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Letters to the Editor • Philosophy: Liberalism

Join the Spiritual Progressives

Via Rabbi Michael Lerner:

Spiritual and Religious Progressives Invite Secular Progressives to Join in a United Strategy to
Say "No" to Corporate Dominance of the US Economy and Politics and to Tea Party Extremists

NSP (the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives that is also welcoming to atheirsts and secular humanists) has placed ads in major magazines calling on elected officials to reject the "Inside-the-Beltway" pragmatism and "being realistic" that has led Democrats in power to policies that conflict with the desires of their own liberal/progressive base and do not address the real fears that have given life to a racist and quasi-fascist mass movement in the U.S.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), chaired by Rabbi Michael Lerner and co-chaired by Cornel West and Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, is inviting secular liberals and progressives to join spiritual and religious progressives at a national strategy conference for the coming Obama years-- at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill June 11-14. We are reaching out to you to come, whether you be a militant atheist or a practiitioner of some spiritual or relgiious path.

We invite you to register for our conference if you already know you want to come.. Please go to www.spiritualprogressives.

org/conference . Or else, read the rest of this below, please! even pretty please! Calling upon secular progressives to overcome their religio-phobia (which has, according to the NSP, crippled the Left by alienating major sections of the population whose economic interests are better served by the Left but whose religious aspirations are often scorned by a liberal culture that demeans religious believers), Rabbi Lerner has invited secular humanists and atheists to form a "united front" against what he calls a "quasi-fascist" revival of know nothingism, racism, anti-immigrant hatred, homophobia, and militarism that is scarily resembles the dynamics of the 1920s Weimar Republic in Germany just before the Nazis came to power."

Because Lerner believes that the Tea Party movement, already influencing the direction of the Republican Party, may lay the foundation for an outright fascist movement in the U.S., he calls upon secular progressives to unite with spiritual progressives to develop a strategy for progressives during the Obama years.

The NSP is calling its conference "The Caring Society." Rabbi Lerner calls for Congress and the Obama Administration to adopt those words as a unifying theme, and to overcome their antipathy to a shared worldview or ideology. "Spiritual and political wisdom in the 21st century," according to Rabbi Lerner, "starts with Americans acknowledging to ourselves and the world that our well being as citizens of the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Israel, Jordan, (and yes there are even Tikkun readers in China and India and Japan and South and Central America) depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet, and the well-being of the planet itself."

In calling for A Caring Society to replace the "look out for number one" mentality generated by capitalism and what Rabbi Lerner calls "its inevitable consequence-the globalization of selfishness," the NSP is asking us to support changes in the economic and political arrangements of our society so that support and encourage the very opposite character and personality traits and behaviors, namely those that manifest love for our neighbors, love for the strangers (the Others, the immigrants, the powerless, the poor), and love for the earth in all its physical and spiritual beauty. In the ads which are appearing now, the NSP puts forward a spiritually based analysis of contemporary American politics.

"The 2008 elections," Lerner contends, "revealed the great yearning of a majority of Americans for a world based on peace, social justice, generosity, environmental sanity, and recognition that our well-being is tied to the well-being of everyone else on the planet.

"That yearning is in danger of being discredited as disillusionment and despair is generated by the Obama Administration's failure to fight for that vision.

"We are all too aware of the way that people in both par- ties have sabotaged much of the Obama agenda, but we also know that the Administration needs to stop listening to the Inside-the-Beltway pragmatists and realists.

"Our message to the political establishment in Washington DC is, "Stop being 'realistic' and instead tell Americans what is actually needed to end global and domestic poverty, war, and environmental destruction. Fight boldly to make America a society based on love, generosity and caring for each other, on social justice, peace and non-violence, on an end to domestic and global poverty, on gratitude, forgiveness, and awe and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe, on strengthening families and challenging the selfishness and materialism that has led to our economic and environmental meltdown."

Tikkun Magazine bought a full page ad in the Washington Post 3 months into the Obama Administration's first year in office, urging it to adopt a unifying theme like "the Caring Society" and then showing how each legislative decision flowed from that worldview. Tikkun Editor Rabbi Lerner argues that the most important thing a President can accomplish is to win the country to his or her worldview.

Legislative victories have only limited value if they are not based on a worldview that the President, the Congress and the political party all share and all enthusiastically use to educate the public. Lerner reminds "the realists" who rejected ideology that President Roosevelt and Reagan were most successful in shaping the country to their worldview. Reagan's worldview predominated for the next thirty years, right to this moment ("government is the problem, not the soluton-the unrestricted capitalist market and private enterprise is the solution").

