Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ethics for Activists - 2

It may be that there is no other way of educating people. Possibly, but I don't believe it. In the meantime it would be a help at least to describe things properly, to call things by their right names. Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:

"You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others, will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself - educating your own judgement. Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society."

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Ten Thousand Roses and a blog

Check out Judy Rebick's new book: Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution. It's an oral history of the Canadian women's movement from the 60s through 90s - and is a must-read about the still-living history of social change. The Toronto Women's Bookstore is organizing a book launch Tuesday, March 8th. Judy is also running a blog - check it out. Judy writes:

When you read the book or this excerpt, you may wonder about the stories I didn’t tell, about the women I didn’t mention. I, too, will be thinking about those stories and hearing new stories—the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of women younger than myself. As often as I can, I will record these stories, articles and websites of interest, and I hope that you will add your thoughts and your own stories of feminist change. Hope to see you on tour.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling has a new home

For over 25 years storytellers and storylisteners have been gathering every Friday evening to tell and to listen to stories. Since January of 1989 we have been meeting at St. George the Martyr Church in downtown Toronto. As of this coming Friday (March 4, 2005) the 1,001 Friday Nights has a new home: Innis College on the University of Toronto campus. About 12 blocks north of its home for the past 15 years and, coincidentally (in the way that stories often are) only a few blocks east of where we met prior to St. George the Martyr Church - from Brunswick and Sussex to Sussex and St. George.
This Friday night, our launch of this new chapter in the life of the Friday Nights, we have invited Judy Rebick to join us. Judy has just published Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution on sale at the Toronto Women's Bookstore (who are organising the official book launch on International Women's Day, March 8th). Ten Thousand Roses (reviewed in yesterday's Globe and Mail) is an oral history of four decades (the 60s through 90s) of the Canadian women's movement and a must-read for all storytellers and activists. Join us Friday, March 4, 2005 at 8:00 pm for a storytellers celebration of international women's day and help us launch a new chapter of storytelling in Toronto.

Click here for location and information.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Parable about the Possibilities of Dissent

Still feeling a little discouraged about being slapped down for funding for the Activist School i am reminded of a story i learned over 20 years ago that has been one of the formative stories of my life. I met Arthur Kinoy in 1984 while living in Massachusetts and he is one of only two people i have ever asked to have sign their book for me.

Civil rights lawyer Arthur Kinoy and his partner were working late one evening in June of 1953 when they received a phone call from the distraught chief counsel for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs had been found guilty of treason (for acting as spies for the Soviet Union) and been sentenced to death. A stay of execution had been granted and the Rosenberg’s team of lawyers breathed a sigh of relief for the summer they now believed they had to mount a new defence. The Supreme Court (the only body that could overturn the stay of execution) had adjourned for the season. But such was the climate of fear of communism at that time that the Supreme Court justices were called back from their holidays for the sole purpose of overturning the stay. The Rosenbergs were to be executed the next day. At their wits end the Rosenberg’s lawyers turned to Arthur Kinoy. There was only one thing to do and that was to get a new stay. But most courts were adjourned for the summer. Nonetheless, Kinoy found a judge willing to meet with him: the highly respected conservative Chief Judge Thomas Swan. It was a longshot. They expected to fail. They did not. Judge Swan listened to their case and agreed that a stay was in order. But they needed one other judge to agree in order for the stay to be granted. Judge Swan sent them to see Jerome Frank, the leading liberal judge on that court, the architect of the New Deal and much progressive legislation. Judge Frank was an idol to Kinoy and his peers when they were law students. They felt they couldn’t fail. They did. Having made their case to the best of their ability Judge Frank said: “If I were as young as you are, I would be sitting where you are now, and saying and arguing what you are arguing. You are right to do so. But when you are as old as I am, you will understand why I … why I cannot do what you ask. I cannot do it.” That evening, at 8:00 Eastern Standard Time Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted.

Kinoy writes:

Jerome Frank might, in a profound sense, have changed the course of American history that afternoon. He could not do it. He was a prisoner of the system he served. As a liberal, as a progressive, he had risen to a position of leadership in society. He would jeopardize the usefulness of those labels and, accordingly, the position they afforded him if he participated in the act of courage that Judge Swan, the conservative, was prepared to take. The labels themselves, Frank’s “liberal” past, imprisoned him – kept him from the course he would have taken if he were “as young as” we were. When we were “as old as” he was, he was telling us, we would understand that to preserve our position in society, we must compromise with those in control.

… [Frank] was afraid – afraid of threatening the already shaky position of himself, of all the liberals, of the progressives, and even of the Jews – although that was a thought which I, as a young Jewish person, was most reluctant to face. It simply was not prudent for a “liberal Jew” to be the one to save the two “Jewish atom spies.” This was what we would understand only when we were “as old as” he.” (Arthur Kinoy, Rights On Trial: The Odyssey of a People’s Lawyer, Lexington, MA, 1983: Bernel Books, pp. 125-126)

Kinoy concludes this hard-won lesson: “However, Mike Perlin and I came through the experience with the inner hope that at least never in our lives would we become “as old as” Jerome Frank was that afternoon.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ethics for Activists - 1

Thomas Merton:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one's work for peace. It destroys one's inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one's work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes works fruitful.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Workshop for Activists

Not Just a Bag'O Tricks - Friday, March 4, 2005

What the Activist School understands

One day a devoted Talmudic student ran out of the synagogue shouting, “What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of life?” He ran through the streets shouting all the while. He found himself before the house of his Rabbi. He went inside and, almost in tears, pleaded, “What is the meaning of life, master?” The rabbi slapped the student across the face. “Why did you hit me,” asked the startled student. The rabbi answered: “Such a good question. And you want to exchange it for an answer? It is the answers that keep us apart. It is the questions that unite us!”

Monday, February 21, 2005

Chasing a dream

I've just had a discouraging moment in the pursuit of a dream: being turned down for funding. The Activist School is going to exist someday. Just not as big and fast as we would hope. Which basically means keeping my day-job. So, because Matt reminds me of "illegitimus non carborundum", i will finally start this blog to share some of what i know (and know about) that might be of use to social justice activists, popular educators and storytellers. Please check back for stories and quotes and exercises that you can make use of in the ongoing struggle to resist oppression and bring a little more love and compassion into our so so troubled world.

And just to start things off, some important words for activists from William James: "It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true."