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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, Renewal

We just discovered Jean Moulin on our trip to Caen and the Peace Museum on our way to Normandy and the monument to D-Day. Moulin was an organizer of the French Resistance who at General DeGaulle's instructions connected the various factions of resistance into a shadow army to support the Liberation. We then visited the Moulin Museum in Paris to learn more about him and the Resistance. I just bought, but have not yet watched, L'Arme├ęs des Ombres, a 1969 film on the Resistance by an author and a film maker inspired by Moulin and who were also members of the French Resistance.

To resist is to "stand against" dominating forces. It is to stand with ("con-sist"?) those who are being oppressed by those forces, those who are not free to act on their own to shape their world. To resist is also to "stand out," that is ex-sist. Here I am. Me voici! I am able to act. I have power. Power that the Resistance showed can only be achieved with others.

Resistance leads to rebellion. I can resist quietly by not cooperating with the dominant force wherever I can. But when I speak and act against that force I am in rebellion as were the leaders of the resistance who were writing articles and plays and stories to attack the dominators and more so, those who were passing on information and organizing actions to undermine them.

I once published a work on the difference between rebellion and revolution. Taking my cue from Camus, I argued that rebellion is consistent with a more linear concept of time which does not aim to end or overthrow history, but considers human existence as an ongoing struggle to change, never satisfied with the existing order even if we helped to bring it in. Sisyphian rebellion is continuous questioning, ongoing critique, never ending striving. Whereas Promethian revolution is more consistent with a circular concept of time by which history is overthrown or repeated in constant cycles.

I was arguing against the Third Age, Stalinist, Hitlerian, Pol Pot, Apocalyptic notion of history which usually accompanies the wiping out of the past and all its remnants in the present through violence to bring in the radically new world order. I was opposing the demonic, i.e. the non-correcting true belief tendency, in the "movement" that alienated the very persons for whom the movement claimed to be acting.

Chris Hedge's piece today about the silent Revolution that is gathering steam in the US and could break out in violence is both encouraging and frightening. The elements of righteous new fascism and leftist new socialism over against a liberal collaboration with a government-supported corporate state are harbingers of that silent revolution and its potential pitfalls. Where do I stand?

Resistance and rebellion, activities of defiance and opposition, can lead to the affirmative activity of building a new order based on new ideas, structures, and practices. Revolution in that sense need not be inherently violent and self-defeating. Then revolution springing from the human ability to act in concert, i.e. political power, renews the political in human being, actualizes human existence and creates a space of freedom which the Greeks named the polis. While the order and its institutions may be new, revolution which renews is actually a restoration of the human ability to act and is continuous with and learns from other freedom moments in history. In that sense it is conservative. Though, as Arendt showed in her analysis of the three major modern revolutions, they often get consumed by economic concerns and wind up undermining the polis.

In reflecting on resister and rebel Jean Moulin (along with Sam Adams, Sojourner Truth, Michael Collins, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, and others), I see various levels or steps to the revolution that renews.

  • I pass you on the street, smile and say hello. The beginning of civility.
  • I listen to your story and tell you mine. We find commonality.
  • I introduce you to someone else. We connect.
  • We gather to decide what is best for all of us. We create a public space.
  • We act, reflect, learn, and go on.

The first act towards the renewal of civil society is recognition of the other. She is a human person like me with the same dignity that I expect others to recognize in me. The beginning of political space is nodding, smiling, saying hello as I pass by someone on the street, especially the stranger. This is the courageous act of stepping out of ones private comfortable world where I am in or under control and appearing in public where control is left behind.

Secondly, a more intentional act towards the restoration of freedom is listening to and telling our stories towards uncovering interests, values, affiliations which are common to us. It is what community organizers call the "one-on-one" or the "intentional interview." It extends the courageous act of appearing in public because it exposes one's limits and vulnerabilities.

And finally, it has been said that the most radical political act is that of introducing someone to another. Connecting people is the prelude to organizing ourselves for action. Or perhaps it is the very essence of social justice organizing.

Father Jack Egan was one of my heroes in the 60s and 70s when I was starting to do community organizing as a vocation. He helped Saul Alinsky in Chicago, was Alinsky's link to the Chicago Archdiocese, and served on his IAF Board. Egan was one of the first to give effective voice to religious women and Catholic laypersons. When Archbishop Cody came to town and tried to mute Egan by giving him a parish in all black West Lawndale where most of the Catholics had run out, Egan, conceiving the parish as the community, got a number of us raw seminarians to knock on doors which led to the Contract Buyers League and the beginning of the end of redlining in Chicago. He connected the leaders of CBL to Tom Gaudette, Gordon Sherman, Rabbit Marx, and John McKnight. He started the Catholic Council for Urban Ministry that led to the support of organizing through the Campaign for Human Development in relation to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. His CCUM meetings at Notre Dame were great moments and culminations of his connections that cut across all boundaries.

Egan considered himself as "just a connector." Like Jean Moulin and his colleagues in history, connecting those so they can think, speak, and act to overthrow domination and renew the political space of freedom is resistance, rebellion, revolution, and renewal. Being a connector is the affirmation and restoration of our common human existence. And it starts with a simple "hello" on the street.

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