The legislation that was passed under Clinton, and the regulations he put in place, were all quickly dismantled under the Bush Administration because Clinton had won his legislative victories by articulating them in terms of the values that Reagan had introduced, thereby reinforcing those values and making it easy for Democrats to capitulate when those same values were the basis of George W. Bush's subsequent dismantling of the Clinton regulations and his policies.

So it would have been far more consequential for Obama to have articulated the value of "The Caring Society" and then put forward legislative and regulatory policies that fully embodied those ideas, even if they could not yet receive the support they'd need from the Congress. Not only would the Obama Administration have won the admiration rather than the skepticism of the American people by sticking to the values they thought they heard him articulating during the 2008 campaign, but Obama and the Dems would also have had a much better chance of picking up more seats in the 2010 election.

While spiritual progressives do not endorse any particular party or candidate for office, we do enthusiastically support a worldview that we think would help America and would have provided (and still can) provide an alternative to the racist and selfish policies that we hear being discussed in public life in 2010. Instead of us now having to deal with a public wallowing in cynicism and despair, we could have had a social movement and elected officials in the Administration and Congress whose advocacy for The Caring Society would have strengthened the very idealism that had led to Obama's 2008 victory.

Perhaps that path might not have produced legislative victories in the short run. But it would have shaped a public discourse that opened to the highest ideals of secular humanism and spiritual and religious love/generosity/carng for others/ethical/ecological sensitivity and awe and wonder at the grandeur and mystery of the universe! Instead, by choosing to make "passing something, anything" the major priority of the Administration and its friends in Congress, we've seen the Democrats get legislative "victories" that actually strengthened the hold of health care insurance companies and pharmaceuticals and other health care profiteers without restraining rising costs, an environmental policy based on selling indulgences to allow some companies to continue to pollute while meanwhile encouraging nuclear power and offshore drilling, pouring trillions into the coffers of the banks and Wall Street investment firms, escalating the war in Afghanistan, continuing and justifying the human rights violations that Obama himself critiqued while he was running for office, and much else that would inevitably generate anger and doubts about the moral compass of our government.

In fact, many of those in the Tea Party set have legitimate complaints about the way our government has functioned--but they ally themselves (for some unintentionally) with racists, homophobes, and those who in seeking to defund our government actually end up weakening the very democratic institutions that ordinary people fought to create for the past 240 years as a counter to the arbitrary power of the rich and the financial and corporate elites. Yes, that government has been frequently coopted and even under Obama operates more in the interests of the wealthy than in the interests of everyone else, but it still is the only mechanism that we have to potentially constrain arbitrary and hurtful power coming both from the government and perhaps more importantly from the corporate elites themselves and through their control of the media and their ability to endlessly finance candidates for public office (to be dealt with below in the ESRA).

We refuser to trash Obama-we know that he must be defended against the racist and quasi-fascist forces that confront him daily in DC, but we can't protect liberals and progressives unless we are able to acknowledge what it is about their programs and approach to politics that has contributed to the already-existing anger and hate in some sectors of our society. And some of us still retain hope that the vision that Obama elicited in Americans during the campaign could eventually reappear and shape his remaining years in the presidency.

Moreover, we do not want to deny that each of the major programs passed by the Obama Administration has some positive elements as well, and that in thinking about the Obama years ahead we need to give credit for what is positive in the health care and other programs passed! But you are not doing Obama any favor by refusing to critique the way the Dems have been perceived as abandoning the needs of American working people, or ignoring the part that is true in that perception! But refining these positions on Obama is not the main focus of our conference. Our goal is the further development of programs that can unify secular and religious progressives and can speak to the needs of Americans and provide a foundation for a vision of a different kind of society--one based on our highest values! And at the conference we hope to find those people in different parts of the country who can begin to organize to get support for the programs we develop, like those listed below.

Major Theme: Resist the Corporate Takeover of American Society--Make America Safe for Love, Kindness, Generosity (i.e. The Caring Society)

The Strategy Conference will discuss a variety of specific programs that secular and religious progressives can work on together.

Among them:
• ESRA: The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution- Corporations are not persons. Spending money on an election is not "free speech." The planet and all of its people deserve to be protected against the power, influence, and environmental destructiveness of the large corporations, banks, and insurance companies, and from the concentrated power and ability to control information and shape public opinion that now resides in the hands of the super-wealthy (the top 1 percent of wealth-holders in the world). The ESRA will require corporate environmental and social responsibility and require corpora- tions with incomes of over $100 million per year to get a new corporate charter every five years which will only be granted to those that can prove to a jury of ordinary citizens that they have a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility. AND the ESRA restricts the role of money in elections in a serious and powerful way. Info on ESRA: www.spiritualprogressives. org/article.php/2010042716 2647109

• A Global Marshall Plan (developed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives and just introduced into Congress as H.Res 1016 by Congressman Keith Ellison) to end global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger and inadequate health care and education as well as to repair the global environment. www.SpiritualProgressives/ GlobalMarshallPlan

• End the War on Terror and Replace the Dept. of Homeland Security with a Department of Global Well-being

* End the War on Immigrants. Don't let being "politically realistic" become the excuse for "reforms" which tie slightly less repressive treatment of illegal immigrants to new policies of violence and repression against newer illegal immigrants or those seeking assylum in the U.S.or a way to make a living.

