The Center of Hope

Posted in Essays on April 3rd, 2014 by Noebie – 2 Comments

Awhile back I became familiar with the Catholic Worker movement. A part of their philosophy involves voluntary poverty, and sharing everything in our lives with people in need. The credo is “if you have a coat on your back, and a coat in your closet, one of them belongs to someone else.”

This is a hard teaching for me.

I grew up in a family of modest means. My father died when I was six years old, so I was raised by a single mom who worked part time. Yet we always had adequate housing, decent clothes to wear and I cannot remember ever going to bed hungry. I now suspect that my mother sometimes did without things that she would have liked in order to provide for me, but I never heard her complain about it, and I don’t recall her ever being in any sort of true physical deprivation. I was afforded every opportunity in terms of education, despite our limited resources, and I was not saddled with the crushing student debt which is so common today.

I have lived “from hand to mouth” at many points in my life as an adult, but I have not yet ever experienced the desperation of poverty that afflicts tens of millions in the United States. At the age of 56, I am not wealthy, but I finally enjoy what might be called a “solid middle class” standard of living.

In short, for most of my life I have thought of myself as one who was struggling to get by, not as one living in relative abundance. Like many who share my status, I felt that I was “doing the best I can” to help others by making regular donations to various charities.

At long last it has occurred to me that it’s not truly “the best I can do.”

Yet, it is difficult for me to imagine myself doing as Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin did in establishing Catholic Worker – forsaking even a modest level of comfort to live and serve among the most destitute in our community. There are, of course, many “practical” considerations involved. What about my wife and daughter, who have not been stricken with such a revolutionary conviction? It would be one thing for me to deprive myself, but I’m not sure that it would be just or proper to require such a thing of them.

Perhaps this is all just rationalization. Suffice it to say that I have struggled and pondered these sorts of questions for many months now. There was a particular moment where the weight of guilt came crashing down on me while hearing this story from the Gospel According to Matthew.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

During Advent of 2013, at Reconciliation, I broke down in tears while describing this struggle of conscience to the priest. I left the rite with a determination to do more than simply write checks to charities as a way to meet my Christian obligation to others. I decided to find ways to participate directly in meeting human needs. It may not be all that is required, but it is a start.

I met with Sr. Denise, the Pastoral Associate at our church, who prayed with me and gave me information on several organizations in our community working to reduce the suffering of those in poverty. This morning, I worked for the first time at the Center of Hope, a local food pantry. It was ninety minutes of honest work, pushing a broom, mopping floors, helping to unload a truck from the food bank and breaking down boxes for recycling. I met some very fine people. Some of them have been volunteering at the Center for a decade or more. I hope that one day I will be able to look back on as many years of dedicated service.

This post is not written in a spirit of self-congratulation. To the contrary, I feel deep shame at having squandered so much of my life, turning a deaf ear toward the pleadings of the Gospel and a blind eye toward the needs of others. I am also still terribly troubled about the question of my second (and third, and fourth) coat, and all of the other comforts that I enjoy and do not yet share.

Dorothy Day said “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.”

This morning, for the first time, that statement gives me hope.

Obamacare and the Southern Strategy

Posted in Essays on October 2nd, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

I happened to run across a video from a late night TV show where they went into the street to interview people about the new health care law. They asked a simple question. “Which do you think is better, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?” Not realizing that the former is merely a nickname for the latter, the majority of those interviewed disliked Obamacare and liked the Affordable Care Act. When asked why, the interviewees expressed a laundry list of reasons, at the top of which seemed to be something about free choice.

This video may seem like it was a stunt, rigged for maximum comedy value, but polling in recent months has suggested that a large chunk of the U.S. electorate favors the policies set forth in the Affordable Care Act when they aren’t identified as Obamacare, but the same large chunk opposes the law when it is given that name. The ridiculous justifications people in the video made for their preference of ACA over Obamacare is fairly reflective of broad sentiment throughout the land.

How can this be? How is it that so many Americans can express such strongly felt opposition to a thing that they actually favor? This question has puzzled me since I first heard of the polling results awhile back. In pondering it, I believe that I may have identified not only what is at its root, but what is at the root of much of the acrimony in our politics today.

