the failure of organizing

colist at colist at
Sun Nov 7 10:41:23 CST 2004

[ed:  Todd and Deb continue the conversation.  I have deleted the 
previous messages here as the thread is getting rather long.  You can 
see the entire thread at:

From: "todd" <todd at>

I think that it is important to not demonize religious people even if
the Republican Party has been relatively successful at capturing the
imagination of a disproportionate amount of evangelicals.  One of the
pillars of community organizing, Saul Alinksy, a secular Jew, recognized
the importance of being able to organize religious institutions for just
causes.  If there is to be any finger-pointing here, it should be
towards institutions on the left that are uncomfortable working with
religious institutions and/or actively using religious metaphors to help
religious people actualize their values more appropriately.  The
lefts bias towards secular and often pompous academic jargon is
alienating to many.

I honestly believe that in this election, the Republicans simply were
better at convincing many religious people that Republican policies
better actualize Christian values.  Where isn't the left more actively
organizing in churches helping people like myself, that perhaps have
pre-modern belief systems, to be able to see that their values are
better reflected by the left.  Encourage us to love our neighbor as
ourselves by not invading our neighbor, that encourages us to tend to
the needs of the "least of these our bretheren" by creating a society
with universal health care.  It is not a Christian value to go to war
for oil.  If the left does not learn it's lesson from this election and
organize in churches and dumb down their rhetoric to utilize our good
ol' middle of the country Christian metaphors then I'm afraid that it
will not only loose this national election, but the next one as well.

Todd Harvey


From:  "Deb Marois" <debmarois at>

Hi Randy and Listserv Members,

Thank you for such thoughtful and informative views on Tuesday's election.
Like others, I'm trying to make sense of the results. I agree with those who
have said we must be in this for the long haul and point to slivers of hope.
A missive from Michael Moore reminds us that  "over 55 million Americans
voted for the candidate dubbed 'The #1 Liberal in the Senate.' That's more
than the total number of voters who voted for either Reagan, Bush I, Clinton
or Gore."

However, it's become clear that the Republicans' faith-based organizing
strategy is one of the primary reasons Bush was elected for a second term. A
colleague sent me the following email from Rabbi Michael Lerner and given
the current discussion about how to go forward in progressive organizing, I
wanted to share with this list to prompt further discussion. As others have
said, it seems that somehow we need to forge a path that allows people of
opposing views to come together in dialogue. From my experience, when people
get together to envision a better world, most want the same things: safe
neighborhoods, clean environment, good jobs, decent education, etc. The
arguments result when we begin to discuss how to achieve these goals.
Progressive organizers need to be able to speak with people in a language
that makes sense to them and I think Rabbi Lerner's comments provide some
ideas for how to connect with those whose faith is central to their

By the way, I wanted to share a story that relates to Doug's comments on
Catholic bishops telling people how to vote. I was raised in an East Coast
Catholic family and while I no longer adhere to that faith, many of my
family members do. My mother holds ardent anti-abortion beliefs despite all
my attempts at "education." She voted for Bush in the last election,
primarily on this issue. This year, she struggled with what choice to make.
I appealed to her sense of morality based on the war in Iraq but it wasn't
until having a conversation with her priests that her mind was made up. When
she told me she had decided, I feared the worst. But much to my surprise,
her advisors provided convincing reasoning why a vote for Kerry would be
morally acceptable. The argument rested on Kerry's personal opposition to
abortion, but his requirement to uphold separation of church and state and
not force his religious views on the entire country. With this assurance, my
mom voted for Kerry. I offer this story as another "silver lining." I don't
think progressive organizers should allow the religious right and
Republicans to corner the market on morality or the "conservative" vote for
that matter - however, we do need to do a better job framing the arguments,
especially on gay rights.

