Radical Progress & Changing the World

If I have a religious commitment at all, it is to the proposition that humankind has been changing and will keep changing. What sort of changing we should be embracing and promoting can be asked in a vaccuum as it were, which usually leads to idealistic windmill-jousting or communal experiments that last a few years and then fold up or become microwave oven factories.

I have found the most inspiration for being an activist in examining the great social movements of history. I have done some work to categorize and try to coordinate their interrelations to humankind as a whole, inspired in part by _Liberating Theory_. By understanding the successes of the past in changing some of the oppression and exploitation of humanity, we can begin to look at the present situation and apply some of those lessons to the present, forming some sense of how to act in the present.
For me, the most potent model movement that has changed our society in the recent past is the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but which extends back to first organized slave rebellions in the 1660s. Dr. King catapulted this movement into such prominence that within barely 13 years American racism had been dealt severe blows and now 40 years after King’s death, we find ourselves on the brink of electing a Black president. Say what you will about Obama, this was unthinkable in 1955.
The next movement that earns my commitment is the labor movement. In the 1800s, as capitalism reached industrial maturity, millions of workers were drawn in struggles for decent working conditions, fair wages, and other substantial benefits. The apex of this movement to date was the establishment of the 40 hour workweek, which we now take for granted. There are still lots of changes we can do to advance the lot of working people, but also lots of challenges.
Feminism also inspires me. From the compulsory servility of maternal domesticity which held women in ignorance and powerlessness for eons, the modern women’s movements have eroded the divide between the genders and, while there is still a long way to go, we have made critical progress.
Democracy is still a dramatic advance over monarchy and other tyrannies. In fact, it might be jolly good fun to see what happened if we really tried it here in the USA! As it is, we get to vote for either a millionaire Obama or a multi-millionaire McCain. What kind of representation of the average citizen is that? I’d rather vote for the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney.
Perhaps less successful, but still important is the struggle to abolish war, starting of course in Iraq. Modern democracy has subordinated the military to the civilian government. Methods of nonviolent conflict resolution have been developed over the past century or so and I believe they show great promise in replacing lethal weaponry in police work and ultimately international conflicts.
Near and dear to my heart here is the work of reforming and revolutionising religious practice. Replacing fear and superstition with science and truth, sacred books with human seeking, religious professionals with participatory spirituality, and exclusivist dogma with interreligious cooperation.
One area that is not thought of as political, though the 60s tried to change this, is human sexuality. California’s same-sex marriage rulings, as well as previous similar developments show that just as being black doesn’t deny you citizenship, being gay shouldn’t deny you the right to lifelong contractual obligations!! Personally, I’d rather see marriage abolished, but that’s a job for future generations I expect.
Last, but most definitely not least is the earth itself. Yes, capitalism is devouring resources as fast as it devours human self-determination and worker’s self-worth. However, everyday science is giving us more knowledge and knowledge is power. What we lack is a potent unified anti-capitalist pro-environment party, know of one? (Hint: they’re named after yellow and blue mixed together.)
So here’s my prescription for a better world tomorrow. Find one of the above movements that draws your religious passion, and join it wholeheartedly. Keep in mind that these other issues are out there being worked on by others who have different passions, but in the end, the universal human passion for freedom, equality, and a livable space are the convergent dynamism that can win even greater successes.
Charley Earp is a Quaker living in Chicago, active in peace and interreligious work. His ZSpace page is at http://www.zcomm.org/zspace/charleyearp 

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