Thursday, July 17, 2014

#134 Naming evil

Dear all,
I've been enjoying the succession of berries in the garden--and am delighted to have learned how to make a simple fruit sorbet!  Now the summer squash season is upon us.  There's nothing better than sharing with loved ones and strangers out of a sense of abundance, and no better reminder of that than a summer garden.  I send wishes for similar abundance to all of you.

Naming evil

I don’t use the word “evil” lightly.  I don’t use it to describe the forces that are driving climate change, the greatest destruction of our time.  Yes, they are blind, short-sighted, greed-based, power-hungry, stupid, and ultimately tragic to a degree that is hard to fathom, but I see no evil intent, nobody working out a plan to make life unlivable for their grandchildren or great grandchildren.

Our country’s system of mass incarceration is different.  It follows that if you build a system that is based on retribution rather than restoration and add in the age-old tendency to find people who can be categorized as “other”, they will be disproportionately affected; any such criminal justice system becomes a breeding ground for unintended consequences.  But this is worse. As Michelle Alexander lays out so compellingly in The New Jim Crow, the War on Drugs had an intentional, if hidden, intent of targeting black men.  She quotes H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s former chief of staff: “The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is designing a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Black men are arrested, tried, incarcerated and held at rates staggeringly higher than those of whites.  The GPS anklet that parolees wear has an uncanny resemblance to a 21st century chain—with those who control it in complete power over the human being on whose leg it is fastened.  Old forms of discrimination—in employment and housing, denial of basic public benefits and the right to vote, and exclusion from jury service—have become perfectly legal again, just more coded. Mass incarceration is sucking the soul out of many communities of color, its effects eating away at them, and its threat always present.

The most chilling aspect is that this whole system can be described as totally race neutral, as straightforward and beneficial protection from a dangerous criminal element. In the face of these distortions and slippery lies, this murk of concealment, manipulation and complicity, how can we see and speak clearly, grasp the issue firmly, and find the solid ground of integrity from which to act?
I think the first step is to call this system out for what it is:  twisted, hidden, and malevolent.  It is sucking the soul not only out of our communities of color, but out of all of us whose complicit and confused acquiescence supports this evil. It is sucking the soul out of our country.

Evil needs exposure to sunlight and good air.  We need to talk about it for what it is, open out all its hidden folds and pockets of wrong, hold it out to the clear light of day.  People who hurt and kill others don’t need to be relieved of consequences, and people who are just doing their jobs don’t need to be blamed, but the forces that have twisted power and fear together to create and maintain this horror need to be called out.
We need to grieve together.  This system has caused untold loss and damage.  While it impacts some more directly, we are all caught in its web.  If we don’t look clearly and face the grief, we are vulnerable to vengeance or to the hardening of hearts that comes from separation. Without grieving, we cannot be healed.

I know there are many people attacking this system on many fronts, inside prisons, in impacted communities, and in support of both.  I’m not clear which path is mine to take, but I believe that it will open up as I take my first steps. I know these need to include talking more openly with my friends and neighbors—both black and white—finding a way past the feelings of privilege, guilt and disconnection to the firm ground that an evil done to my brothers and sisters is an evil done to me.  I know that more steps lie ahead for all of us, and I believe that, by naming this evil with each other, looking straight at it, and grieving the sorrow and loss, we can find our way forward together.

Left and right

I work my way down the patch
picking every single berry I can find
Then I turn and work my way back—
always finding more
that had been hidden from view.

Looking just from the left
or just from the right
leaves ripe fruit
to rot on the vine.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

European cooperative banks

In a comparison with major commercial banks in Europe, co-operative banks outperform shareholder banks on a number of measures: generating more stable long-term profits, providing better customer service, and boosting local economies by lending more to small and medium-sized businesses. Plus, their more prudent approach to managing capital allowed them to weather the financial crisis better than the commercial banking sector, thus contributing to financial stability.

Ownership by members places an incentive on managers to maximise long-term customer value, and ensures that profit is treated as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. This focus presents a range of benefits, not just for customers but for the economy as a whole.

Over the past fifteen years, European cooperatives have increased their share
of European bank branches from just under twenty five per cent to over twenty
eight per cent. This is because, while commercial banks have been closing down
branches to increase cost efficiency, cooperatives, with their focus on customer
value, have been expanding.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently
The findings of a report comparing the views of people who live in red and blue Congressional districts or states across 388 questions: majorities or pluralities took opposing positions just 3.6 percent of the time, with no statistical differences in two out of three cases. 

A recent decision of the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christian, to stop investing in fossil fuels.

New York City’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which includes a $1.2 million new item for the development of worker-owned cooperative businesses, the largest investment in the sector ever made by a city government in the United States.

A tiny effort in Russia, Friends House Moscow, that supports local citizen initiatives to change conditions for orphans, people with disabilities, refugees, soldiers and conscientious objectors, among others. 

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at