Saturday, September 18, 2021

Occupy Wall Street Hits 10 Year Anniversary

 

The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in session.

Note—Ten years ago yesterday, September 17, 2021 the most significant social movement of the early 21st Century got underway with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district.  They intended to stay—and they did.  Occupy Wall Street began with a call in the counter-cultural magazine Adbusters drafted by ideological but undogmatic ancho-pacifists.  They got the ball rolling but stepped aside and never tried to exert leadership or control the movement that ballooned from their suggestion.

Adbuster's iconic Occupy Wall street poster attracted many to encamp in the Financial District.

It came as America was still in the grips of a depression caused by the collapse of the corrupt mortgage banking industry that had caused untold numbers to lose their homes, plunged many into unemployment, and robbed an emerging generation of hope.  Income inequality was growing and the movement adopted a slogan “We are the 99%” in opposition to the tiny mega rich elite which repressed them.

Zuccotti Park was renamed Liberty Square and growing daily marches was launched from the encampment there.  Soon similar encampments and marches sprang up in central cities across the country.  A movement grew that gripped the country for months and gained wide-spread public sympathy.  It was a movement that remained firmly rooted in non-violence despite occasional attempts by Black Block activists to steer it in a more violent direction and the increasing police violence that was being used to attempt to destroy encampments and quash street protest.  Eventually the Obama administration’s Justice Department encouraged and supported local authorities in aggressive police attacks.  One by one the encampments flickered out, but the spirit in which they grew remained and a generation of activists turned to other causes.

A succinct identification drew clear lines.

The Occupy Movement greatly influenced subsequent popular movements built from the ground up including student protests against gun violence, the Women’s March movement, Greta Thunberg’s climate change protests, Black Lives Matter, and immigration justice movements.

It is instructive to compare this truly organic movement to the carefully orchestrated insurrectionist mob that laid siege to the Capitol on January 6 backed by oligarchs, clear fascists, and White supremacists.  Both movements claimed to be revolutionary.

I wrote extensively about the Occupy Movement over the next few years.  He is a blog post from October 3, 2011 that caught the spirit of the early movement in New York.

On Friday, the day before New York City Police busted more than 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge apparently just to show that they remembered how, the General Assembly of the Occupy Wall Street protesters issued their Declaration of the Occupation of New York City to explain themselves.

 

New York City kettled and arrested over 700 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge.  It did not end the protests.  Charges were eventually dismissed against almost all who were arrested that day.

For three weeks the media, when it was not totally ignoring a growing social revolution under their noses, mocked those twice a day Assemblies where the rag tag protestors without visible leaders, command structure, or ideology gathered to hash out plans for immediate action, logistic concerns, police relations, and, oh yeah, the purpose of the whole damn thing. 

High profile members of the professional left, accustomed to demonstrations of vast coalitions, huge steering committees, leaders certified by the press as being important, bullet point demands, and pre-printed signage tut-tutted and wrung their hands.

The encampment at Liberty Square.

Admittedly, the process as observed through shaky hand-held video cam clips posted on YouTube and protest sites, made them look a tad ridiculous.  Denied the use of a public address system or even bull horns by police the participants quickly improvised a system whereby comments of speakers were relayed to the whole crowd by repeating short phrases in chorus.  At first it looks like a crowd of zombies blindly parroting anything said to them. 

And because the discussions were open to participation by everyone, not every speaker was succinct or even rational.  Wackos and old lefties with ideological axes to grind got their say.  But so did hundreds, in the end maybe thousands, of ordinary and here-to-fore voiceless citizens.

 

The media could not grasp an apparently leaderless, democratic movement.

Formal motions and votes were noticeable by their absence.  As the conversations continued the crowds drifted toward consensus.  It was clear to participants when that consensus was achieved

Yet despite everything the Assemblies and their odd processes worked.  Day by day, week by week the protests in New York grew until they could no longer be ignored.  The young people, tech savvy and knowledgeable in the new ways of social media, found ways to spread the word and build support.  The protest spread to dozens of cities around the country and even attracted international support.

