Friday, October 30, 2015

Thoughts on a weekend of activism


Faith leaders at Duffy Square

Thoughts on a weekend of activism....

Thursday.  The prayer time at Holy Cross was meaningful. But I am surprised at how few of us are there. Especially after an endorsement from the Chloe Breyer/ Linda Sarsour Micah committee. I expected something very simple yet profoundly moving like our service at Trinity the morning before our City Hall die in. Who was in charge? What was the expectation? Didn't feel like the event was "owned" by our community as truly ours. 

The silent walk to Duffy Square ( how cool to have been in "fightin' Father Duffy's church and Square ) was meaningful. As our small entourage made its way down 42nd and up Broadway, we passed through streams of tourists and morning coffee drinkers. Passing through the parklet where the various cartoon and superhero characters  donned their vestments for the day. Many appear to be Central American immigrants. Our witness train passing silently through the crazy quilt of humanity that is Times Square.

Lost children
More of us joined in at Duffy Square. A homeless woman I've known for years, a former college professor, offered to buy my morning coffee. The names and stories read by Eve Ensler and her partner were truly moving.  I loved seeing the Grannies for Peace contingent out again.
The Grannies for Peace
And a contingent repping the Bay 
Area, all the way from California.
All the way from the Bay
And still I wondered what the expectation has been. 
Brother Phelps brings the word

Friday afternoon. Russ and I go to meet Marsha at the Town and Village synagogue on the East Side for a Metro New York Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) press conference with Senator Schumer on the issue of gun safety. The Sanctuary was filled to overflowing a half an hour before the press arrived, each congregant leader pledging so much turnout and delivering. 

The host rabbi opened with a reflection on Leviticus 19:16, Do not stand idly by while our brothers' blood is spilled.. There were testimonies from families that had experienced loss of members-- children-- from guns. ( A recurring theme of the weekend) Then the analysis -- the results of the study that IAF always does. What I most remember is that 1% of gun sellers provide over 60% of the guns used in murders. And that the US government is the number one buyer of guns. 
Then came the demand for Senator Schumer, what we expect him to pledge to do and actually do. Well thought out, specific, achievable. Like getting the US government to isolate those 1% stores. To pursue the development of  smart guns. 
Senator Schumer pledges his support

And several other measures I don't remember except that they made sense. The language is shifting from control to safety. Senator Schumer, before pledging had support, asked why if rational limits were appropriate for the first amendment, why not for the second? Then he committed himself to bringing these proposals to the congress.
Marsha and Russ

I'm aware of the criticism of IAF. But you can't get around it, they get things done. Being about real change in ways that don't grab headlines but in this case make the world safer. Sometimes that marginally better means a lot. They truly are engaged in building power, increasing participatory democracy. They've figured out the importance of congregations, the importance of faith to sustain us through a struggle. We need to understand IAF as it is, not as it was. And learn. As they have learned.
Russ and Bob

I wasn't able to be there but had been invited to speak at an afternoon rally for the New York/ New York  4 project to bring about expanded affordable housing.. 500 gathered on Friday, October 23 to call on the Mayor and the Governor to commit to 35,000 supportive housing units statewide over the next ten years for our most vulnerable. Our faith leader delegation,  released a letter with 237 names to the Mayor and Governor. The Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, which I chair, had gathered the faith leaders signatures. Once again, 35000 real homes are at stake. A good job of organizing.

Saturday. Heading towards Washington Square Park, gathering place for the Rise Up October! Which Side Are You On? march.  Making my way through NYU parents and Alumni filling the streets and sidewalks carrying their purple tote bag swag. How big a crowd will this be? The march has been billed as a mass march and action. Drawing people from around the country. 
Brother West brings the word

The park is pretty packed. Families have been telling their stories. Cornell West is introduced. The peoples' intellectual.....the peoples' prophet. He  is introduced as a revolutionary  ChristianI wonder exactly what that means. What does it demand of those of us who want to claim that name. Peter Heltzel of the Micah  Institute refers to many of us as freedom fighters. Do we really deserve that name?  

Cornell tells us this is struggle is defined by love. He quotes, as he so often does, Sly Stone (every day people) and the Isley Brothers, c'mon aboard the love train....that we are on a love train, and if you love the people, the every day people, you have to hate what oppresses them.  And I wonder how you separate the what from who. That question will come up again.
At Washington Square

The erstwhile revolutionary Carl Dix, a constant presence in the streets, constant companion to the grieving families, gives us our final instructions. The families will lead the way. Other than Russ, the only faith leader I recognize is our friend Clyde. Where is everyone?

