Proposing a radical restructuring of the nation’s political values, noted author Rabbi Michael Lerner will propose a “spiritual-progressive bottom-line” to replace power and profit and will lead a workshop teaching people to break the present communications deadlocks over the Israel-Gaza crisis.
Lerner will be in Ashland Sept. 7 and 8 to receive Peace House’s Marjorie Maybury Kellogg National Peacemaker Award. He is known as “America’s preeminent liberal Jewish intellectual,” notes a Peace House statement, and is editor of Tikkun, a liberal-cultural Jewish magazine and author of “The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right.”
In his address, “The Non-Violent Path to Overcome Global Capitalism: A spiritual Progressive Worldview and a New Bottom Line,” Lerner will suggest that liberals are stuck in a “narrow focus, talking primarily about their grievances” but falling short in describing their vision of a desirable world to live in.
“We’re not doing enough to sustain a social change movement,” said Lerner, in a phone interview. “We stop after each mobilization, then have to start over. What I’m talking about is a unifying vision of what we are for, a new bottom line in our own society and in the world based in peace, the environment and human rights.”
Working through the Network of Spiritual Progressives, of which his partner, Cat Zavis, is executive director, Lerner seeks a world where corporate, governmental, educational and personal choices are made "using values of love, caring, kindness, generosity and ethical responsibility to other human beings.” (Correction: This story corrects the relationship between Lerner and Zavis.)
“This is instead of ‘what can you do for us.’ It’s not looking at nature as something we can utilize, but hold in awe and wonder as the grandeur of creation,” he says. “My contention is that if liberal-progressives begin to talk this way, we could reach people who are attracted to the political right because they never heard us talk this way .... We talk primarily about political rights and economic entitlement and that’s a narrow conception of human needs.”
Liberals, he said, are not speaking to the psychological and spiritual needs of humanity — and this type of approach, he adds, would broaden the potential outreach of progressives in support of a world that most people want.
In support of this vision, Lerner’s group is pushing an "Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution that bans all money from elections, except for public funding — and it requires all large corporations to justify what they’re doing as social and environmentally responsible and defines it as irresponsible if corporations relocate for the sake of cheap labor or to evade taxes.
On the thorny Gaza question, Lerner said the big problem is “a tremendous inability of people to talk to each other about it without being condemned with labels, such as anti-Semite or self-hating Jews or Islamaphobe or just plain evil.
“People are very critical of Israel but have no idea what is legitimate regarding their concerns about cities being targeted by missiles,” he said, “so we’re creating a safe space for people to communicate without being triggered by those whose views are radically different than their own.”
Lerner’s book, “The Left Hand of God,” takes liberals to task for their “religio-phobia,” which they have because religion has been used as a club against the rights of women, gays and non-whites.
“It’s a terrible error,” he says, “because some of the greatest advances for liberals have been deeply infused with a spiritual-religious consciousness — such as Martin Luther King .... I encourage them to abandon their elitist attitudes.”
The public is invited to all events. Tickets are at www.peacehouse.net/tickets, or Peace House, 541-482-9625. The reservations deadline is Sunday, Aug. 31. The dinner is on Sunday, Sept. 7, in the Rogue River Room of Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union; tickets are $75.
Lerner and Zavis will present two workshops: “Grieving for Israel and Palestine: a training on how empathy can become a path to Middle East peace” is set for 2 to 5 pm, Sunday, Sept. 7, and is $20; the second workshop is on “Transformative Activist Training for people who wish to help overcome the grip of the political Right on American politics: An introduction to the strategy and techniques of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.” It’s set for 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, September 8 and is $35. Cost for both is $45.
Workshops are at Peace House, 543 S. Mountain Ave.
The Peace House will also honor area activists Alma Rosa Alvarez, instrumental in founding the Social Justice House at SOU; Kathleen Conway and Alan Journet, leaders of climate change work in the Rogue Valley; Jason and Vanessa Houk, publishers of the Rogue Valley Community Press; and Rich Rohde, long-time economic justice advocate.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.