Still, they kept being asked—Where are your demands? What are you doing here? Show us your manifesto so we can shove you into a box and pin a label on you.  So the Assembly went at the work of explaining themselves.

Anyone who has ever tried to draft a document in a committee knows what an irksome, almost impossible task it is.  People argue endlessly not just about the Big Picture but about wording nuance and the placement of semi-colons.  The results usually come out looking like they were constructed by a committee—filled with a mix of buzz words, in-group jargon, whereases and wherefores and stilted legalese.  The alternative is to swallow some ringing manifesto composed by a charismatic leader, an act which instantly converts a popular movement to a quickly ossifying ism.

The folks at the Occupy Wall Street Assemblies worked some magic.  I’m not sure just how they did it.  I would have liked to watch the presses in action.  In the end they came out with a clear and concise document that would not paint them into an expected corner.  And they did so with rhetorical grace.

This is what they want to say to the world right now.  Pass it on.

 

Artist Rachel Schrgais charted the interconnectedness of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.


Declaration of the Occupation of New York City


As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Rebel Worker and Icon Carlos Cortez Inducted into Chicago Hall of Literary Fame

 

I am more than thrilled to learn that my old friend, Fellow Worker, and mentor Carlos Cortez will be honored Sunday, September 19 as one of four inductees into the Chicago Hall of Literary Fame in a ceremony at the Cit Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue from 7 to 8:30 pm.

Carlos might not we well known to the general public, but he is a revered figure in the labor movement, especially with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and in the Latinx and Native American arts communities.  He was perhaps best known for his lino and woodcut posters and illustrations. For him art of all types was inseparable from social activism and was meant to be easily accessible to ordinary people.  He could have made a fortune and been far more widely recognized as a fine artist if he sold his posters in signed and numbered editions.  Instead, he printed them himself in unlimited numbers by silk screening on what ever paper stock he could scrounge and were sold for a few dollars or more likely given away.  In fact, if he discovered there was a commercial market for his prints that were being re-sold by dealers and galleries, he would print more just to keep the price down.  Much of his work has been archived, preserved, and displayed and displayed at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art, which he helped nurture.

Carlos Cortez was honored at a retrospective exhibit at Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art.

But he is being recognized now as a writer.  He was also a roll-up-his-sleeves, plain spoken poet who published three collections in his lifetime who shared his work at poetry readings and slams around the city avoiding the establishment to find venues where the excluded and outcast could be included.  He performed his pieces at union meetings and on picket lines, at rallies and benefits, and for those who gathered in the informal salon he kept open in the former Northwest Side neighborhood storefront where he made a home with his beloved wife Marianna. 

Most of his work first saw print in the Industrial Worker with which he was associated for more than 40 years. 

Born in Milwaukee on August 13, 1923 to a German Socialist mother and a Mexican indio/mestizo IWW member Father.  He was steeped from the beginning in working class culture and revolutionary values.  He took seriously the old Socialist admonitions not to allow governments to divide workers and turn them against each other in imperialist wars.  During World War II he refused induction into the Army and spent nearly three years in the Federal Prison at Sandstone, Minnesota—ironically the same prison where I was held for the same offense for draft resistance during the Vietnam War.  After the war he worked in various factories.

In the late 1950’s he decided to come down to Chicago to become more involved with the IWW where there was both an active general membership branch and the union’s General Headquarters.  He volunteered his time helping out at GHQ where Fred W. Thompson then the Editor of the Industrial Worker began to use his contributions of both illustrations and writings.

Carlos did many versions of this poster  of IWW songwriter and martyr Joe Hill including editions in Spanish and Swedish.

Soon he was contributing several pieces each issue—articles, essays, folksy polemics, and occasional verse.   Short musings, observations, and yarns were printed as a regular feature column The Left Side.  Other pieces appeared signed as CAC, C.C. Redcloud, Koyokuikatl, and his IWW membership card number X321826.

When he first came down he was still known as Karl Cortez as his mother called him, but has he immersed himself in the city and connected to the Mexican and Chicago communities, he became Carlos and adopted the big hats, and flowing moustache and sometimes goatee which became his trademark.

