ing” and hatred. With each story about suffering and destruction, I am pulled to try to do something, and often when that happens I think I might want to join a local movement that focuses on one of the issues about which I am so deeply concerned (there are hundreds of them). And yet I notice that as those issue-focused groups work to stop some specific part of the harm that is occurring, things continue to deteriorate and more new struggles and issues arise.
This is why I left the comfort and safety of my law practice to spend my time, energy, and life work focusing on a broader agenda — the transformation of our current bottom line to a new one, as put forth by the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Unlike local or issue-focused efforts, what the NSP offers is a worldview that promotes a New Bottom Line — one that judges the efficiency, rationality, and productivity of our institutions, government (and its policies), and corporations based not on the old bottom line of whether they maximize money and power, but instead assessing them on the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, empathy and compassion, social and economic justice, peace and nonviolence, and environmental sustainability, as well as encourage us to transcend a narrow utilitarian approach to nature and other human beings.
The reasons I am focusing my energy on this broad vision are many. First, even as many wonderful organizations, activist groups, and communities organize to fight against fracking, coal exportation, prison violence, and environmental destruction, and to fight for immigrant rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and more, things are only getting worse. The more we try desperately to fill the holes in the dike, the more holes corporations and the ruling class blast through from the other side. We are swamped, overwhelmed, and drowning. We are losing the battle and need to join forces.
Second, all these fabulous efforts have failed to unite together and put forth a different worldview than that promoted by the dominant discourse. Instead of seeing themselves as part of a larger movement, they operate as disparate pieces. It reminds me of imagining my body with all its parts not being contained by my skin — how would I make any progress in the world? I’d constantly be picking up the different parts and trying to get them to move forward one at a time! We desperately need a skin, a container to hold all these efforts together so that we can be more effective in our efforts.
Third, we need a massive, popular social movement that puts forth a larger worldview of the world we want rather than reacting to what we don’t want. Returning to my body image, this reminds of my consciousness, brain, and heart. Sometimes my body reacts to attacks or threats, but often my body’s response is not particularly effective and sometimes it is downright inappropriate or harmful. But when I engage my brain, heart, and consciousness, then I can slow down, breathe, explore the possibilities, and see a larger perspective. From that place, I am able to envision in a pro-active, positive way how to respond in the most compassionate, empathic, powerful, and effective manner — not only in one area or on one issue, but to see a broader perspective and solutions. Instead of responding with hate or despair, I can offer ideas and solutions that are inspiring, innovative and creative. As Rabbi Lerner has said, “Martin Luther King Jr. did not motivate hundreds of thousands of people by saying ‘I Have a Complaint’!” King had a dream — and we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives also have a dream.
We dream of a world where all human beings live in peace and harmony, live in alignment with the needs of each other and the planet, and treat each other with dignity and respect. We dream of a world where social and economic justice are the norm rather than the exception, and where we celebrate the awe, wonder, and radical amazement of this incredible universe in which we are lucky enough to float for one century if we are lucky. We can connect other disparate efforts with a unifying vision that will make each one and all us of significantly more effective. Instead of throwing ineffective stones or launching missiles, we can help people link what they are doing with what others are doing and together put forth a vision of a new society.
Pursuing a New Bottom Line
So what is getting in the way of this? Foremost, our own lack of belief that a New Bottom Line is possible. We have internalized global capitalism’s message that the only way we can survive is by looking out for ourselves, but in fact, if you look around the world, it is pretty obvious that we are not doing particularly well living in that paradigm. It’s time for us to tell and live a different story—one in which we actually do look out for each other, care for one another, practice generosity and love, see each other as embodiments of the sacred, and respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement.

hands over earth

We need to join forces to solve the world's problems. Credit: Creative Commons/Pixabay