For nearly fifty years now, beginning with the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the GOP has pursued a strategy that exploits racial hatred and fear. Here’s how President Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips described the “Southern Strategy” during an interview with the New York Times in 1970.

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats

This strategy of racial polarization was successful in realigning our nation’s electoral politics, and it placed race at the center of the Republican Party’s agenda for the decades that have followed. In 1980, Lee Atwater (who was an adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, and chaired the Republican National Committee from 1989 to 1991) explained politics in the South like this.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Whether coded or more direct, the thrust of the strategy is to portray government (and particularly the federal government) as an entity that takes something away from hardworking (white) people who have “played by the rules and earned everything they have” in order to give it to undeserving, lazy, promiscuous (not white) people. Here’s a quote from President Reagan during his first run for President in 1976 where he describes a mythical “welfare queen.” He places her on the South Side of Chicago, a thinly veiled code to let his audience know her color.

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

Or there is Senator Jesse Helms’ re-election bid in 1990, where he attacked his opponent for support of “racial quotas” using a television ad depicting a white person’s hands, crumpling up a letter notifying him that he was denied a job because he was white.

Even when race is not explicitly mentioned, it is rarely unclear who these “undeserving” recipients of the government’s largesse are.

Whether the issue is terrorism, public assistance, Affirmative Action or the Affordable Care Act, the message from the Republican party is always the same. White Americans (i.e., “real” Americans) are having their rights, their livelihoods, their health and their safety endangered by a government that is intent on favoring people of other races.

Now, consider, for a moment, how President Obama’s opponents have portrayed him – even prior to his election in 2008. Remember Jeremiah Wright? Remember the birth certificate shenanigans? The fist bump controversy? Secret Kenyan Muslim Socialist bogeyman…

From the beginning of his first term in office, the Republican party has called into question not only Obama’s policies, but the very legitimacy of his Presidency. They have cultivated a base that is preoccupied with race, and they are now bound to play to that base. Also, this is successful. One need look no further than the hysteria over “Obamacare” for an example.

Lest you accuse me of being a partisan “playing the race card” let me point out that I have been very critical of President Obama over these past few years. I did not vote for him in the last election, and have publicly denounced his policies (both domestic and foreign). I have not refrained from criticism of the Democrats at large either. As to the Affordable Care Act, I see it mainly as a law that was written by the lobbyists for big health care providers, insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms. In other words, I am not a fan.

Still, when I see people portraying their stand against Obamacare as the moral and historical equivalent of taking a stand against the Nazis as they came to power, I have to ask myself what could possibly inspire such insane hyperbole. If there’s a better explanation than race baiting, I’m sure that I don’t know what it is.


Here’s a link to the Jimmy Kimmel video Six of One mentioned above.

Among The Believers

Posted in Essays on April 22nd, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

This is a repost of an article that I wrote in June of 2003. Events of the past week called it to mind.

“In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.

“If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers.”

– Inaugural Speech of Lyndon Baines Johnson, January 1965

For many years I would fly an American flag at my home on every day that weather permitted. From my earliest recollection it has represented something very deep and spiritual to me. It has represented unity.

At first, it was the unity of national identity – my tribe. In Oreana, Illinois, USA the tribe’s members were typically native midwestern, Anglo and Christian, but I had the sense very early that there was a bigger tribe. I was taught that America was a big place where all kinds of people came from all over the world. E Pluribus Unum – “From the Many, One.” What made us “one” people? Why did so many folks come from so far away and endure such hardship? They did it because they wanted to be free. So, sometime during grade school the flag began to represent freedom.

As I grew a little older, I began to learn that freedom is relative. I remember seeing Norman Rockwell’s depiction of “The Four Freedoms” – freedom from fear, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want. Growing up in the 1960s, it was easy to sense that some people living among us weren’t completely free. The ideal wasn’t being fully expressed and experienced yet. We had to keep working for it. This was only right and just and our duty as Americans. So the flag began to represent justice.