Deb Marois

Community Development Graduate Group

University of California at Davis

The Democrats Needed and Need a Religious/Spiritual Left
       November 3, 2004
       Warm greetings to friends of the Tikkun Community!
       Democrats Need a Religious Left By Rabbi Michael Lerner
       For years the Democrats have been telling themselves "it's the economy,
       stupid." Yet consistently for dozens of years millions of middle income
       Americans have voted against their economic interests to support
       Republicans who have tapped a deeper set of needs.
       Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to
       place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that
       "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society,
       but they want a life that is about something more-a framework of meaning
       and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and
       narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have
       material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care,
       stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college
       education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have
       meaning-and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and
       some sense of transcendent purpose.
       Many of these voters have found a "politics of meaning" in the political
       Right. In the Right wing churches and synagogues these voters are
       presented with a coherent worldview that speaks to their "meaning
       needs." Most of these churches and synagogues demonstrate a high level
       of caring for their members, even if the flip side is a willingness to
       demean those on the outside. Yet what members experience directly is a
       level of mutual caring that they rarely find in the rest of the society.
       And a sense of community that is offered them nowhere else, a community
       that has as its central theme that life has value because it is
       connected to some higher meaning than one's success in the marketplace.
       It's easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in ways that liberals
       find offensive and contradictory. The frantic attempts to preserve
       family by denying gays the right to get married, the talk about being
       conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies that accelerate
       the destruction of the environment and do nothing to encourage respect
       for God's creation or an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of
       turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on preserving the
       powerless fetus and a culture of life without a concomitant commitment
       to medical research (stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and
       healthcare reform., the claim to care about others and then deny them a
       living wage and an ecologically sustainable environment-all this is
       rightly perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that makes
       them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have been moving to the Right.
       Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for religion and
       tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that underlie the move to the Right,
       have been unable to engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly
       angry at the way that some religious communities have been mired in
       authoritarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, the liberal world has
       developed such a knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both
       marginalized those many people on the Left who actually do have
       spiritual yearnings and simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many
       who move to the Right have legitimate complaints about the ethos of
       selfishness in American life.
       Imagine if John Kerry had been able to counter George Bush by insisting
       that a serious religious person would never turn his back on the
       suffering of the poor, that the bible's injunction to love one's
       neighbor required us to provide health care for all, and that the New
       Testament's command to "turn the other cheek" should give us a
       predisposition against responding to violence with violence.
       Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk about the strength that comes
       from love and generosity and applied that to foreign policy and homeland
       Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk of a New Bottom Line, so that
       American institutions get judged efficient, rational and productive not
       only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the
       extent that they maximize people's capacities to be loving and caring,
       ethically and ecologically sensitive, and capable of responding to the
       universe with awe and wonder.
       Imagine a Democratic Party that could call for schools to teach
       gratitude, generosity, caring for others, and celebration of the wonders
       that daily surround us! Such a Democratic Party, continuing to embrace
       its agenda for economic fairness and multi-cultural inclusiveness, would
       have won in 2004 and can win in the future. (Please don't tell me that
       this is happening outside the Democratic Party in the Greens or in other
       leftie groups--because except for a few tiny exceptions it is not! I
       remember how hard I tried to get Ralph Nader to think and talk in these
       terms in 2000, and how little response I got substantively from the
       Green Party when I suggested reformulating their excessively politically
       correct policy orientation in ways that would speak to this spiritual
       consciousness. The hostility of the Left to spirituality is so deep, in
       fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this way they often can't
       even hear what we are saying--so they systematically mis-hear it and say
       that we are calling for the Left to take up the politics of the Right,
       which is exactly the opposite of our point--speaking to spiritual needs
       actually leads to a more radical critique of the dynamics of corporate
       capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a mimicking of right-wing
       If the Democrats were to foster a religions/spiritual Left, they would
       no longer pick candidates who support preemptive wars or who appease
