Saturday, December 17, 2005


Good and Evil

On my return flight from the national human rights conference last Monday, I thought about a remark Chip Berlet made in an interview I conducted with him in the summer of 2001. He said that after nearly forty years of activism in the civil rights arena--twenty of those as a prominent educator to interfaith coalitions in the US--he was dismayed by how little liberal philanthropies had learned about the essentials of social change.

In particular, Chip bemoaned the utter lack of funding allotted to research and conferences and educational programs that enable a movement to grow--something conservatives have long understood and benefitted by through their long-term investments in such things as think tanks and institutes and colleges and media, fellowships and grants to writers, speakers, mentors, and promising youth.

And I thought about this neglect in the absence of religious leaders in the audience at the conference a week ago, and the paucity of human rights attendees from comfortable and well-funded NGOs of the liberal establishment who no longer feel directly threatened by vigilante terrorism, some of whom at times in the past could have been murdered were it not for the work of those on the presentation panel.

But while we've grown accustomed to the lack of reciprocity and cooperation from those who've become officially-sanctioned and assimilated into the power elite, their effective collaboration with conservatives bent on destabilizing, disintegrating, and deconstructing our civil society is a factor we must take into account. Their cowardice, laziness, and corruption is not something we can shame them into abandoning, but it is something we can confront them on when they get in the way of building democracy. In fact, it is something we must do.

I also thought about the threats we face as a multicultural society in battling political violence, racism, and social exclusion, and how our collective understanding and institutional memory expressed and explored in such gatherings and discussions propels social transformation. Which reminded me of the Zuni Pueblo protector societies that meet regularly to discuss threats to their social harmony and well-being and develop means of guarding against poisonous ideas, be they economic, emotional, intellectual, medicinal, physical, political, or spiritual.

And I thought about the Zuni means of preservation of memory of these tools of survival recorded in their architecture, food, pottery, and regalia, and how through five centuries they've managed to adapt and endure without sacrificing their core values. Which is instructive in the need to develop our storytelling through art, ceremony, dance, oratory, and ritual, if we, too, hope our values will someday triumph over evils like white supremacism.

Without the capacity to pass on such skills as research and organizing, there is no hope. The sooner our allies learn this the better.


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