Friday, April 27, 2007

Recap for April 22, 2007

Earth Day. WARNING: This discussion contains ideas which may challenge the reader to be an active advocate for justice.

We convened at 9:20 am.
We begin with a reminder about protocol. Everyone gets a chance to speak once before one of us gets to speak twice. Today Thomas is telling his story.

We had brief reports on:
· The recent World Affairs Council session on compensation of performers.
· The 2012 group gathering last night went very well.
· Upcoming Salon at on the 29th about alternative energy, with two hurdy-gurdy players, and a Tacoma City Council member.
· A reminder of the 26th dine-out for life, benefit to Pierce County AIDS foundation.
· The Courage and Renewal sessions on race. Six members of the Conversation were there, next one June 9 on how race affects organizations in the community. Members in attendance had high praise for it.

The discussion after Thomas’ story focused on a point he raised, of young people (defined as under 30) are less politically active and more supportive of the policies of the current Administration. Most of us in the Conversation are looking for some action that leads toward progressive change, and often lament the barriers to it. One example that came up was the energizing quality of the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, in late November of 1999. How to keep things moving? We raised some interesting questions about why organization is sometimes effective, what leads to lots of people showing up at events, and when such movements are effective.

The Moral and Philosophical Question of the Day:

Dexter asks us to consider several issues. Some things beg for our attention.
The Conversation is now a year old. Who are we? What do we, what can we share in common? What is our role? Having been here a year, what is it we have done for each other, for the community?

When looking at this, it is a moral obligation to consider some wider context of where we live. Today is Earth Day, and we sit in the wake of the worst school shooting in the country. About the same day a bombing in Iraq killed a couple of hundred people. The Supreme Court made a decision that might be the first step in prohibiting abortion. The Governor signed a bill that approves domestic partnerships in our state. It appears we live in a time of moral confusion.

What are the askables, to coin a term? What can we ask? In the wake of the Virginia shootings, one of the question we could not ask is about guns. In the White House press conference right after the shootings, before the President spoke later, the spokesperson for the Press Office (Dana Perino) said the president supports gun rights. Congressional leaders echoed sentiments that now is not the time to raise the issue.

In the Middle East, a similar pattern emerged among US leaders—in fear of the big organized interests, politicians are fearful of taking a balanced view of the region, of regarding Palestinians as somehow equal in the situation.

Dexter asked us to come up with questions we want to ask—that is, to begin to ask questions that will help us to remain human in this confusing context. As part of this, never make peace with war, never accept injustice, never accept poverty as appropriate, to never rationalize racism as realistic, to never give up agitation for justice. It doesn’t matter how hopeless, how lonely, no matter how many times you bump your head against the wall…. if it does nothing else, it keeps you human.

The discussion first focused on the apparent actions of gatekeepers who keep questions from being asked. We run into rationalizations that give people permission to not go further. Let’s go around the room and ask some questions that can serve our discussion of what we will be next.
(Note: these will be verbatim, the editing will come later.)

Do we want peace, and what is it?
Why are lives in the USA more valuable than lives of people in other lands?
Why are we sustaining institutionalized racism in the education system?
The news media do not acknowledge killings going on right now, why do we have justifiable killing via regime change and by organizations like the CIA?
Why do we fail to see the smokescreen of distraction whenever the President is on the hot seat, and groups of Americans die?
What does it take for me to be fully human?
Why does Christianity play such a major part in all the things we are talking about?
Do I really care? How do I know I really care?
How can we open ourselves to the suffering of others; what are the ways we numb ourselves to the suffering of others?
What happened to “we the people” with regards to the government? Why is it that because I look white, I am better than anyone else in the world?
How can we reach folks 40 and under with the collective solution to the movement?
Is there something I can do every day to bring the peace I want to see?
How can we reduce or eliminate stereotypes?
What happened to the freedom and justice for all referred to in the Pledge of Allegiance?
Given that humans are predators, mostly, what balance is the most positive in a life of harmony, somehow including the earth and all of its bounty?
Why is there not more talk about young black men, and why they are killing each other at a terrible rate?
How can we deal handle a situation where elected officials need so much money to get elected?
Why is it acceptable for there to be some who are obscenely wealthy, and others who are obscenely destitute?
Who is really in power in this country, and who is pulling the strings of the people who are in power?
Why do we as individuals not accept our innate power, admit to it and act upon it?
Why is it important for us to have control, military bases in everyone else’s country?
With regards to Israel/Palestinians, why is it that Israel can not understand the Palestinian requests for their strip of land?
How do we educators help to get children of all races together and to teach them it is better to be loving thy neighbor rather than to be fighting thy neighbor?
Where do we go with these questions?
Can we discuss the Don Imus situation?
How do I understand the paradoxes in the world and continue the necessary kind of work?
Don’t we know the answers to a lot of these questions? Are they, perhaps, rhetorical questions? Some questions are more geared to inquiry, and to a more action-oriented response. But, then again…. we often think we know the answers to little children’s questions, and have to answer them afresh.
When do we take the personal responsibility to devote ourselves to study as much as we devote to recreation and resting? When will we take the responsibility to address the Portland baseline essays? clarify
What are men afraid of when faced with the power of women? What are adults afraid of when faced with the power of children?
Are we, can we, be responsible for sustaining life?
Is global corporate capitalism just or rational? What is its replacement?
Why are so quick to punish and imprison black children, instead of focusing on their development?
What would the world be like if people saw other people’s children as their own?