By the late 60’s Carlos took over as editor of the paper and in 1970 I began my regular contributions to its pages.  Later we reorganized the staff as collective and eventually I assumed the editorship while Carlos continued his contributions.  When we lost office space to do the layout and production, we did it at a table in Carlos and Marianna’s apartment.  When that place was remodeled by their landlord they stayed with me and then Secretary Treasurer Kathleen Taylor in our near-by fourth floor walk-up apartment in the building dubbed Wobbly Towers for a few months.

At an IWW party in the mid-70's Carlos, center, chatted with New York anarchist writer Sam Dolgoff while I listened to Kay Brundage, former wife of College of Complexes Janitor Slim Brundage.

Meanwhile Carlos and I both worked as custodians at Coyne American Institute, a trade school on Fullerton Avenue.  A few years later when I was homeless Carlos returned the favor and I stayed with them for some time enjoying Marianna’s strong espresso in the morning and hanging with Carlos over Wild Turkey in the evenings in the large gallery-like front room that served as his workshop and gathering spot.   Almost any evening was an education.

It is really a tribute to the Industrial Worker as a working class institution that Carlos is being honored for the work that largely first appeared there.

During those years Carlos became a founding member of the Movemento Aristico Chicano (MARCH)—the first organization of Latino artists in the city.  With his close friend Carlos Cumpián and others meeting in the comfortable front room, he built an organization which mentored many young artists, spread “the culture”, and helped foster the re-birth of the muralist movement in the city.  He also became an early supporter of the Mexican Fine Arts Center now known as the National Museum of Mexican Arts which became the repository of many of his works and has the largest collection of his extensive production in the world.  He was also active with the Chicago Mural Group, Mexican Taller del Grabado (Mexican Graphic Workshop), Casa de la Cultura Mestizarte, and the Native Men’s Song Circle, a Native American group out of the American Indian Center.  Through that association, he came to mentor and encourage young Indian artists with the same passion he dedicated to the Chicanos.  In fact, there was no artist or poet of any race who was not welcome in that home, as long as they were ready and eager to serve the people’s needs and not “art for art’s sake,” a notion he found repugnant and elitist.

Carlos used Marianna as a model often as a personification of the spirit of revolution in Industrial Worker illustrations like this May Day linocut.  He reveled in her voluptuous body, which sometimes got him in trouble.  

A lifelong bachelor, in the early 60’s a Greek friend told him that he should meet his sister.  The trouble was that she was still in Greece.  The two corresponded through her brother for a while.  Carlos saved his money, quit his job, and crossed the ocean as a passenger on a freighter.  He met Marianna Drogitis, a lovely young woman who was, however, by the standards of her culture, a spinster having rejected several suitors.  The two fell in love despite not speaking a word of each other’s language.  They communicated by gesture and the few words of German they had in common—she had learned the language in occupied Greece where members of her family were active in the Resistance.  They returned to the U.S. on another freighter, married, and settled into the happiest marriage I have ever seen in a Chicago apartment in 1965. 

When I proposed to Kathy Brady-Larsen in the early 80’s, Carlos was pleased to make a drawing of the two of us with her daughters Carolynne and Heather for the invitations I designed.  He and Marianna danced happily at our wedding party at Lilly’s on Lincoln Avenue.

By 1981 Carlos’s heart forced him to retire from wage slavery.  It gave him more time to dedicate to his artwork, poetry and causes.  Unfortunately, it also put a strain on Marianna who took extra work to make up for the lost income.  Despite sometimes working twelve hours at two jobs, she always had a smile for any of Carlos’s many guests, and a pat on the cheek for the old man.

Carlos's best known collection of poetry was issued by Charles H. Kerr, the revered Socialist publishing house.

Carlos, although best known as a graphic artist and for his work on the Industrial Worker, was also a poet.  He would do occasional readings at an old haunt, the College of Complexes, in coffee houses, at radical bookstores, and wherever his friends gathered.  He wrote three books of poetry, including De Kansas a Califas & Back to Chicago, published by March/Abrazo Press, and Crystal-Gazing the Amer Fluid & Other Wobbly Poems, published by the old Socialist publisher Charles H. Kerr & Company.  Carlos was President of the Kerr Board for 20 years, a title he detested.  He also edited, wrote the introduction to, or contributed to several other books.

