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Quote of the Day: Billy Bragg

Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General,Politics by Michael Iafrate on March 30, 2013

“I can’t help but notice that some of those people handing out free food to the hungry down the road there are not necessarily motivated by socialism. They’re motivated by their faith and I have to respect that. I have to respect that. And I don’t think it’s good for people to tell them that they’re stupid and ignorant because they do that. I’m afraid I think that kind of fundamentalism has no place in the modern debate.” (Billy Bragg)

The quote comes from onstage remarks before his performance of “Do Unto Others” at SXSW on March 14, 2013:

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And here is the studio version of “Do Unto Others” from Bragg’s new record Tooth & Nail:

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I was extremely disappointed to read Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’ dismissal of the Pussy Riot “brouhaha” over at dotCommonweal, but perhaps not very surprised. (Tom wrote about PR’s “punk prayer” protest here back in April. This past Friday, PR was sentenced to two years in prison.)

I have very little to add to the critique offered by Bridget, a Ph.D. candidate at Notre Dame, in “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Become a Feminist” at Women in Theology. While acknowledging the legitimacy of critiquing Pussy Riot’s protest on tactical grounds, Bridget rightly flags O’Brien Steinfels’ language as “not merely critical […] but dismissive and gendered”: (more…)

I recommend Bill Moyers’ excellent recent interview with renowned journalist and author Christopher Hedges. They discuss Hedges’ research on the ways that corporations’ and the US government’s widespread, unchecked, and nearly invincible capitalist commitments, have reached a new and deeply troubling apex of wreaking economic, social, and political devastation in the United States. They also discuss Hedges’ “faith” and what resistance to the dehumanizing effects of greed in our society means today. Hedges comes around to what he calls a theological point: the neglect of “the neighbor” in this society.

Here is the interview:

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In recent years, I have grown more persuaded by analyses like Hedges’, as I take further stock of the perpetual war economy, the aggregation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, the deep difficulties of most families in meeting basic necessities for surviving and thriving in life while maintaining a healthy family life, and the violence and human diminishment that our participation in the everyday economy–joining “us” to impoverished workers around the world–propagates.

Hedges calls for massive nonviolent resistance, and is untroubled by questions about its short-term effectiveness. He seems to return again and again to the question of duty, to what one must do in order not to betray oneself, whether or not the system is overturned in his/our lifetime. He also focuses continually on the matter of telling the truth about the world.

I think that however we construe the relationship between theology and music, the basic question about how we are being made


Is Occupy Dying to Make Way for What Comes Next?

Posted in: General,Politics by Tom Beaudoin on July 1, 2012

I am writing from Philadelphia, where the Occupy National Gathering began on Saturday and will continue through the 4th of July. The purposes of this event, a kind of conference supported by many of the Occupy sites in the USA, include comparing notes on shared concerns of the various Occupations and planning for the future of Occupy. In fact, the National Gathering is to host an all-day “Visioning Process” on July 4th to generate ideas to inform Occupy’s future.

I wonder whether Occupy is dying what may be an inevitable (if drawn out) death, from which something new must and will eventually emerge. I suggest this because of the funk that the movement has generally fallen into since the shutting down of the Occupations last fall across the country by police newly equipped and trained to behave like local armies. Many Occupations continued to work for peace and justice, and raising consciousness about income inequality and related issues, in myriad ways after their eviction from public spaces. (For many examples of these sorts of activities, and especially if you are one of the many otherwise intelligent people who think that Occupy is only “hippies” parading around parks, please peruse the last nine months of updates on the websites or Facebook pages of any of the many Occupations).

But here at the National Gathering, I cannot shake the feeling that the movement is withering. I don’t know how many protesters are here, but I would guess somewhere between 400 and 600, give or take, so far. Many who are here (my impression only) seem to be, understandably, some of the most activist-minded, diehard Occupiers. Middle-aged and senior persons are much less evident than they were last fall. And including children (and therefore parents of school-aged kids) does not seem to be a priority here — again unlike (my experience of) Occupy last fall, when we had encampments and momentum.

And there seems to be too much interest here at the National Gathering (and this objection has been raised about other Occupations) in provoking confrontation with the police. This provocation happens at the cost of making the best of the movement — that it represents an array of the soul-deep grievances of most Americans — invisible to the very people we need to reach, and who were in the process of being reached last fall. The survival of Occupy is utterly dependent on successfully inviting others to consider that most of us are subject to an insane system, in and through “democratic structures,” of corporate influence, militarism, and hostility toward the disadvantaged (from the rise of the prison culture to general indifference toward good and accessible education for all).

At the National Gathering this weekend, there have been several standoffs with the police, leading to multiple arrests and


For the New York Times, Ginia Bellafante has recently written this article relating the Catholic Worker to Occupy.

R&T readers who are interested in these matters should know that Occupy, in conjunction with dozens of other organizations dedicated to the equitable sharing of social resources, is calling for a General Strike in the United States on May 1.

For more information, see the latest from the Occupy Wall Street website here, or the MayDay NYC website here, or the InterOccupy site for various May Day General Strike cities here. Occupy Catholics are here.

Rock guitar wizard Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine and many other collaborations, will be leading a “Guitarmy” on May 1st in NYC as part of the General Strike. Information on the Guitarmy is here.