A transition to talking about the questions.

Dexter will look at the questions and begin a process of addressing some of them at a time.
Here is a beginning, with an eye toward plenary planning. What do we want us to do? What do we look like? How will we respond to these questions?

Much of the time we will have responses, as opposed to answers that put something to rest.
This week Dexter asked one of his classes to consider the example of sacred texts, a favorite target of deconstructionists. These are texts made to be learned, not to be taken apart. When we raise the critical questions of sacred texts, esp. in front of literalists, the response is ‘but that’s the way God wants it’. For example, in the ‘Husbands obey your wives’ phrase, he asked the students what came next—it was If you don’t know the Bible, you don’t know the text that most informs cultural life in this country. Say what you want about conservatives and evangelicals, but they know the text better than the critics. The next phrase is, ‘Husbands, love your wife the way Christ loves his church.’ So, this knowledge of the texts takes the sting out of the admonition to obey. You’ve got to know the text. If you want to engage with conservatives who derive the power of their argument from the text, you have to know the text. Christianity is implicated in all of this, because Christianity is a central piece of US culture.

The discussion turned to asking what is the role of religion in our society. If we take the route of explaining it as a natural history—that people had reasons for coming up with theologies—we will find ourselves in trouble.

If we do the interpretation of Virginia that it is about personal responsibility, and that the laws that were not enforced, does not put a person out on a limb. Compare the response in the UK after their big school shooting about a decade ago. Hard to raise that in the USA. It is easy to not be out on a limb in the USA, just don’t ask those questions.

Back to the question of how we approach these issues.

The V-Team meets to talk about where to go next, so this is an open question to us. How do we address these questions, how do you want this to proceed? That is what we are asked to discuss for the rest of the meeting.

Wherever people hear about the Conversation, there is a very positive response about the idea.

In a way, The Conversation provides some spiritual sustenance. And we should make it clear why we are here, who else we want to be here.

One idea: The people who should be here are local community folks, who live nearby; and state representatives from this district.

One idea: There is an openness and trust shown the members, and the discussions here sustain us each week. More than one of us said they hear and learn things here they don’t get anywhere else. The Conversation, several said, is unlike anything else. One of us put it this way: I need meaningful conversation in life. And it is conversation each of us gets to participate in. Several mentioned that the personal stories are important to confronting what we think about others. Another one of us said that the discussions we have move us, and support us to get out and do something. This is the place where we get to ask difficult questions, and be with others who do it. Many of us want us to be activists, and want more activism. This is the weekly call to arms, a time to look squarely at how we want to live, at our connection to the education of the young, a place to do something with our indignation at forms of injustice. Face it: this group is important to many of us. It calls us to be honest, and to look into things anew. There aren’t enough people in everyday life who talk about all the things we do, and we value it. For most of us, it appears to be an important source of hope.

It appears we value both conversation and action, and that the two are fundamentally linked. Conversation is, sometimes, action—it provides us with the equipment for living.

Over the next couple of weeks, let us have a fundamental discussion of what we are—the time we meet, the topics we discuss, the procedures we use, and what we do with the list of questions. We need to find a way to nourish the personal touch among the people who come here. The relationships matter, and that is a big reason why people show up. And, we need to discuss programming. What is it we do, and will do?

People who change the world often set out simply to follow their own conviction, and the changes come out of that.

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