Carlos was devastated when his beloved Marianna died in 2001.  I last saw him at her memorial.

His health deteriorated rapidly after that, and he was often confined to a wheelchair.  He continued to greet a steady parade of visitors and admirers to his studio home and participated in the planning of new exhibitions of his work, including one in Madrid sponsored by the anarcho-syndicalists of the Confederacion National de Trabajo (CNT.)   He suffered a massive heart attack and was confined to his bed for the last 18 months of his life.

On January 17, 2005 Carlos died, surrounded by friends and “listening to the music of the Texas Tornados.”

His long-time friend Carlos Cumpián will speak about him at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.


The Chicago Hall of Literary Fame describes its mission thusly:

Chicago is not a city that can be crisply explained, neatly categorized, or easily understood.

Yet through our literature we strive to define our place in the world. Our literature speaks to our city’s diversity, character and heart. In our literature can be found all we love and hate, frozen snapshots of our vast terrain over the years, commentary on our ever-changing culture. In our literature can be found who we are and what we do and where we do it. The value and character of our city is not only reflected in but shaped by our great books.

Our mission is to honor and preserve Chicago’s great literary heritage.

Unlike other cultural institutions the Hall of Fame does not just honor world famous authors but takes pains to highlight authentic and diverse voices.

Other honorees this year include Black novelist Frank London Brown whose work describing life in the Projects in the late 1950’s included novel Trumbull Park and the short story McDougal.  He was also a machinist, union organizer, and was director of the Union Leadership Program at the University of Chicago.  He enjoyed some fame as a jazz singer as appearing with Thelonius Monk. Brown died young in 1962.  Jeannette Howard Foster was an educator, librarian, translator, poet, scholar, and author of the first critical study of lesbian literature, Sex Variant Women in Literature in 1956. She was also the first librarian of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research, and she influenced generations of librarians and gay lesbian literary figures. She died in 1981.  Gene Wolf was a science fiction and fantasy writer noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith. He has been called the Melville of science fiction. Wolfe is best known for his Book of the New Sun series—four volumes, 1980–1983—the first part of his Solar Cycle He died in 2019.

Carlos will be in good company.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Don’t be Fooled—Only Diez y Seis de Septiembre is Mexican Independence Day

Revolution and religion mix in this homage to Padre Miguel Hidalgo with the banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe and an angel bending to kiss his brow.

Note:  Versions of this have run previously in this blog, I’m posting it again as a public service.  Mexico has a real history and tradition that is deeper than a taco and tequila festival favored by Gringos. 

Quick, what’s Mexican Independence Day?  If you answered Cinco de Mayo, you’d be wrong.  That is a minor provincial holiday in Mexico that has become a celebration of Mexican pride in the United States.  It celebrates the victory of the Mexican Army over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, during the French invasion of Mexico.  The correct answer is Diez y Seis de Septiembre—September 16—which commemorates El Grito de Delores, the rallying cry which set off a Mexican revolution against Spanish colonial rule and the caste of native born Spaniards who ran roughshod over the people in 1810. 

Early in the morning of that fateful day Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a respected priest and champion of the Mestizosmixed Spanish and Indian blood—and the Indios.  Both classes were held in virtual serfdom by a system in which native born Spaniards—Gachupines—held ruthless sway.  Hidalgo had for sometime been part of a plot by Criollos to stage a coup d’état by Mexican born Spaniards who were the middling level officers and administers of the system. 

The Criollo plot was to take advantage of resentment of the imposition of Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne by Napoleon to declare Mexican independence within a Spanish Empire under Ferdinand VII, considered by the Spanish people as the legitimate heir to the throne. But Ferdinand was held in France by the Emperor, so if it had succeeded the plot would have created a de-facto republic.  The Gachupines, who had accepted Bonaparte, would be driven out of Mexico. 

Plotters decided on a date in December to stage their coup.  In the meantime they were quietly trying to line up the support of Criollo officers and by extension the Army.  But the plot was betrayed and orders were sent out to arrest the leaders, including Hidalgo.