When I was 11 we moved to Decatur and I still recited dutifully with my hand over my heart every morning in home room – “with liberty and justice for all.” The flag was so beautiful. It embodied the most noble and desperate longings of humankind, and it belonged to me. It belonged to all of us at Stephen Decatur High School. It belonged to the Blacks and the Italians and the Greek girls who came to school with ashes on their foreheads at the beginning of Lent. It belonged to my history teacher, who was Jewish. It belonged to every creed and race, even us mutts of generic European extraction. It belonged to us all. The ideal belonged to us all. The dream belonged to every one of us, and we belonged to each other. One tribe out of many. E Pluribus Unum.

Now that I’m older, I realize how naïve some of my perceptions may have been about our distance from the ideal. The truth is that for many people in our society the words “liberty and justice for all” have sometimes been akin to a cruel joke. Despite that, I’ve never once doubted the ideal itself.

People used to poke fun at me for flying my flag all the time. “What’s up with the flag? It’s not a holiday today.” Then it seemed as if overnight that changed. Suddenly, there were flags everywhere. Stores were sold out of flags that had collected dust for years. People put flag decals on their cars and taped newsprint flags to their windows.

I’d like to fly my flag along with the others, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to most of the people waving it so frantically these days. In fact, the sentiment expressed by many is like some dark, shadow version of my American Ideal. It’s full of anger and revenge and political partisanship blended with no small measure of religious and racial bigotry. My flag isn’t like that. My flag isn’t about hatred or fear.

I worry about my flag and my country. The America we live in today seems so different from the America of my enduring imagination. I wonder if that America will survive this age of abundance. We’re obviously at a crossroads, at a time both of great opportunity and grave danger, and may well look back on this decade as a defining moment for generations to come.

I don’t know how well my generation will stand the test of “toil and tears” required to earn our heritage. I do know that what we have and what we own, our military and economic hegemony, these things will inevitably pass. What we are, what we stand for – unity, freedom, justice – these ideals will last.

Can we become, finally and truly, “a nation of believers?”

flag at evening

Why I’ll Vote Green in 2012

Posted in Essays on October 9th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Having vowed that I would not vote for President Obama again after he went back on his word and signed the NDAA, I have been a man without a party for much of the year. I’ve examined all of the candidates who are on the ballot here in Illinois (and several who are not). After months of thoughtful and prayerful consideration, I’ll be voting for the Green Party ticket of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala on November 6th.

Here’s why.

The Greens’ platformwhich focuses on democracy, social justice and sustainability, reflects my deepest values and concerns. It does that better than any other party on the ballot in Illinois. Also, the Greens have a record, both in the United States and worldwide, of putting these values into action when elected. I agree with what they propose, and I trust them to hold with it once in office.

The Greens are here to stay. The Republicans and Democrats do their best to keep a lock on ballot access throughout the United States. As a result, it is difficult for other parties (whether on the left or the right) to maintain a national presence over time. The U.S. Greens have continued to grow since first winning local races in Wisconsin back in 1986. They have contested the Presidency since 1996, and as a voluntary confederacy of state parties, they continue to build from the ground up. It seems to me that this is the only way to effectively challenge the powers that be over the long term.

The Greens are worldwide. The most serious problems we face in this age are not peculiar to the Unites States. In fact, I believe that our very existence as a species on this planet depends on organizing and working in solidarity internationally. The Greens are well established in Europe and Canada, and are gaining a foothold in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and throughout the Americas. Their call to “think globally and act locally” seems a practical approach to finding and implementing solutions.

My vote for the Greens can make a difference. Michael Harrington once remarked that the Democratic Party is “the left wing of reality” in the United States. Forty years later, one might well say the same thing of the Greens. I have no illusions that Stein will be elected President in 2012, but I do believe that helping the Green Party reach the threshold that offers them likely ballot access in future elections is the one cause where my vote will actually make a difference.

I’ve not yet decided to formally join the Green Party of Illinois. I plan to continue to learn more about their activities and organization over the coming months, as I’m doing with a lot of leftist and left-leaning groups at this point. I’d also like to see where leadership emerges and consensus develops on the left as the global political and economic crisis unfolds.