Organizations that are co-sponsoring the conference with Tikkun and the NSP include: Common Cause, United Religions Initiative, Peace Action, The Nation Magazine, Public Citizen, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Institute for Policy Studies, Progressive Democrats of America, the Shalom Center, the Washington Peace Center, and Yes magazine.

Among the presenters June 11-14:
Congressmen Keith Ellison and Dennis Kucinich,

Bill McKibben (author, The End of Nature),

Sister Joan Chittister (co-chair the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author, Welcome ot the Wisdom of the World & The Gift of Years,)

Rev. Brian McLaren (author, A New Kind of Christianity & Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope)

Medea Benjamin (Code Pink and founder, Global Exchange),

Rev. Noemi Parrilla-Mena (Pastor of Hispanic Ministries to the National City Christian Church Disciples of Christ) ,

Robert McChesney (author, The Political Economy of Media),

Marianne Williamson (author, Healing the Soul of America, A Return to Love, The Gift of Change),

Rev. James A. Forbes (Pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church, director of Healing of the Nations Foundation),

Margaret Flowers MD (Physicians for a National Health Program)

Robert Thurman (author, Inner Revoluiton & The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism)

Riane Eisler (author, The Chalice and the Blade & The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics)

Gary Dorrien (Reinhold Neiburh Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia U, and author of The Making of American Liberal Theology)

John Dear S.J. (activist Jesuit priest, author, A Persistent Peace & Put Down Your Sword),

Rev. Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodists of America),

Jonathan Granoff (President of the Global Security Institute, and a Senior Advisor of the American Bar Association's Committee on Arms Control and National Security),

Sharon Welch (provost of Meadville Lombard Theological School, author, A Feminist Ethic of Risk & Real Peace, Real Security: The Challenges of Global Citizenship),

Rabbi Arik Aschemann, chair, Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel

Rev. Graylan Hagler ( Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ),

Jeremy Ben Ami (president, J Street),

Bill Moyer (chair, The Backbone Campaign)

Svi Shapiro (author,Educaiton and Hope in Troubled Times: Visions of Change for our Children's World & Losing Heart: The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America's Children),

David Loy (author, Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution & The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory),

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (chair, The Shalom Center, author, Godwrestling & Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life) ,

Peter Gabel (Associate Editor, Tikkun Magazine, a founder of Critical Legal Studies, and author The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning) ,

Rabbi Michael Lerner (Editor, Tikkun Magazine and author, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, The Politics of Meaning, Jewish Renewal & Healing Israel/Palestine),

Paul Wapner (Director, Global Environmental Politics Program, American University and author, Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism),

David Korten (author, When Corporations Rule the World, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth & The Great Turning) ,

Sherry Shapiro ( professor of dance and director of Women's Studies at Meredith College, Raleigh North Carolina, author, Pedagogy and the Politics of the Body: A Critical PRAXIS),

John Nichols (edits The Beat blog column for The Nation),

Shaul Magid (Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies, Indiana University & author, Hasidism on the Margin),

Rev. Ama Zenya (a co-chair of this conference and of the NSP Bay Area chapter),

John Cavanagh (director, The Institute for Policy Studies),

Josh Weiner (poetry editor of Tikkun magazine, and author of The World's Room (2001) and From the Book of Giants (2006),

Nanette Schorr, (lawyer and Tikkun author)
& more.

Gary Peller (Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law School and Tikkun author)

For more information:

Contact James Lee, Conference Coordinator at 410 262 8365

To interview Rabbi Michael Lerner: Contact Natalie Wollner or Will Pasley at Tikkun Magazine 510 644 1200 or write to

To register for the Conference: www.spiritualprogressives. org/conference
or call 510 644 1200 Monday to Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to -5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Our offices are in Berkeley, Ca. (mailing address 2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704) even though the conference is in DC-we had an amazing West Coast conference in February that was so oversubscribed we had to turn people away, so act now!

And if you really really really can't come, but like our ideas, please help us by becoming an activist! Join our Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives. org and help us get the endorsement of our Global Marshall Plan and/or our Environmental and Social Responsiblity Amendment from elected officials, your local city council and state legislature, and civic and religious and professional organizations in your area!!! And make a tax-free contribution so that others can afford to come.

email: info@spiritualprogressives .org

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