The wife of Miguel Domínguez, Corregidor of Queretaro (chief administrative official of the city of Queretaro) and a leader of the plot, learned of the pending arrests and sent a warning to Hidalgo in the village of Delores near the city of Guanajuato, about 230 miles northwest of the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, Mexico City. The late in the evening of September 15, Hidalgo asked Ignacio Allende, the Criollo officer who had brought the warning, to arrest all of the Gachupines in the city.

It was apparent to Hidalgo and Allende that the Criollos had not had time to solidify their support in the army, and indeed that many Criollo officers refused to join.  The revolution would inevitably be crushed.  Sometime in the early morning hours of September 16, Hidalgo made a fateful decision—he would call on the mestizo and Indio masses to rise up

At about 6 A.M.  Hidalgo assembled the people of the pueblo by tolling the church bell.  When they were together he made this appeal, which he had hastily drafted:

My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen by three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the Gachupines!

This is the famous Grito de Delores which sparked the revolt.  Runners went out to nearby towns carrying the message.  The long oppressed people flocked to the cause armed with knives, machetes, homemade spears, farm implements, and what few fire arms that they could take from the Gachupines. 

Indios, Meztizos, and Criollos on the march in this mural by Juan O'Gorman.

With Hidalgo and Allende at their head, the peasants began the march to Mexico City.  Along the way they acquired an icon of the Virgin of GuadalupeMary depicted as a dark skinned Indian—which became the banner of the revolt.

Along the way a regular Army regiment under the command of Criollos joined the march, but the swelling ranks of peasants—soon to number up to 50,000, was out of control by any authority. 

The first major battle of the war began at Guanajuato, a substantial provincial town, on September 28.  Local officials rounded up the Gachupines and loyal Criollos and their families and made a stand in the town’s fortified granary.  Hundreds of peasants were killed in wild frontal assaults on the position until rocks thrown from above caused the collapse of the granary roof, injuring many.  When a civil official ran up a white flag of surrender, the garrison commander countermanded the order and opened fire on the native forces coming forward to accept it.  Scores were killed.  After that there was no quarter.  With the exception of a few women and children, the 400 occupants of the granary were massacred.  Then the town was pillaged and looted, with Criollo homes faring no better than the native Spaniards.

The siege of the fortified granary during the Battle of Guanajuato. 

Of course Hidalgo had unleashed an unmanageable and ferocious anger among the people.  Along the march any Gachupines unfortunate enough to fall into the hands of the rebels were brutally killed, as were any Criollos who sided with them—or were simply assumed to be European born.  The revolt was not just a national one—it was a virtual slave revolt with all of the attendant horror that implied.

Word of the fate of Guanajuato mobilized forces in Mexico City and caused most wealthy Criollos to side with the government or try to remain neutral.

Hidalgo and his closest supporters later abandoned the army and returned to Delores.  He was frightened and disillusioned by what he had brought about.  A year later he was captured by Gachupine forces and hanged.

Hidalgo, Allende, and almost the entire revolutionary officer corps were trapped and arrested in March 1811.

It took 11 years of war to finally oust the Spaniards. A triumphant revolutionary army finally entered Mexico City on September 28, 1821, issued an official Declaration of the Independence of Mexican Empire, and established a government of imperial regency under Agustín de Iturbide.

But Mexicans mark the beginning of the struggle—the Grito de Delores—as the true anniversary of independence.

Huge crowds throng Mexico City each year for the pageantry and celebration of Independence Day including spectacular fireworks.

