Over the years, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve been somewhat of an arm chair liberal. I’ve talked a lot with my friends about politics and social change, and I’ve complained a lot about the things that are wrong with our society. Yet I haven’t really volunteered much to try to make any changes in our society. My brother and his wife put me to shame in this sense. Over the years, they have taken part in protests for immigrant rights and to fight the invasion of Iraq, and they are now working with the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports to reduce pollution in the Ports of southern California. Right now they are working on a postcard campaign to persuade local politicians and Congress to support the Clean Trucks program. Attached is the copy of the postcard and here is the website for more information about the Coalition: http://www.cleanandsafeports.org/. I deeply admire them for their activism and willingness to get involved to try to improve their community and their country. I did a cartoon for Everyday Citizen about my cartoon character Jasper taking part in a protest.
Last week I decided to attend my first vigil. It was a vigil on health care reform on September 2, 2009 at the corner of Stevens Creek Boulevard and Winchester Road in San Jose, California. I went with my friend Dave, who officiated my wedding with Lisa 4 years ago, and is a passionate liberal and a former nurse. When I was researching health care reform to try to form an opinion, I would ask people that I knew in the health care field what their opinions were. Dave has definite opinions of the health care debate.
It was a fun vigil. Several people were there for the first time, and I think everyone was invigorated to meet other people who shared the same passion for health care reform. During the vigil, a large group of people lined themselves at the corner of the street and waved signs at passing cars. If the cars approved of the message of universal health care, they would honk their horns. At the same time, the organizer of the event would allow various individuals to go to the microphone and tell of their own individual stories about their experiences being sick and the financial toll that they suffered. As the night encroached, we lighted candles.
I was amazed at how many cars honked their horns in support of health care reform. A lady next to me, who participated in past vigils protesting the war in Iraq, mentioned that there were far more cars honking their horns for health care reforms than honked their horns for peace. The people who were participating in the vigil were very diverse, with many different nationalities, age groups, and an even mix of men and women. Dave and I met unexpectedly met some friends whom we hadn’t seen in over a year.
A highlight for me was in meeting Father Bill Leininger. When I first talked to him, he mentioned that in the past he had marched with Cesar Chavez and had met Dorothy Day, and I was really impressed with him. After the vigil was over, I mentioned this priest in my facebook site and a friend told me that Father Leininger is a pioneer clergy in the social protest movements of the past 40 years. I went on the internet and found that in recent years, Father Leininger has joined in vigils in support of protests in support of janitors at Cisco System, to support WalMart employees, and to fight for immigrant rights. Last May, SIREN (Services, Immigrant Rights, & Education Network), 2nd Annual Fundraiser gave Father Leininger their Advocate Award for his years of support of immigrant rights. After finding this out, I wish I had gotten a chance to talk to Father Leininger more.
If you want to know more about what activists are doing around the country, this website, Crossleft, is a good source of information. The Crossleft bloggers are all activists in various progressive Christian causes and are good sources for progressive action. Two magazines are also excellent sources. One is the Catholic Worker. Founded in the depths of the Great Depression by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker chronicles the work of a progressive Catholic movement founded by Day and Maurin to help the poor and fight for peace.
In the August-July 2009 Catholic Worker, Jenny Thomas wrote an article about a group of Catholic Workers who went to a Gaza border crossing to deliver $17,000 of medical supplies to a hospital in Gaza. The members of the Catholic worker team, Beth Brockman, Mark Colville, Brenna Cussen, Colin Gilbert, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, and Jenny Thomas, went to the Dheished Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, the Palestinian farmers cut off from any water supply, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
Ric Rhetor wrote an article about the New Sanctuary movement and a vigil they held on July 7 outside the Federal Court in New York. It was for Roxroy Salmon and his appeal to stay in the country. RoxRoy is an organizer at Families for Freedom and a member of the New Sanctuary Coalition. Because of minor drug convictions from over 20 years ago, he is facing removal proceedings. The court gave Roxroy an order of deportation, but his lawyer has filed for a deferred action.
Z Magazine is an independent magazine based in Boston. Z Magazine has a radical point of view and chronicles the efforts of activists to make this world a better place.
In the July/August 2009 issue of Z Magazine, there was an article mentioning the closing of Northland Poster Collective after 30 years of creating art, slogans, posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, poems and quotes for unions, grassroots activists, and social justice movements. The organization was an activist organization and art group, and it provided such slogans for picket lines as “The Labor Movement: The Folks That Brought You The Weekend”, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Cross Picket Lines”, and “Unions: The Anti-Theft Device For Working People”. The troubles that Northland Poster Collective have faced are being faced by all left wing media center.
In the September 2009 issue of Z Magazine, nine activists were arrest in August in Fort McCoy in Tomah, Wisconsin, for protesting U.S. wars in Iraq and Afganistan and for the continuing U.S. possession of nuclear weapons. These nine activists were also commemorating the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima in August 6 and Nagasaki in August 9. Four members of the group were taken to Madison where they faced federal trespass charges.
One of my favorite books is Grace Paley’s book, Just As I Thought is chronicles her years of activism against war and racism, and for her years of teaching. I’ve admired the humorous and down-to-earth perspective that Paley brings to her recollections of protesting the Vietnam War and the various vigils against nuclear weapons. In an interview with Meredith Smith and Karen Kahn, Paley talked about the importance of Americans to use their privileges to fight for social causes.
“But we were just talking about civil disobedience. Some people think it’s an elite act because some of us have privileges of white skin or maybe jobs we won’t lose the minute we are arrested. Well, it’s true that people of color are treated worse in prison than white women. They are. (Of course, the great civil disobedience movements- King, Gandhi- were not exactly white). When white women (or men) use the argument- therefore nobody should do it- I don’t understand them. It seems to me that privilege is obligation, that if it’s easier to go to jail, so to speak, or more possible, then direct actions that may lead to arrest are exactly what we ought to undertake when that is what’s called for.
It’s sort of like having democratic rights and not using them. It’s a totally different subject but people will always come to you when you’re giving out leaflets and say, ‘You wouldn’t be able to do that in Russia.’ So therefore you shouldn’t do it here? Well, of course you have an obligation to push the privileges of democracy, to push and extend them everywhere. And people who can should do so. We also have to be willing to divide up the work without feeling that some folks are being snotty about it or braver. They’re not braver. For instance, when my children were babies, I was a lot more cautious. We much investigate, imagine, press the limits of nonviolent action.”
My favorite book of activism is Howard Zinn’s recollection You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train. Zinn’s book chronicles his life of activism, from the time he was a teacher at an black women’s school in Spellman College in the 1950s, and his work in the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement. He wrote something that describes the importance of vigils and protests and petition writing in the cause of social change. He wrote:
“Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that homosexuals are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military interventions despite the brief surge of military madness during the Gulf War.
It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.
There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment we will continue to see. We forget how often in this century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.
The bad things that happen are repetitions of bad things that have always happened- war, racism, maltreatment of women, religious and nationalist fanaticism, starvation. The good things that happen are unexpected.
Unexpected, and yet explainable by certain truths which spring at us from time to time, but which we tend to forget: Political power, however formidible, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous are those who hold it) Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a down-deep common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.
People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so. Human beings everywhere want the same things: they are moved by the sight of abandoned children, homeless families, the casualties of war; they long for peace, for friendship and affection across lines of race and nationality.
Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zig-zag towards a more decent society.
We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”