I know that my decision to cast my vote for the Greens this year will draw some criticism, particularly from my erstwhile colleagues in the Democratic Party, who will say that a vote for anyone other than President Obama is, in effect, a vote for Romney. To them, I simply reply that if Obama can’t win Illinois without my vote, then his candidacy is already doomed.

I also know quite a few Illinois Socialists who are still stinging from the Green Party’s challenge to their ballot petitions this year, and who may be sore at me for giving the Greens my support. Still other friends believe that participating in the electoral process at all only serves to support a decadent system that is at the root of most of our troubles to begin with. All I can say in response is that old habits die hard. I just can’t fathom staying away from the polls, or casting a write-in vote that won’t be counted.

A Fellow Worker that I once knew was fond of musing “If all of the people who say they wish there was a viable alternative would vote for an alternative, it would be viable.” My conscience tells me to put that sentiment into practice this year.

What is Fascism?

Posted in Commentary, Essays on August 6th, 2012 by Noebie – 1 Comment

Some words become so overused or misused that they become practically meaningless. “Fascist” seems to be one of those words. If you perform a Web search, you’ll discover nearly twenty-million results, ranging from historical information relating to the Fascist governments of Italy, Germany and others during the first half of the Twentieth Century, to current wild-eyed conspiracy theory, to polemics on the right condemning “eco-fascists,” “feminazis” and such.

I’ve posted some thoughts and resources about this subject here in the past. I believe that Fascist tendencies are real (and perhaps even ascendent) in American political life today. The threat they pose to justice and freedom cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is important to understand what Fascism really is, to recognize it when one sees it, and to oppose it with all of our will and resources.

First of all, here is what Fascism is not. Fascism is not simply any ideology that seeks to pressure or coerce or impose compliance. It is not ever a leftist, or Liberal ideology. Fascism should not be conflated with authoritarianism (although authoritarianism is certainly a central aspect). Fascism does not merely mean oppression, intolerance, bullying or totalitarianism.

George Orwell addressed these misuses of the term in 1944, noting that he had heard it applied to Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Catholics, fox hunters, bull fighting, shopkeepers, Olympic Committees and others. He also made note of the central issue in defining Fascism. “It is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”

What is Fascism, really? Mirriam-Webster defines Fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

So Fascism is, first and foremost, nationalistic in the extreme. It is also racist, authoritarian, regimented and coercive. Fascism stands opposed to liberty, equality and international solidarity – the classic hallmarks of Liberal Democracy (and the ideals of The Enlightenment).

Laurence W. Britt did a thorough study of Fascist regimes for a novel he wrote about right-wing extremists coming to power in the United States. He outlined the fourteen common characteristics of Fascism in Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. I would encourage you to read the entire article as published in Free Enquiry. Here are the bullet points.

  • Powerful and Continuing Expressions of Nationalism
  • Disdain for the Importance of Human Rights
  • Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
  • The Supremacy of the Military/Avid Militarism
  • Rampant Sexism
  • A Controlled Mass Media
  • Obsession with National Security
  • Religion and Ruling Elite Tied Together
  • Power of Corporations Protected
  • Power of Labor Suppressed or Eliminated
  • Disdain and Suppression of Intellectuals and the Arts
  • Obsession with Crime and Punishment
  • Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
  • Fraudulent Elections

Here is how I summarized the basic framework of Fascism in an earlier post.

  • The core Fascist values are nationalism, Anti-Marxism, and a profound disgust for Liberal Democracy.
  • Fascists glorify the past, before the country was “debased” by foreigners, homosexuals, minority religions and the like. Fascists see themselves as a reaction to those who are a threat to “our way of life,” and they identify (and attack, sometimes literally) these scapegoats.
  • The movement (and the state) is organized around corporatism and largely serves corporate interests.
  • Violence against external and internal “enemies” is encouraged to the point of glorification. Wars, torture, executions, assassinations and the use of excessive force by the police are welcomed in the battle to “protect us.” There is an obsession with militarism, and likewise with crime and punishment. There is a flexible attitude toward basic human rights and the rule of law, if infringements are seen as helping the cause.
  • There is utter disdain for (and there are attacks made on) labor unions, intellectuals and the arts.
This sounds all too familiar, yes?

