For several years in the early days of my life as a revolutionary I was deeply involved with what was called the “Catholic Left.” From 1967 until about 1972 there was an organized movement of people, Catholic priests and nuns, other churchgoers and young people who were not religious at all, who carried out a series of non-violent raids on Selective Service draft board offices, the offices of war corporations like GE and Dow Chemical, and FBI offices. As this movement grew it became increasingly effective, both technically and politically. We were physically disrupting the operations of Selective Service through the destruction of probably hundreds of thousands of individual draft files.
At the same time we were organizing growing numbers of people to come forward in public support of these actions.
For example, in the summer of 1970, we organized a coordinated action in the state of Delaware which disrupted all of that state’s draft board offices. Then, about a week later, over 300 people signed a statement “claiming responsibility” for this action that was released at a public rally in Wilmington, the state capitol.
I’ve thought of this period in my life recently as I’ve read the many articles about the impact of the “religious right”
and the importance of “moral values” to large numbers of voters in the recent elections. Although our Catholic Left actions were in no way related to the electoral process, they were definitely grounded within a religious context, and those of us who were part of this wing of the movement certainly saw what we were doing as reflective of deeply-held moral values.
As we move forward into the next four years under Bush/Cheney and their ilk, we need to be prepared to do political battle with those who hypocritically assert the superiority of their “moral values” even as they support a criminal war in Iraq, economic policies that further widen the gap between the ultra-rich and the vast majority of the population, the literal destruction of our environment’s ability to sustain life, and many other immoral and brutal policies.
But we can’t do so moralistically and self-righteously.
While speaking up for what we know is right, we have to speak in a manner that can get through to those who have been confused and misled. We can’t be afraid of entering into dialogue with those who are active with or influenced by the conservative religious movement. We need to look for areas of agreement, issues we can agree on, as a beginning point for dialogue that, over time, can begin to change thinking patterns.
We will be more successful in this work if we each individually take the time to study an important resource:
I remember one of the first times I heard a prominent, non-religious revolutionary quote from the Bible. It was in the early ’70s at a national conference of the New American Movement, and the speaker was Dorothy Healey, a long-time communist. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember being impressed that she was able to weave relevant quotations from the Bible into her presentation in a way which fit and which strengthened her appeal.
Baldemar Velasquez, a leader of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Labor Party, is another person who comes to mind as someone who seamlessly links the class struggle to the struggle for truth and righteousness as found in parts of the Bible.
Indeed, it was the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and grounded in the black church, which fought against repressive conditions much, much worse than those we are now facing. Key to that movement’s ability to do so was the knowledge that they were, indeed, on the side of Justice and Right, that their struggle was part of an historical continuum going back thousands of years.
We can take heart from the Old Testament book of the prophet Habakkuk, who cried out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and thou wilt not hear? Or cry to thee ‘Violence!’ and thou wilt not save? Why dost thou make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. . . And the Lord answered me, ‘Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 1, 1-2 and chapter 2, 1-4.
When dialoguing with those taken in by religious right propaganda, we can refer to the words of Jesus in the New Testament when he said, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'” Matthew 25, 41-46
I am not arguing for people to go to church or to become Christians or religious. That is an individual decision that each person has to make. I am saying, however, that to be effective in our continuing, essential work of building an independent people’s movement for fundamental change, we must consciously reach out to and interact with growing numbers of people, and we must be prepared to talk with some of them in the religious language they can understand. And we must reflect within our individual lives and the lives of our organizations the moral values of honesty, steadfastness and love.
With Martin Luther King, Jr., we must act secure in the knowledge that, even though it often doesn’t feel like it, the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.