       corporate power. They would reject the cynical realism that led them to
       pretend to be born-again militarists, a deception that fooled no one and
       only revealed their contempt for the intelligence of most Americans.
       Instead of assuming that most Americans are either stupid or
       reactionary, a religious Left would understand that many Americans who
       are on the Right actually share the same concern for a world based on
       love and generosity that underlies Left politics, even though lefties
       often hide their value attachments.
       Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up
       their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are
       fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist
       self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their
       common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves
       to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical
       first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest
       of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the
       people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson-that our own
       well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and
       on the well-being of the earth-a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual
       wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the
       center of a revived Democratic Party.
       Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over
       the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush
       could never be moved to care about the well being of anyone but
       themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into
       serious contenders.
       The last time Democrats had real social power was when they linked their
       legislative agenda with a spiritual politics articulated by Martin
       Luther King. We cannot wait for the reappearance of that kind of
       charasmatic leader to begin the process of re-building a
       spiritual/religious Left. ************* respectfully sent to you by
       Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rabbi Michael Lerner is national co-chair (with
       Cornel West and Susannah Heschel) of The Tikkun Community, an interfaith
       organization that seeks to build on the political vision articulated
       above and more fully explained in our Core Vision which you can read at <> ; editor of TIKKUN, a bimonthly Jewish Critique of
       Politics, Culture and Society, author of Spirit Matters: Global Healing
       and the Wisdom of the Soul, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San
       Francisco. <> RabbiLerner at
       P.S. HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO: 1. Send this message to everyone you
       possibly can think of. 2. Call the media and demand that they cover this
       perspective and ask them to contact Tikkun to do interviews with us
       (they can call Jordan Pearlstein at 510 528 6250 to get interviews set
       up. 3. Join (yes you personally) The Tikkun Community, the organization
       that is taking the lead in trying to create this very kind of direction
       in liberal and progressive politics. Become a dues-paying member to make
       it possible for this view to get heard. The organization we are creating
       has as its first and foremost responsibility to create this kind of
       discourse in American politics, not only by challenging the Right but
       also by challenging the anti-spiritual biases and demeaning attitude
       toward those who don't agree with the Left that prevails in too many
       parts of the liberal and progressive world. So we need you not only to
       join, but to help us spread this new way of thinking. To understand it
       more fully, we urge you to read and then create a study group with
       friends on the book The Politics of Meaning or the book Spirit Matters:
       Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul. You can join The Tikkun
       Community on-line at <> , or by calling Liz or Stephanie at
       510-644- 1200 between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. If
       you can't join, you could still make a tax-deductible contribution to
       support this work--we can't get transform these ideas into a force
       capable of changing society unless we have serious financial support
       (know anyone in a foundation that you could approach for help? or
       someone with more money? could you do a fundraiser in your community?
       whatever you can raise will be most appreciated).
       Tikkun Magazine and The Tikkun Community need (unfortuantely unpaid)
       interns and volunteers at our national office in Berkeley, California,
       and volunteers and interns to work on logistics and organizing for our
       East Coast conferences in NY and D.C. (working initially out of our
       apartment at NYC). If you'd like to volunteer either place, contact
       liz at
       ************ We are up against a very difficult period ahead. There will
       be struggles to end the war in
and to protect us from what is
       likely to be very scary moves to limit civil liberties, decrease social
       supports for the poor and the powerless, increase militarization and
       even new wars. If we face all this with the kind of liberal and
       progressive movements that we've been relying on the past, we are likely
       to continue to be very ineffective. That's why taking the Tikkun ideas
       and building a new kind of social change movement is such a pressing
       priority. We are not asking people to become religious or spiritual if
       you are not; we are asking for a new sensitivity to this arena, and new
       ways of talking to people and new ways of framing progressive ideas, and
       a new sensitivity to awe and wonder to replace a narrow utilitarian way
       of approaching other human beings and nature (an idea already accepted
       in many ecologically-sensitive circles). Please help us! It's not enough
       to support our ideas--we need your more active support. If you can find
       a more powerful strategy, more psychologically sophisticated and more
       compassionate in its approach to the people who need to be won over to
       the side of progressive social change, let us know what it is. If not,
       join and help us build this strategy!!!
       In peace,
       Rabbi Michael Lerner
       Tikkun Magazine

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