What can we do to fight against Fascism? As is the case with so many issues in life, the first step is to recognize the problem. It’s important that we see things for what they are, and call them by their proper names. When we see people coalescing around a nationalistic philosophy which denigrates the arts and intellect, which glorifies militarism, which uses religion to justify discrimination against homosexuals and Muslims, which seeks to scapegoat immigrants and the poor, which attacks organized labor, which serves the wealthy and the corporations – that is Fascism, plain and simple. We should call it that, and we should debunk the oft-asserted notion that such a philosophy is equally valid to others. The history of the last century has shown us again and again what happens when this insidious ideology is allowed to take root.

We should also miss no opportunity to stand up for freedom, equality and solidarity. We must support those who are the victims of Fascist rhetoric. This means speaking up for human rights, equality and justice for all – for homosexuals, for immigrants, for minority religions, for the captives in our burgeoning prison system, for the poor and the dispossessed. We must support our labor unions when they come under attack in the name of “fiscal restraint” and must guard against the infringement of the right to organize. We must defend and support artists and intellectuals, in both the marketplace and in academia. We must oppose the idea that uninformed opinions and specious arguments are valid and are equal with fact-based, well informed and well reasoned ones. We must boycott and otherwise oppose the moneyed and corporate interests in favor of the small, the local and the economically oppressed.

Perhaps more than anything else, we must gather together with others of good will in our local communities to build relationships of trust and commitment, dedicated to the values and practice of democracy, justice and cooperation.

If this sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. I have come to believe that it is now a matter of survival, not just for our liberties, but for human life on the good Earth.

James Waterman Wise once said that Fascism would come to America “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of The Constitution.” It would appear that such an ideology  has, indeed, come – and very much as he predicted.

Shall we stand up?

★ ★ ★

More Reading:

Fascism, Anyone? - Laurence W. Britt, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.

What is Fascism? – George Orwell, London Tribune, 1944

Quotes on Fascism – Wikiquote

The Menace of Fascism: What it is and How to Fight It – Ted Grant, Oswald Mosley – Revolutionary Communist Party Pamphlet, 1948

Why I Won’t Vote Democrat In 2012

Posted in Essays on March 13th, 2012 by Noebie – 16 Comments

I have been a Democrat most of my life. Not once have I voted for a Republican candidate for President, and very seldom have I voted anything other than a straight D punch. There have been a few times that I may have felt it necessary to hold my nose while voting, but I “did my duty” and cast my vote for the Party if not the individual.

My sister calls me a “Dyed-in-the-Wool Democrat.” I have preferred the term “Yellow Dog Democrat” – meaning that if a yellow dog was running on the Democratic ticket, I’d have been inclined to vote for him.

But not this year. Here’s why.

On the national level, both parties have become so corrupted by the influence of big money that it’s impossible to trust either of them to do what’s right. For example, the healthcare reform bill that was signed into law by President Obama in 2010 was a massive gift to the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, having been largely shaped and molded by their lobbying efforts. If one of the defining achievements of the Democrats under Obama’s leadership is so tainted, how can one have faith in the rest of their policies? I won’t even start on the cozy relationship between the Obama Administration and the banksters, the revolving door between the government and Monsanto, the extrajudicial execution of American citizens, the codifying into law of indefinite detention. This is what the Democrats have to offer. None of it is acceptable to me.

Yes. Yes, I know. Of course the Republicans “are worse” – both in measure and in kind. So have we come to a lesser of two evils as default? Is that truly the only choice left to us?

Let’s turn to the local level. In my state, Democratic governor Pat Quinn has announced his intention to make deep cuts in Medicaid and human services and in the state’s pension programs. The result of these cuts will be increased misery for working people, children, the poor and the elderly. Protecting the most vulnerable among us from the ravages of poverty, and ensuring that there are opportunities for everyone in our society to advance in life is at the very core of what it has meant to be a Democrat for nearly a century. It is painfully evident that such is no longer the case.