The march winds its way up 5th, a long ways to go to Bryant Park….Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell… The chanting has begun. Along the march, I try to identify various communist denominations by their signs or slogans….We are the rev coms, mighty mighty rev coms; everywhere we go, people want to know so we tell them...along with the student Revolution Clubs nearby, clearly the Revolutionary Communists. Those ahead chanting Asian, Latino, black and white, workers of the world unite, clearly not Maoist rev coms, more likely Trotskyites.  CUNY Internationalist Clubs, more traditional. The breakaway Party for Socialism and Liberation. The neo-Maoist let us unite everyone New Communist Party (Liaison Committee) and their student cadre, the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee. Did I miss anyone? I'm wondering how all these groups were pulled together given their theological/ideological differences. Good work.

I'm also wondering what happened to the multi-culti straight and queer cadres of the New York Justice League and their Occupy alumni who were so prominent from fall to spring last year in the streets with black lives matter. Were they reached out to or passed over? How hard is it to get all of us together around which side are you on? 

I hear the song of the Peace Poets from the Bronx, I can hear my brother crying I can't breathe...but where are they? Did anyone invite them?  They have a whole march’s worth of movement songs to unite diverse people.

…If you want justice to be done, we need revolution….

..How do we get out of this mess? Revolution nothing less…

I wonder what that word means to these young marchers. It's fun to yell with a clenched fist. But are they really ready? Do they know what happened to Fred Hampton and the Panthers? How close were they to Kent State when the bullets flew and four young bodies fell? Do they have any idea of what the empire is capable of and are they disciplined enough, ready enough to go all the way?

…Hey hey ho ho these racist cops have to got to go….

Marching. Chanting. Marchers making their way slowly up 5th. Police silently watching the procession. The shooting of a police officer this week is an underlying source of unspoken tension. As we near Bryant Park, that tension rises with chants of Fuck the police and all who fuck with them. How do you spell racist? NYPD. 

And the one that really got to me, repeated over and over, Oink Oink! Boom boom. Oink Oink! Boom. Boom. I understand,  I really do, the depth of the anger that currently exists. Or on the other hand, maybe I don't...Maybe I can't truly know what it's like to have one’s body and life vulnerable at any moment to armed foot soldiers of an occupying powers’ whims and emotions.

But there was something almost too joyous in that Oink! Oink!  I get this Lord of the Flies feeling. Where is Cornell's Love Train? And here's the thing,I can't go there. Because if the police are pigs, then they aren't human, then they aren't responsible ,they can't be held morally accountable and held to a standard of behavior needed in a just society. They must be humans with moral agency if our witness is to mean anything at all. 

So what the role of a revolutionary Christian in this movement? Can we be more than bodies? Can our visibility be more than collars? In a sea of self-identified communists, I saw one small sign for Quakers. What about the rest of us? What is our message? Next march, could we have a cadre of 10-12 marching with a sign announcing Revolutionary Christians in Solidarity and other signs? What exactly is the revolution we believe in? Do we simply withdraw from the empire and create alternative realities within the body of the empire? When and how do we engage the power that stands behind the deaths of innocent black and brown people, brutality and mass incarceration? 

And for my communist brothers and sisters, how do we make this a real mass movement? Beyond the 1-2000 the hard working cadre turned out here today to numbers more like Occupy if not Climate. This began as a grass roots people's movement. Where are the now? 

We come to Bryant Park and march all the around it. Start a second time around. Wait a minute. So they'll hold the rally right here. More families will tell their stories. What is sad is how many need to have their story told.

Russ and I leave  the rally. Cross the park to the outdoor cafe to sit and review the day, raising these questions as we raise an Octoberfest pint. About the time we raise a second, batons are raised as police wade into the crowd and start cuffing  people for no apparent reason. Some two dozen or so are cuffed and then taken away. Most are immediately released indicating that maybe this was just acting out. Pent up frustrations from tired cops. Maybe their way of returning the steady steam of  fuck yous. Which they are supposed  to be trained not to do. 

My body so tired, it's the most walking I've done since I broke my ribs. My head is more tired. Questions. Rise up.....

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