Here is Morello on #OWS:

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As I have mentioned many times here at R&T, various artists and spiritual teachers have endorsed


Twenty-five years ago, Living Colour played “Open Letter (To a Landlord),” an anthem exhorting their listeners to commit themselves to vulnerable populations in the inner city, the displaced, the inadequately housed, the — for most 1980s rock fans — invisible persons in urban life.


They are still playing it, and perhaps even better than ever, as shown from this clip from a live show in 2007:


In the United States, discussions and activism about the right to decent housing, a basic human necessity, has expanded from the inner city to the suburbs in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse and the foreclosure epidemic and scandals. Many working class and middle class families have providers who lose their job, or fall a paycheck behind, and soon lose their houses, and have no legal representation or adequate recourse to negotiate with banks.

As I have recounted here at R&T, I have been involved in Occupy Wall Street since last October. In addition to our commitment in the Occupy movement to policies and social practices that combat material, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual poverty, many Occupy sites have committed themselves to helping families who are losing their homes to foreclosure. Here is a story about a recent success in saving the home of the civil rights activist Helen Bailey.

In addition to civilly disobedient actions like occupying foreclosed homes and helping families move back in, Occupy has been visiting foreclosure/auction hearings and singing a song called “Mr (or Mrs) Auctioneer.” The idea is to appeal to the moral sense of the court and the bank to halt the sale of the house and try to go back to the negotiating table with the family. Dozens of arrests have been made of Occupy participants singing at these hearings.

Here is an example from last October:


**UPDATE 8 October 2011 14:47 EST: I have added a couple of pictures from the protest today**


After I taught my undergraduates at Fordham University this morning, I got on the subway and headed back to Occupy Wall Street, the ongoing protest in lower Manhattan about to enter its fourth week, and which has now spread to many cities around the United States. (My initial post about it is here.) Over the past week, with increased media attention and many unions deciding to join the protest, the crowds have gotten steadily larger. (I am happy that the union to which I belong, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), today announced that it was endorsing Occupy Wall Street.)

There were easily a thousand people around the park, and hundreds more walking around the outside checking things out. There are lots of ways you can contribute: if you are in the New York City area, you can hold a sign on the east side of the park for the media, foot passersby, and passing traffic to see, or you can read literature related to the protests, or you can enjoy the music, or you can stop by the OWS booth on the east side of the park to see what the protest needs immediately that you might contribute, or you can patronize any of the local booths set up to sell wares or distribute material for many different causes, or you can just wander and let your very presence count for something, in the awareness that your very presence combats your own and others’ indifference. If you are out of town, check out the Occupy Wall Street website, and consider contributing resources to the protesters, like phoning local businesses and using your credit card to purchase delivery of meals or other goods to the OWS stand in the park — or get involved in an “Occupy Wall Street” protest near you. Please see the donation section of the OWS site for what is most needed and how to get it there.

Everyone who believes that a radical reconsideration of the economic and social policy priorities in the United States is in order — in the direction of more fair, equitable, and just distribution of resources for the flourishing of all persons, especially those most vulnerable in our country and around the world — can do something, from simply learning about the movement to getting involved in direct action on the ground.

The movement is reaching a moment when a number of different organizations and individuals find, for their own reasons, that they share an overlapping set of urgent and fundamental concerns with others:


A Note from the Wall Street Protest

Posted in: General,Politics by Tom Beaudoin on October 1, 2011

Tonight, after the “Pro-Queer Life” Conference at Union Theological Seminary, I have spent the evening in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, participating in the Occupy Wall Street protest that is showing surprising staying power (since 17 September), and gaining increasing media coverage, especially after some 400 arrests today. The protest coordinators have a website here. A video of Prof. Cornel West speaking to the protestors recently is here.

Tonight, there were a few hundred people gathered to listen to an update on the day’s march and arrests, to hear from protestors from New York City and around the country, and to inspire those gathered with reminders about the purpose of the protest. What is that purpose? It seems to be a loosely focused but deeply felt sense of frustration at the way the U.S. economy is not serving human beings but instead corporations and Wall Street.

The protestors seem drawn from different ethnic-racial identifications, ages, and walks of life, though a significant number seem to be college students. Some of the speeches (of 3-5 minutes each) tonight were anticapitalist, some were more moderately reformist toward the economy, some were motivated by antiwar commitments, some were advocates for Native Americans, some were labor organizers, some were speaking up for teenagers and their concerns, but what they all shared, from what I could tell, was a


Jasiri X – “I Am Troy Davis (T.R.O.Y.)”

Posted in: Politics,Race by Michael Iafrate on September 20, 2011

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Natalie Merchant – “Which Side Are You On?”

Posted in: Christianity,Politics by Michael Iafrate on September 6, 2011

Yesterday Jim Keane at America posted this video of Natalie Merchant singing Florence Reece’s now classic labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?” on the occasion of Daniel Berrigan’s 85th birthday celebration five years ago. (It’s also been making the rounds on Facebook.) Though I’m a day late in posting it, it is worth pointing out the way that the worlds of rock and theology collide here. (Not to mention another interest of mine — Appalachian culture and radicalism.)

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Michael Iafrate
Parkersburg, West Virginia

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