Yes. Yes, I know. “Somebody has to make these hard choices. Somebody has to be the grownup in the room. Somebody has to deal with these shortfalls.” Again, of course the Republicans are worse. They offer no solutions, except even further cuts to essential programs, plus the prospects of further tax cuts that will make the problems even more acute. Does the obvious fact that the Republicans offer no viable alternative relieve the Dems of their obligation to offer principled solutions? I, for one, think not. How about ending giveaways to the Chicago Board of Trade, Sears, the Mercantile Exchange, et al, before we start hammering the piss out of the poor?

The examples cited above barely scratch the surface. To catalog the entire range of egregious sins of the Democrats in our day (both nationally and locally) would take more time than I care to offer, and I suspect that I’m boring you already.

It should be noted that I do not come happily to a decision to leave my Party this year. I was an early and ardent supporter of President Obama (and I still hope against hope that he will surprise us in a second term and lead us beyond the rocky ground). I was the coordinator in my county for Governor Quinn’s election campaign last time (though I now fear that he is beyond redemption). I still serve as treasurer of the Coles County Democratic Party, and plan to complete my term (a few more weeks). I wish the Democrats every success. I cannot, however, support them with my vote nor my contributions until their conscience has been found.

In the meantime, I’m a man without a party. I will not vote in the Primary Election in Illinois this year for the first time since 1976. I have not yet decided whether to vote in the Fall of 2012. That will depend on whether or not there is a candidate and a platform outside of the two major parties that reflect my convictions.

Godspeed the day when we face better choices once again.

It’s The Consensus, Stupid

Posted in Essays on February 4th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

It is bewildering how many really smart, well-formed, progressive thinkers seem to have not yet achieved a critical shift in perception concerning the worldwide struggle for freedom and democracy.

Naomi Wolf recently wrote in The Guardian that Occupy needs to avoid getting “bogged down in consensus decision-making” and instead should focus on “media exposure, a clear message, smart soundbites, clearly stated demands, and, most importantly, tasked, empowered negotiators working on the inside in concert with mass disrupters applying pressure from without.” She cites some excellent examples of effective political advocacy from the past, including the work of Act Up in gaining fast-track approval for AIDS drugs that have since saved millions of lives.

This sort of “get to the point” criticism of the Occupy Movement has been raised from many quarters nearly ad nauseam since the very start – and it completely misses the point. Consensus decision-making is, in this movement, not a means to another end. It’s not about which method is most effective in building the movement or in achieving political goals. It is the goal.

Our current economic and governmental systems are pushing up against the natural physical limits of sustainability. They are, without a single solitary doubt, coming to an end – and quite soon, I think. The question is not whether the old order will fall, the question is what sort of new order will take its place.

As I see it, there are only two alternatives: slavery or community. Either we will drift increasingly toward a system that is dominated by ever more repressive governments at the service of multi-national corporations (that will continue to plunder and exploit until nothing is left), or we will find ways to create local, self-governing, non-coercive associations where people willingly work together to ensure that everyone has the basic necessities of life and the opportunity to develop their true human potential.

The Occupy Movement is creating and demonstrating that model. Making decisions by consensus is the entire point. If that process is abandoned for the sake of “efficiency” – or even “effectiveness” – the battle will have already been lost.

It is a waste of precious time and energy to tinker around at the edges in a quest for political influence over systems that are already crumbling. It is time to create the new society within the shell of the old.

The “leaderless movement” is leading the way.

War Is Over If YOU Want It

Posted in Essays on December 21st, 2011 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

This past week saw the formal end of a war that lasted more than eight years, resulted in more than 150,000 deaths and countless more injuries, and cost trillions of dollars. I find myself struggling with ambivalence in its wake.

I am thankful, of course, that the last of our troops have finally left Iraq and that they will now be able to come home to their loved ones. I am grateful to all who served. I am hopeful that we may not see another struggle like this in my lifetime.

I am, at the same time, mindful of the continuing war in Afghanistan, frightened by the sabre rattling over Iran, and frustrated at our seeming inability to find better ways to resolve conflicts in the game of nations.

