Monday, April 30, 2007

Neat Site

Via Fr. Jim, a site that tracks the "history" of "the future" - lots of it is probably deeply embarassing to surviving prognosticators from the 1950s and 60s.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Journeys with Jood: Tuesday Topics - 50 Ways

Journeys with Jood: Tuesday Topics - 50 Ways is a post from a delightful blog I've just discovered - worth a look.

Speaking of Light Shining in the Darkness...

There is a shelter that serves battered women in North and South Dakota called Pretty Bird Woman House. They are a "Light Shining in the Darkness," and they need your help to stay open - they are down to their last few dollars. If you possibly can, please give.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Light amid the darkness

I have a rather unusual background. My father was an Irish immigrant and mom was raised in a rural part of central California - that's not the unusual part.

My father was an engineer at Chevron for thirty years, and mom was what they used to call a "homemaker." That also is not unusual, at least for my generation (I was born in 1962.)

What is unusual, at least for white Americans, is where I was raised: in Richmond, California, in a neighborhood that was situated between two housing projects (Kennedy Manor and the Easthill projects, for those who know the area.)

I will talk in a bit about some of the dark events that haunt me from that time and place: that is not the theme of this Post, though. The theme is actually a favorite passage of scripture:

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

I want to tell you what it is like in some of the poorer and more violent parts of this country, but I want you to remember:

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

I grew up watching television that had a mysterious lack, to my naive young eyes, of people that looked like my neighbors. Adam 12. Bewitched. Ed Sullivan. The Andy Williams Show. Or if they did appear, they were in either stereotypical roles like the Buffoon (Flip Wilson) or the Token (Mannix's black secretary).

I was perplexed by this omission. Everyone I knew - friends, enemies, the fathers and mothers in the neighborhood - was black. My teachers were black (mostly). All of my classmates were black. We were Catholic, and went to Mass in Berkeley (at St. Joseph the Worker parish). There, there were a mix of '60s Catholic radicals (think Dorothy Day), and recent Mexican immigrants. Again, minority white.

Life in my neighborhood could be quite rough - rough enough that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from some of the incidents there. Ray, my best friend, was murdered. When I was 9 years old, I was taken into a backyard and (literally) whipped. I was good friends with a couple of kids down the block, whose father was a boxer. I endured some absolutely savage beatings (many) by his sons in their garage. My youngest brother, when he was about 4, was grabbed in an alley by some high-school-aged boys, and dangled screaming over a fence, on the other side of which was a German Shepard snarling and salivating.

Please, I beg you, do not look away.

Because "A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

When I was 12, my father threw me across the room, and my head smacked the corner post of my bed. I bled for a few minutes, ran my head under the bathroom sink to wash the blood out of my hair, and went to my sixth grade class. There, for one of the few times in my life, it got to be too much, and I suddenly wept in great gusting sobs. Some of my classmates laughed, but I realize now that by doing so they were running away from the pain we all shared, the pain that I was unable to keep myself from openly expressing.

"Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

That afternoon, I walked across Richmond (there is a God...) to the police station. I'd watched Dragnet, so I knew the police would be interested in child abuse. So I marched in, and prepared to give a sober, just-the-facts-ma'am report in my best Jack Webb imitation. Behind the counter was a pretty police woman, and her smiling eyes were the kindest I had ever seen, eyes that said, "I'm here for you." Jack Webb was suddenly forgotten, and she was confronted by a 12 year old who was crying so hard he was unable to speak.

She took me into the back, and handed me off to a policewoman who worked with CPS (Child Protective Services) cases. The woman took my report, and afterward, when I mentioned that I liked Dragnet, she gave me a tour of the police station: introduced me to some of the other officers, took me by the watch commander's desk, showed me the holding cells, etc.

Then, she took me by the criminal files, and showed me a few of them. "Here's one. He was first arrested for burglary when he was 14, then...let's see...stole a car when he was he's waiting trial for Armed Robbery. Oh, and this other file...really sad...guy had a breaking and entering charge when he was just 13 - imagine that - and now is in San Quentin for manslaughter..."

