Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MoveOn and Coalition Building

The following is a letter I sent to the leadership of the MoveOn Council of Greater Pittsburgh

I have had some realizations lately that have led me to change my approach on how I deal within the political arena. This doesn't mean that I'm not going to be involved in MoveOn anymore - I plan on being just as active, if not more so, but I would like to focus in a different way. As you know, I am not a Christian, but having been a celibate "Hare Krishna" monk for 25 years, I have a long and deeply spiritual background, and that has effected they way I look at political issues and drives my activism. Republican party has hijacked the "religious right" in this country, and it is exactly the opposite of what Christ actually taught. At the core, Democrats embody the principle in Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter label the left as "Godless", and "secular progressives", and that is not fair, because there are many others like myself who's moral principles motivate us to change people's consciousness to work towards peace and social justice.

I am even more radical than my hero in the senate, Bernie Sanders, a self professed democratic socialist. I consider myself to be a spiritual communist.

The founder of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, (that I was initiated into in 1979), A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, wrote about spiritual communism in the first paragraph of the preface to his epic translation of the 12 Canto scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, "We must know the present need of human society. And what is that need? Human society is no longer bounded by geographical limits to particular countries or communities. Human society is broader than in the Middle Ages, and the world tendency is toward one state or one human society. The ideals of spiritual communism, according to Srimad-Bhagavatam, are based more or less on the oneness of the entire human society, nay, of the entire energy of living beings. The need is felt by great thinkers to make this a successful ideology. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need in human society. It begins, therefore, with the aphorism of Vedanta philosophy janmady asya yatah to establish the ideal of a common cause. Human society, at the present moment, is not in the darkness of oblivion. It has made rapid progress in the field of material comforts, education and economic development throughout the entire world. But there is a pinprick somewhere in the social body at large, and therefore there are large-scale quarrels, even over less important issues. There is need of a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship and prosperity with a common cause. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need, for it is a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society."

Instead of the state owning all the wealth, and distributing it according to need, I know that God owns everything, and we own nothing.

"Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong." - Sri Isopanisad, Verse 1

This is one of the most important concepts in all religions, and I believe it is the only "peace formula". It is based on a principle that is a key point in the Bhagavad-gita, verse 5.29, and Prabhupada wrote a pamphlet based on it and passed it out in front of the UN building in 1965 in the middle of the Vietnam war. I have been thinking about this since the crash, and I am actually writing a book about it called "The Myth of the Ownership Society". Remember when George Bush coined that phrase back in 2004? We're creating... an ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property. - President George W. Bush, October 2004.

Here's what Naomi Klein, author of "The Shock Doctrine", said about that 4 years later, after the housing market fell off the cliff.

This is not only selfish, from a spiritual viewpoint it is completely bogus. Since everything is God's property, if you claim any ownership beyond your quota, you are actually a thief, and you will be punished by the laws of nature. The "ownership society" idea failed catastrophically, but the meme is still spreading into different areas. Look at the tax issue. You always hear Republicans screaming that they don't want the government taking their money and distributing the parasitic poor. They claim to be Christians, yet there are literally thousands of references to the poor in the Bible. They are actually practicing irreligion. It is said in my scripture, "That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance." - Bhagavad-gita 18.32

"Now everything's a little upside down,
as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
what's good is bad,
what's bad is good,
you'll find out when you reach the top,
you're on the bottom." - Bob Dylan "Idiot Wind"

That being said, I want to fight to fundamentally correct this mentality, and turn the tables. I feel so strongly about this that I think my role in MoveOn should be different. MoveOn is basically a secular organization, but it does embrace coalitions. Therefore instead of being the council coordinator, I want to coordinate a coalition building team working with other spiritual progressives in the Pittsburgh area. This would not affect or change MoveOn's agenda in any way, rather it would reinforce democratic principles and morals by organizing like minded people. The Republicans and the religious right are in lock step. The left does not have a counter balance, and I'm tired of them calling us secular progressives. I have a blog that I started back in 2004 called The Spiritual Progressive. Pittsburgh has a great history of spiritual progressives, the Thomas Merton Society, whose famous co-founder, Molly Rush, spoke at our huge Defend the Dream rally. Also, PIIN, the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. There was a number of interfaith leaders in the room when I attended the organizing meeting with the unions before the "We Are One" event. My wife is a member, and I am a "friend" of the Sunnyhill Unitarian Univeralist church. I recently led one of their study groups. All the Unitarian churches in the area are packed with liberals. There are also national organizations such as the NSP the Network of Spiritual Progressives, the Interfaith Alliance, whose president, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy has a weekly radio show called State of Belief that is still on the air that used to broadcast on the nationally syndicated Air America Radio. I am also a big fan of Sojourners, whose president, Jim Wallis, is a spiritual advisor to Barack Obama, and has moderated a presidential debate on CNN. Time magazine named Jim Wallis one of the "50 Faces for America's Future." These groups have worked on peace and social justice issues for decades, and I want to bring them together to work with MoveOn.

I have come to the realization that this is my calling, so that is the role that I would like to play.

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