Eventually the church bell from Delores was brought to the capital.  Each year on the night of September 15, the President of Mexico rings the bell at the National Palace and repeats a Grito Mexicano based upon the Grito de Dolores from the balcony of the palace to the hundreds of thousands assembled in the Plaza de la Constitución.  At dawn on September 16 a military parade starts in the Plaza passes the Hidalgo Memorial and proceeds down the Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main boulevard.  Similar celebrations are held in cities and towns across Mexico.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Murfin Verse for Yom Kippur—A Goyish Take


This poem has appeared on this blog at least nine times for Yom Kippur.  I guess that this makes it an official tradition. It was inspired not only by my genuine admiration for the Holy Day, but by an ongoing controversy in my own Unitarian Universalist faith.  For many years UUs have gone blithely on incorporating snatches of prayers, ritual, and tradition from other religions into our own worship.  We do it mostly in good faith claiming “The Living Tradition which we share draws from many sources…”

But lately we have taken grief from Native Americans for adopting willy-nilly rituals and prayers which we don’t fully understand and take out of context, many of which, frankly, turned out to be New Age touchy-feely faux traditions.  And from African-Americans for Kwanza being widely celebrated is in almost all-white UU Sunday Schools.

The Jewish window from the nine faith traditions that inspire Unitarian Universalist series designed by Pam Lopatin and now on display in the Tree of Life UU Congregation in McHenry, Illinois.

Being UU’s, many of us were stung that our well-meaning gestures were not gratefully accepted as a sort of homage.  Others busily set themselves up to the task of wiping the scourge of cultural appropriation from our midst, preferably with a judicious dollop of self-flagellation with knotted whips—oops! Stole that one from 4th Century monks…No, what they did was form committees and commissions to issue long, high minded reports to be translated into deep retreats.  Seminary training was amended for proper sensitivity, and scolding monitors were appointed to detect insufficient rigor in rooting out the offense at General Assemblies and meetings.

Last year the UU Church of Worcester in Massachusetts, the cradle church of Universalism in the U.S., celebrated Yom Kippur.  Many cultural, ethnic, and secularized Jews belong to UU congregations which also welcome many interfaith families.  Some Jews belong to both local synagogues and UU congregations.  Ministers frequently include elements of Jewish worship even in congregations with few Jewish members.

In that spirit I offer you my poem.  Angry denunciations and heresy trial to follow…

And, yea, I may also have been reading a lot of Carl Sandburg when I wrote this.  Think it shows?

Cultural Appropriation

 

See, the Jews have this thing.

 

Yahweh, or whatever they call their Sky God,

            keeps a list like Santa Claus.

 

You know, who’s been naughty and nice.

 

But before He puts it in your Permanent Record

            and doles out the lumps of coal

            He gives you one more chance

            to set things straight.

 

So to get ready for this one day of the year—

            they call it Yom Kippur

            but it’s hard to pin down because

            it wanders around the fall calendar

            like an orphan pup looking for its ma—

the Jews run around saying they are sorry 

            to everyone they screwed over last year

            and even to those whose toes

            they stepped on by accident.

 

The trick is, they gotta really mean it.

           

None of this “I’m sorry if my words offended” crap,

            that won’t cut no ice with the Great Jehovah.

            And they gotta, you know, make amends,

            do something, anything, to make things right

            even if it’s kind of a pain in the ass.

 

Then the Jews all go to Temple—

             even the ones who never set foot in it

             the whole rest of the year

             and those who think that,

             when you get right down to it,

             that this Yahweh business is pretty iffy—

             and they tell Him all about it.

 

First a guy with a big voice sings something.

                       

And then they pray—man do they ever pray,

              for hours in a language that sounds

              like gargling nails

              that most of ‘em don’t even savvy.

 

A guy blows an old ram’s horn,         

            maybe to celebrate, I don’t know

 

When it’s all over, they get up and go home

             feeling kind of fresh and new. 

 

If they did it right that old list

was run through the celestial shredder.

 

Then next week, they can go out

            and start screwing up again.

 

It sounds like a sweet deal to me.

 

Look, I’m not much of one for hours in the Temple—

            an hour on Sunday morning

when the choir sings sweet

is more than enough for me, thank you.

 

And I have my serious doubts about this

            Old Man in the Sky crap.

 

But this idea of being sorry and meaning it

of fixing things up that I broke

            and starting fresh

            has legs.

 

I think I’ll swipe it.

 

I’ll start right now.

 

To my wife Kathy—

            I’m sorry for being such

            a crabby dickhead most of the time…

 

Anybody got a horn?

 

—Patrick Murfin