What she was doing was showing me in the most vivid way she could, "I know your life is hard, but don't go this way. Don't end up like these boys." I got the message.

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

I attend a Survivors of Urban Violence group, and have heard many stories similar to mine. One woman lost both of her grandchildren to murder. Despite, or maybe because of, the pain, she spends every free moment doing her best to mentor the kids in her neighborhood, working her tail off in diversion programs etc. Like me, she has refused to believe that murder, that hatred, that retaliation is all we can expect in this world.

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Hers is in many ways a lonely and thankless quest, and yet she works, even though her soul is all but crushed by grief. She works because she hopes, in spite of all the evidence that confronts her every day. She deserves every bit of help she can get, every word of encouragement I can give her.

My life could have gone in many directions, mostly bad. That I did not is evidence that there is a God, and as a result of a few people who lit the darkness, like the police women, like the camp counselors at the day camp I went to for urban kids, like the kindly, elderly neighbor lady next door who took me in sometimes and told me what a wonderful young man I was, and how she knew I would grow into someone really special. (To this day I have a special place in my heart for old black ladies. They rock!)

The wounds I describe still bleed (I cried a bit writing this diary) but I survived. I am here, and getting more whole by the day (though sometimes I wish life had a fast-forward button). And hear this: I forgive the ones who caused me pain. I love them unconditionally, I pray that they may find wholeness, despite their own darkness. They were in worse pain than me.

I'll close with a quote from Martin Luther King which seems apropos. I think especially of the woman I described who is working in the ghetto, despite her weariness, to be a light shining in the darkness.

“Then the Greek language comes out with the word, “agape.” Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that this is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we’ve tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline.

So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

Dr King is almost 40 years in the grave, but it is truer than my own existence:

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

DLC Dems and Big Business

A post by Andrew Golis over at Josh Marshall's TPM, or more exactly the update with the comment from "Reader RA" is exactly what bugs me about the DLC approach to policy that has so harmed the Democrats with their working-class base that needs to be urgently remedied.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Progressive" Part I

I'd like to write today about the very definition of the words, "Liberal" "Progressive" and "Left." There are lots of people who would describe themselves as one or more of these. Obviously, people can define themselves however they want; I think a better definition of Liberal or Progressive might help us to tell our story more clearly.

In this Post, I would like to define what I mean by "Left" or "Progressive." In Part II, I will, in light of that definition, offer some policy proposals.

The left in the United States has deep roots; I will define Progressives as:

"Those who stand with the weak in our society, and defend them from the strong."

There has been a streak of leftism thus defined, throughout American history. Abolitionists stood with fellow Americans who were held as slaves in the southern United States, and against their power-sickened masters who presumed the right to enslave their fellow Americans on the basis of their separate ancestries.

The Temperance movement stood with women who were impoverished by the inability of alcoholic men to earn steady, reliable wages to feed their families. I think it's fair to say that having a heavy drinker in the family has always been harder on women, especially in terms of domestic violence, than it has been on men.

The Progressives and the Labor movement stood with child workers and immigrants toiling in the early factories of the Industrial Revolution, and against the "Malefactors of Great Wealth," Railroad Barons and Industrialists, who heartlessly exploited them.

The New-Dealers stood with millions of frightened Americans who were "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished..." and against the do-nothing Republicans who wanted to "Let the Market" provide for these citizens (sound familiar?).

What do we stand for? Or, much better put: Who do we stand With?

Who I stand with:

The millions of my fellow citizens who, to be blunt, live in neighborhoods where the possibility of being murdered is an ever-present, commonly-experienced reality.

The millions of my fellow citizens who are one paycheck away from homelessness, one illness away from bankruptcy.

The millions of my fellow citizens who are enslaved and exploited by pay-day lenders, rent-to-own joints, and more.

The many, many millions of my fellow Americans who have worked harder and more productively, and made their companies' stockholders and executives richer and richer over the last 30 years, and have received, not a "thank you" and a raise, but cut benefits, stagnant wages, retaliation for trying to unionize their workplaces, and more.

Eugene Debs once said: "Years ago I recognised my kinship with living things, and made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that where there is a lower class, I am in it; where there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."