Last year, the United States spent $687,105,000,000 (and change) on the military. That is, by far, that largest military budget of any nation on Earth. It is more than 40% of all military spending on the planet. It is more than was spent by all of the other nations ranking in the top 15 of military budgets combined. It is more than six times what China (number two in military expenditures) spent. It represents nearly 5% of our Gross Domestic Product, and constitutes well over half of our federal budget.

As staggering as those figures may seem, they do not include expenses that are not part of the formal Pentagon budget. When you include related spending that is not under the Department of Defense (such as foreign arms deals, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, defense-related costs at the Department of Energy, FBI Counterterrorism efforts, interest on debt incurred for wars, etc.) the total price tag balloons to more than $1 trillion dollars annually. By some estimates, the figure is close to $1.5 trillion.

China spends less than $75 per capita on the military each year. The United States spends more than $2100 per capita each year on the DoD budget alone. Add in the other defense-related expenses listed above, and we’re crowding five grand per year in military spending for every man, woman and child in the country.

By conservative estimates, the United States now has active duty military personnel on the ground in more than 100 countries around the globe, and maintains more than 650 bases on foreign soil.

Abraham Maslow said “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” America seems cursed with the hammer of military might…

Though the current situation may seem overwhelmingly daunting to people who care about peace and justice, and we may be tempted to think of it as a remote and inaccessible problem, in truth it is not.

Today I pray for an end to the war in Afghanistan. I pray for an end to violence as an accepted solution to conflict on God’s good Earth. Especially in this Season of Christmas to come, I will pray that humankind will open our hearts to the Spirit of the Prince of Peace.

Prayers, however, will not be enough. We need to take away the hammer, or at least put some new tools in the box.

If the events of this past year have taught us anything, they have taught us that the power of ordinary people who come together, resolute in solidarity, seeking justice, is greater than any other power on Earth.

War is over, if you want it.

Do you?



Imagine Peace

The Carter Center

The Albert Einstein Institution

Pax Christi USA

The Peace Alliance

The United Nations Association of the United States

If you are involved in an organization that practices peace and advocates for it, or if you have other resources to recommend, please leave a comment or email me with a link and I’ll consider posting it here.


Godspeed, Whoever You Are

Posted in Essays on December 8th, 2011 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

He approached the van with a broad smile on his face while I was waiting to pick my daughter up from school. I’d arrived a few minutes early, and was catching up on some reading. He gestured to me, and I rolled down the window.

He asked me directly “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes I am.”

“Are you reading the Word right now?” His eyes were friendly and soulful.

I smiled back at him. “This afternoon I’m reading politics.”

“But you are a Christian?” It seemed an important question to him.

“Of course.”

He now appeared rather nervous and I began to wonder what kind of conversation this was going to be. He pulled a card out of his pocket and brought it up to my eye level. It was his driver’s license.

“This is me. This is who I am. I’ve got money too. I can show you. I’ve got to get to Chicago and I need eight more dollars for my fare.”

I considered, for a moment. I knew that I had a five dollar bill and a few singles in my wallet. Before I could discern, he volunteered more information. “I don’t drink or anything.” For some reason, I believed him, though it really didn’t matter.

We seldom see people asking for money on the street in our small town. When we’re visiting the city, if someone is panhandling I almost always give them a few bucks (if I can spare it and unless it seems unsafe to do so). Although friends have occasionally derided me for “supporting someone’s bad habits,” my response has been that it’s not up to me to take on that particular burden of judgment. Let God sort it out.

The man seemed dressed for the weather, clean and not shabby. He told me that he’d had a good job providing transportation to senior citizens until state funding was cut, and then he had lived with his mother until her house was foreclosed. How he ended up here, or what was waiting for him in Chicago, I didn’t ask. By that point I was already handing him the five and three ones.

“This’ll get you there?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you. I’ll worry about finding something to eat later.”

I wished him good luck as he started to walk away, and then, struggling for a cheery admonition, added ”I’m trusting you.” As soon as the words crossed my lips I regretted them.

