These numbers – 627, 17, 1,000,000+– ring out how people who have been inspired to organize themselves can begin to change the world. And they represent two currents of change under way in the USA, one electoral and one in the streets. Both currents are crucial, if we are to save ourselves, our democracy, and the Earth that mothers us.
I want to share with you my thoughts about these numbers. First, what happened this week and how “inside-the-system” and “outside-the-system” efforts for change connect with each other. Second, the “deep history” of top-down subjugation and uprising new community.
I. This past week saw two remarkable and quite different expressions of Resistance. On Tuesday, a candidate for Congress who is a progressive on economic issues and a centrist on social issues defeated a pro-Trumpery right-winger by 627 votes. The Trumpist ploy failed -- the ploy of enriching the UltraWealthy and the Corporate Pharaohs, impoverishing the middle class, and subjugating the poor by inciting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-free-press, anti-woman energies in the country in order to win support from struggling workers, farmers, and rural businessfolk.
This week, in one more Congressional District, that ploy failed. Even pouring unheard-of millions into the pro-Hyperwealth campaign –- money to prime the pump so that hugely more money would come out the other end of the policy pump – even that failed.
This is important. To build any bulwark against floods of would-be anti-democratic, anti-Earth policy for the years ahead, at least one house of Congress needs to be in bold defense of The People, Yes.
I think those who dismiss Tuesday’s election as a merely symbolic victory are mistaken: Members of the House of Representatives who were slavering at the chance to damage and destroy Social Security and Medicare are far less likely to do it, as of today, than they were on Monday. Why? Because the danger of being defeated is all too clear. (On other issues, like Wall Street & the Dreamers, they don’t feel endangered. Yet.) If the right-winger had won, even by a sliver, those right-wing Congressmembers would have been likely to say, “See? Floods of money can pull me through even if it’s just by a hair.”
Electoral victories are necessary, but they are not enough. Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen. Even in this electoral case, it took labor-union organizers spending thousands of hours knocking on thousands of doors in Pennsylvania to energize those 641 more voters than the Corporate Pharaohs with all their millions could turn out.
That’s the power of 641. What is the power of 17? All across America yesterday, high-school students left their classes for 17 minutes, in grief for the 17 students and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, and in angry determination to make a difference about guns. Many left school for much longer – t least 1,000,000 of them across the country. Maybe many more: Who can count a demonstration that takes off from thousands of school buildings?
It has taken smart, creative, and gutsy high-school students to break through the fog of despair and apathy about gun violence. I am proud to report that all four of my high-school-age grandchildren took part in (indeed, helped organize) walk-outs where they are. “Five generations of activists,” my father would have joyfully said, starting with his father the “shoshalist” Amalgamated Clothing Workers organizer.
The multifaceted Resistance didn’t start yesterday. Looking back a year, It took 3,000,000 women on the streets -- now there’s a number! – to awaken candidates for office, the #MeToo movement, and much more. It took tens of thousands of people streaming into airports to break the back of the Trumpist ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees.
And we have seen great strides of Resistance to anti- immigrant and anti-Black racism. Not yet anywhere near enough.
The Shalom Center has put most of our energy into protection of the Earth. In that arena it has been harder and slower to build an effective opposition to Trumpery. I will be writing separately about how to deal with that.
II. I think we are in the midst of one of the great swings of history, when there is a great shift toward tighter control and subjugation from the top, and in response a great effort to create a new, richer, broader, fuller community at the grass roots. (Or maybe the power-grab for tight control is sparked by growing, sprouting communal grass-roots energy. Or both.) That is a deeper reason for synergy, not hostility or competition, between “in-the-system” and “out-of-the-system” activism.
Think about the “big past.” Squeezed between two ravenous Empires, Egypt and Babylonia, some of the Western Semitic tribes responded by creating the Godwrestling People, Shabbat, and Torah. A new kind of community.
Millennia later, subjugated by the Roman Empire, that same community found what we call “Biblical Judaism” collapsing. They responded by creating two new forms of spiritual community – Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Half a millennium later, rigid authoritarianism and oppression in Mecca led to a new prophecy and the spread of Islam.
And now, Techno-Imperial Modernity is destroying all the old forms of society, economies, cultures: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Nationalist, Communist, Liberal-Democratic.
More and more of the youth cannot abide these old forms. They do respond to moments of unofficial or marginal spiritual depth, like the Occupy movement and the Standing Rock encounter. “Interfaith” and “transnational” and “intersectional” efforts would have been defined and punished as heresy by almost all the older religious, political, and national communities just 150 years ago. Now they are flourishing. No way to know in advance what form this energy will take.
Our Resistance in this hour is part of one of the great Upwellings in human history, like the emergence of the great religions. The only question is whether we can carry the day into a new kind of Beloved Community before Imperial Modernity can shatter all our civilizations and the Earth beyond renewal.