In addition to putting forth the vision of a New Bottom Line, the NSP also has different projects that we are promoting:
1. Family Matters
We are tired of the Religious Right claiming to promote Family Values while all the while creating policies and practices that undermine the security and safety of families and that limit who are considered a family. The ethos of materialism, selfishness, ruthless competition for scarce resources, and a theory that in the pursuit of success any manipulation or attempt to dominate others is legitimate — the lessons learned in the competitive capitalist marketplace and inscribed as the shared assumptions of most work environments — creates a mentality that inevitably undermines our capacity to see other human beings not for “what they can do for us” but rather as intrinsically valuable for who they are. It is this ethos of the marketplace that undermines loving relationships. It’s about time we in the progressive world became the real pro-family force, by exposing the contradictions inherent in the Right claiming to be pro-family while simultaneously embracing values that undermine rather than sustain love.
2. An Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA)
We are promoting a constitutional amendment that would ban all private or corporate money from federal and state elections (making them publicly funded and banning expenditures from any other source), require corporations with incomes over 50 million dollars to obtain a new corporate charter every five years, which they’d only get if they could prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a panel of ordinary citizens, and restructure our educational system so that courses on empathic communication, civic engagement, environmental sustainability, and learning to live in harmony with each other and the planet are required at every grade level, kindergarten through graduate school.
3. Generosity as a Strategy for Peace
Our Global Marshall Plan would seek to enlist the major economic and industrial power-house countries in each year for the next twenty years  to give one to two percent of their GDP to an international body that would seek to assist the people in developing nations to develop local community control of their own economic and political  systems to eliminate global poverty, homelessness, lack of adequate health care, and lack of adequate education once and for all, and to do so in ways that are environmentally sustainable for the entire planet. It would also overturn economic arrangements and treaties sponsored by Western countries that have in effect destroyed local economies.
4. Transforming Work and Professions
Many people want their work and professional lives to be filled with love, care, kindness, and generosity, yet again and again we see institutions, workplaces, and professions focused on the bottom line of money and power. As a result, consumers suffer and workers suffer too. The NSP is working to help people in various fields come together to envision how they can bring a New Bottom Line into their work and professional fields.
5. Peace, Justice, and Compassion for Israel/Palestine
Network of Spiritual Progressives co-chair Michael Lerner has been at the forefront of those seeking to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and we at the NSP continue to advocate strongly for an end to the Occupation. Tikkun, the spiritual progressive magazine supported by the NSP, was one of the first U.S. publications to expose the horrors of the Nakba and the truth of what transpired in 1948 and since. The NSP is one of the very few organizations that is interfaith, bringing together Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and every variant of secular-humanists, and openly pro-Israel and pro-Palestine both (because the only way to peace is a way that provides security and justice for both sides). The NSP seeks to affirm the humanity of both sides in face of the understandable but politically destructive path of trying to make one side the “righteous victim” and the other side “the Evil Other” (though admittedly in face of Israel’s brutality in Gaza this summer this position isn’t so easy to hold, yet we must if we want to actually change the situation rather than feeling our righteousness at being able to denounce “the bad guys” at any given moment). And the NSP has continued to introduce new ideas on Israel/Palestine into the public sphere by generating conversations in response to Michael Lerner’s book Embracing Israel/Palestine, which is unique in its historical and psychological understanding and explanation of the conflict and how best to solve it. Recently we have held conference calls with leading peace activists in both Israel and Palestine to learn about their efforts and to see how we can best support them. From these calls, we are putting together an activist training guide that includes steps that you can take to bring a new perspective to the discourse in your home, your community and the media.
6. Helping Youth Become Transformative Activists
We believe that the youth of our world desperately want to be engaged in meaningful efforts to create a future that allows them to have a good life too, and we provide opportunities for them to promote the New Bottom Line in ways they find engaging and exciting.
The Power Is In Our Hands
We have a clear vision for how to move our world toward a politics of love and care, and we are already hard at work to turn that vision into a reality. We invite you to join us in casting off the ethos of scarcity and individualism that global capitalism requires and step with joy into a new understanding of the abundance and power that is already in our hands.
To sustain this work, we do not need booby-trapped dollars from mega-corporations, centrist foundations, or oil tycoons. All we need is for the tens of thousands of people who already love and appreciate our work — including you! — to step up and contribute the equivalent of one hourly wage a month.
This easy sliding scale is affordable for everyone because it is pegged to what you make. If you earn $10 an hour, then we ask that you donate just $10.00 per month for a year. If you earn or bill clients/patients $200 an hour (or the equivalent thereof), we ask that you donate $200 per month for a year. If you earn an annual salary of $40,000 per year, then (if you calculate a 40-hour work week) that amounts to approximately $20 per hour, so you would donate just $20 per month. We request a minimum donation of $5.00 per month for a year. (Of course you can donate a yearly lump sum equivalent if that is preferable for you.)
In this way, without relying on corporate money, we can collectively step into our power, shake off our feelings of despair and powerlessness, and generate the resources we need to sustain this fight for a New Bottom Line into the coming year.
Our Gifts to You
Anyone who donates a minimum of $5 per month (or yearly equivalent as a lump sum) will receive the following gifts with their membership:
o   A yearlong subscription to Tikkun, an award-winning print magazine
o   Radical Amazement: a digital album of spiritual/progressive music (available in Fall 2014)
o   Holiday Guides: resources for breathing activist spirit into the holidays
o   The Network of Spiritual Progressives Songbook
o   Members Only Access Page
If you donate $10 or more per month (or yearly equivalent as a lump sum), you will also receive a copy of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s book Embracing Israel/Palestine. And if you donate $15 or more per month (or yearly equivalent as a lump sum), in addition to all of the gifts above, you will also receive a copy of a second spiritual and progressive book from Tikkun. To join, click here.
Join Us        
We will be grateful for whatever amount you are able to contribute, even if it does not fall within this structure! But we would be deeply moved if, after reflecting upon the world you want to live in, you decide to join our collective movement to give up one hourly wage each month to sustain the NSP’s work to build a better world.
Finally, if you are unemployed or otherwise genuinely unable to contribute, we still want to connect with you! Please look at the projects above and find one that interests you then email me, Cat Zavis, at cat@spiritualprogressives.org, and I will help get you plugged in to our work, including helping you build a local contingency.
We really cannot do this work without you. Thank you for stepping up to help us reach more people and do more wonderful work in the world!
In solidarity,
Executive Director


One thought on “Why the Network of Spiritual Progressives?

  1. As a Jew who comes from a Haredi background, I say again that the most important issue for Tikkunites and Jewish progressives is the the explosive growth of Haredim. Hatred of goyim is central to their religiuos beliefs. Why aren’t you tackling this issue?

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