He stopped, looking crestfallen, almost as if he was going to give the money back. “I wouldn’t lie to you. I’ll be on that train at 6 o’clock.” With that, he was on the move again, and I noticed for the first time that he was carrying a backpack.

I called out “God bless you,” as an afterthought.

By the time he had turned the corner I wished that I had done more. His comment about finding something to eat stuck with me. I had eight more singles in my wallet. I could have at least given him enough for a sandwich. I realized that I hadn’t done it because his comment had sounded like a slick panhandler’s line. I had judged the man, and shown him disrespect. I guess I was willing to “let God sort it out” when it came to a couple bucks, but when it approached the princely sum of ten, I didn’t want to be taken for a sucker.

The guilt that I felt at that moment was terrible. I recalled the words of Jesus, and they shamed me. “I was hungry, and you fed me not.”

There were still a few minutes before the kids were dismissed, so I got out of the van and started walking, hoping to find him. I saw someone walking from the nearby grocery store with what looked like a six pack of beer and (still yielding to judgment and suspicion) at first thought it might be him, but then realized by the hat and lack of backpack that it wasn’t. I went into the church to see if he was there waiting in the warmth until time for the train. The church was empty, and now it was time to go collect my daughter.

Back in the van and headed for home, my conscience was still bothering me. I told my daughter “We’re going to take a little detour.” I figured I would drive the five or six blocks to the train station in case he might be there, and then circle back toward the school on our way home in case he was still walking somewhere in between. I was almost desperate in the quest to find him and make amends for what I had said and for what I had failed to do.

To my delight, as we rounded the corner near the depot, I spotted him approaching it from the other direction. I pulled to the curb and rolled down the window. He recognized the van and walked over to us, smiling just as he had earlier.

“Hey, man – I should have given you some money for a sandwich. This is all I’ve got with me, but it ought to at least get you one meal.”

He nodded and grinned warmly. “Thanks. I think they’ve got hot dogs and stuff on the train.”

We shook hands through the open window, and suddenly he looked a little embarrassed. “You could tell that I’m homeless?”

I didn’t really know how to respond, but as we released our handshake I said “The depot is open and it ought to be warm in there until your train comes.”

“Yeah. Thanks again.”

“Good luck in Chicago.”

As we pulled from the curb, my daughter asked “Was that a homeless man?”


As many as 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness in each year, with nearly three-quarters of a million homeless at any given time. The main cause of homelessness continues to be the lack of affordable housing. We can help by volunteering at local shelters, by contributing to organizations like Catholic Charities, by offering our prayers, and (perhaps most importantly of all) by showing our respect for the human dignity of homeless people we encounter.

I don’t know the name of the man I met today, and I will probably never know how his story turns out. I wish him godspeed on his journey, and good luck in the big city. He gave me much more than I gave him.

Farewell To Thee

Posted in Essays on December 7th, 2011 by Noebie – 2 Comments

On this, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we remember those who lost their lives that day, and those who served their country in the Second World War. We pray for peace in our own day.

The photo above (from the National Archives) depicts sailors honoring those killed during the attack on the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe, Oahu. This ceremony likely took place on Memorial Day of 1942.

The official U.S. Naval History and Heritage site recounts that the attacks of December 7th, 1941 caught the United States by surprise.

By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan’s diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.

More than 2400 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack and nearly 1300 more were wounded.

It is difficult for those of us who weren’t alive at the time of this attack to fully comprehend what it meant to those who were, and the mark it left on their memories. I know that December 7th was a solemn day for my mother throughout her life, as it was for other family members, particularly those who were serving at the time or who followed the call soon thereafter.

I find myself filled with feelings of sorrow and bewilderment today. I wonder what lessons we might draw from the events at Pearl Harbor and those that preceded and followed. I ponder how I might have reacted had I lived in my parents’ generation. I mourn the lost and ruined lives that are always the cost of war. I consider the grave personal responsibility to work for peace and justice in this world (for that is a task that cannot be entrusted to the politicians, the diplomats and the generals). I pray for those who are living with war on this December 7th.

Surely there must be a better way.