Sunday, March 25, 2007

History of People's Movements - Class 2

I. Review: working definition of a people’s movement: a social and political movement initiated and carried out by ordinary people, not by government or military leaders, aiming to change public policy and public actions to improve the lives of the majority of people in the society, not gain privileges for a few elite members of the society.

II. Examples:

Jesus’ political work confronting the power of the Roman governing elite;

Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and others who led the slave revolt and abolitionist movements;

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and others who led the women’s movement, building on their work with the abolitionist and temperance movements;

Mohandas K. Gandhi’s work to gain India’s independence from Britain;

Martin Luther King Jr.’s work to create the Civil Rights Movement in America to end segregation and bring about racial equality (1960s);

Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Movement (1960s);

American Indian Movement, including the Trail of Tears challenge to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (1970s);

Chipko Movement in India, in which women formed circles around trees (tree huggers) to prevent them from being cut down (1970s);

Lech Walesa and the Gdansk, Poland shipworkers strikes; playwright Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, who both led movements undermined Communist control in Eastern Europe (1970s, 1980s).

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s work to end apartheid in South Africa (1980s); Ken Saro-Wiwa’s work to gain Nigerian independence from multinational oil corporations (1990s);

The work of the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, to regain control over their water supply from Bechtel corporation (2000s);

The global justice movement, launched in America during the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, WA to confront the power and priorities of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Economic Forum. See also Jose Bove, French farmer.

III. The Politics of Jesus, by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr.

Chapter 4 – Messiah and Tactician: The Political Strategies of Jesus - “The goal of Jesus was realization of the kingdom of God. The kingdom (or sovereignty) of God was a new world order of transformed human relationships; it was social, economic and political relationships in this world made holy.”

1. Treat the People’s Needs as Holy – The Lord’s Prayer; public rejection of the legitimacy of the Temple priesthood; refusal to accept kingship offered to him; primacy of the need for food (daily bread) and for debt relief for the poor; injunctions to care for fellow human beings in need.

2. Give a Voice to the Voiceless – Overturning the moneychangers tables and symbolically occupying the Temple; the Temple was a religious and political hub of Jerusalem, where the priestly aristocracy represented Roman rule and extorted dues from the working people to enrich themselves; the action showed the people that their awe of the priests as mediators to God was misplaced, and to demonstrate the ability of ordinary people to confront those who abused power and abdicated responsibility.

3. Expose the Workings of Oppression – The parable of the Householder and the Workers, in which those who start at the end of the day get the same as those who work all day. Hendricks’ interpretation is that Jesus was telling his followers that even though landowners insulted them and exploited their labor, knowing they could not negotiate for better wages and working conditions, in the kingdom of God, they would be treated fairly and respectfully. Jesus undermined the idea that the wealth of the wealthy was a natural, God-given right and that the poverty of the poor was their fault, in a political system that granted all the rights to the wealthy and none to the poor.

4. Call the Demon by Name – The parable of Jesus cleansing the possessed man of the unclean spirit. Hendricks’ interpretation is that the unclean spirit was a metaphor for Roman occupation, the possessed man a symbol of the oppressed people of Israel; and the story an indictment of the Roman’s role in tearing Israeli society apart.

5. Save Your Anger for the Mistreatment of Others – The parable of the leper being healed by Jesus, in which Jesus becomes angry. Hendricks argues that many translations of Jesus’ deeds soften the meaning of the original Greek. In this story, Jesus anger is often left out: anger not at the leper or at the leprosy disease that afflicted so many, but at the priests who demanded payment for or outright refused to reintegrate people into society even after their skin disorders (often not leprosy) had cleared up. “…[W]e must endeavor to love everyone, but we must also take sides.” (Politics of Jesus, p. 165)

6. Take Blows Without Returning Them – Turning the other cheek, giving the cloak, going the extra mile. Hendricks’ interpretation is that Jesus was not advocating simple passivity, but rather active demonstrations of full humanity, “because by taking an action, the powerless and the oppressed became more than victims; they became actors who asserted their humanity, their somebodyness…Even if those who were dominated were struck again, it was on their own terms; they had dictated the action…” (Politics of Jesus, p. 169-170)

7. Don’t Just Explain the Alternative, Show It.- Loaves and Fishes. Jesus didn’t just talk to his followers about sharing with those who have less, trusting in the generosity of God, etc. He acted on his beliefs and injunctions about power, love, charity, and justice, demonstrating an alternative, “redefining their relationship to God and to each other as based on gift instead of debt.” (Politics of Jesus p. 181)


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