Got to Root for the Pope, because He’s Rooting for Us!

pope-francis-povertyNew Orleans    I don’t know if Pope Francis sees himself as a community organizer or not, but if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure he’s vying for a position as head cheerleader, and I swear I can see him waving an ACORN banner in the stands.   John Russo, professor emeritus from Youngstown State and co-director of a center on workers there, sent me a link and a suggestion to check out a speech the Pope made in the Vatican in October to participants in a World Meeting of Popular Movements.   My respect for John is towards the top of my list, but in all honesty, reading a speech by the Pope is about at the bottom of my list.

I was wrong for that.  Reading about the Pope saddling up and riding in to address the European Parliament and essentially kicking their butt from here to tomorrow got me thinking that if he’s willing to stand that tall to the big whoops of Europe, what might he have really said when he was talking to people committed to building movements of change.  The short answer:  a mouthful!  Sit back, because here it comes right at you.

There’s no sugar coating either.  First he takes a well-deserved shot at NGO’s, saying,

Neither are they [the poor] waiting with folded arms for the aid of NGOs, welfare plans or solutions that never come or, if they do come, they arrive in such a way that they go in one direction, either to anesthetize or to domesticate.

Then he’s clear about the role of what he calls the “empire of money” and the role of solidarity:

…destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacements, painful emigrations, the traffic of persons, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are all called to transform. Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history, and this is what the Popular Movements do.

As an organizer, if you ever need a pick-me-up, rather than another cup of coffee, you might want to take some props from the Pope, as he names us out for praise,

…you have your feet in the mud and your hands in the flesh. You have the odor of neighborhood, of people, of struggle! We want your voice to be heard that, in general, is little heard. Perhaps because it annoys, perhaps because your cry bothers, perhaps because there is fear of the change you call for…

All of that is just Pope Francis’ warm-up, then he lets rip with the fire…

The scandal of poverty cannot be addressed promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize and convert the poor into domesticated and inoffensive beings. How sad it is to see that, behind alleged altruistic works, the other is reduced to passivity, is denied. Or, worse still, businesses and personal ambitions are hiding: Jesus would call them hypocrites. How lovely is a change when we see peoples in movement, especially their poorest members and young people. Then the wind of promise is felt that revives the hope of a better world. My desire is that this wind be transformed into a whirlwind of hope.

Bam!  Then here comes his one-two-three punch:

The other dimension of the now global process is hunger. When financial speculation conditions the price of foods, treating them like any merchandise, millions of people suffer and die of hunger. On the other hand, tons of food are thrown away. This is a real scandal.  Hunger is criminal; nourishment is an inalienable right.

Second, roof. I said it and I repeat it: a house for every family. We must never forget that Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room in the place; that his family had to leave their home and flee to Egypt, persecuted by Herod. Today there are so many homeless families, either because they have never had a home or because they have lost it for different reasons. Family and dwelling go in hand. But, moreover, to be a home a roof must have a community dimension, and it is in fact in the neighborhood where the great family of humanity begins to be built, from the most immediate, from coexistence with one’s neighbors. Today we live in huge cities that are modern, proud, and even vain. Cities that offer innumerable pleasures and wellbeing for a happy minority. However, a roof is denied to thousands of our neighbors and brothers, including children, and they are called, elegantly, “persons in a street situation.” It is curious how in the world of injustices, euphemisms abound. A person, a segregated person, a person put aside, a person suffering poverty, hunger, is a person in a street situation: an elegant word, no? You must always look – though I might be mistaken in regard to some — but in general, behind a euphemism there is a crime.

Third, work. There is no worse material poverty – I must stress it – there is no worse material poverty than one that does not allow for earning one’s bread and deprives one of the dignity of work. Youth unemployment, informality, and the lack of labor rights are not inevitable; they are the result of a previous social option, of an economic system that puts profit above man; if the profit is economic, to put it above humanity or above man, is the effect of a disposable culture that considers the human being in himself as a consumer good, which can be used and then discarded.

And, then in closing he pretty clearly tells all of us working with organizations and movements to build power for change and justice to get on the job!

The Popular Movements express the urgent need to revitalize our democracies, so often kidnapped by innumerable factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the great majorities and that protagonism exceeds the logical proceedings of formal democracy. The prospect of a world of lasting peace and justice calls us to overcome paternalistic welfarism; it calls us to create new ways of participation that include the Popular Movements and animate local, national and international government structures with that torrent of moral energy that arises from the incorporation of the excluded in the building of a common destiny.

Amen!

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Global Handles are Proving Good Tactics, Even if not Huge Leverage

Jay Leno joins a demonstration Monday calling for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel over the human-rights record of the government of Brunei, which owns the hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Jay Leno joins a demonstration Monday calling for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel over the human-rights record of the government of Brunei, which owns the hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

New Orleans   Talking to Steve Early, labor journalist and activist, recently on Wade’s World about the debate over the value of global leverage in organizing drives by the UAW at Volkswagen and CWA at T-Mobile, got me looking around for other examples of organizations grabbing global handles to increase the pressure in their campaigns.  

One that is getting a surprising amount of traction from an unlikely source is SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of Abuse by Priests, which has been waging a relentless effort to hold the Catholic Church accountable for sexual abuse for decades now.  Even in the feel good embrace of the new administration of the Vatican by Pope Francis from Argentina, SNAP with the legal assistance of the New York based Center for Constitutional Rights has managed to give the Vatican huge headaches and public relations nightmares by appealing to the United Nations, more specifically the UN Committee on Torture.  Thus far they have already succeeded in getting this UN committee to classify sexual abuse as equivalent to some forms of torture, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, and, frankly, not so far-fetched.    Moreover they seem to have scored a coup as well by recently prevailing on the UN committee to see the Vatican’s responsibility as the entire holy Catholic church worldwide, surprising the Archbishop trying to do damage control before the UN committee and narrowing the inquiry to only the couple of hundred employees and church staff. 

SNAP has clearly been the bulldog attached to the robes of the church in the United States for years and critical in winning multi-million dollar judgments for its members, but has been exasperated at the continued unwillingness of the church to accept full accountability.  For example SNAP even viewed the recent committee appointed by Pope Francis skeptically as too limited and another evasion.  Recent reports by committee members indicate that they believe they are making progress in coming up with real protocols within the church for dealing with sexual abuse, but given the long history of this campaign, SNAP is not wrong to be worried.   Their gambit with the United Nations may finally put them within reach of the top-to-bottom acceptance of responsibility and full accountability they have sought for so long.  Talk about finding friends in strange places!

In another case of a horrendous issue searching for a handle, the Gill Action Fund, an LGBT group, has triggered a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel, home of the Hollywood favorite, Polo Club, because its owner, an investment vehicle of the Sultan of Brunei, is implementing more provisions of sharia law in that country including stoning for adultery and any kind of hanky-panky by same sex couples.  Big name, headliner groups run by the likes of Jay Leno and his wife, have already pulled out, and other properties owned by the Sultan in London and Paris, are increasingly persona non grata for the elite and one-percenters not wanting to look all “Donald Sterling” on this issue.  Brunei is a long, long way from Hollywood out there in the South China Sea on the tip of Borneo calling Indonesia and Malaysia its neighbors, so it’s a cinch not many A-listers had every set foot on its soil or had any plans to do so, but thanks to an evolving sophistication in global campaigning, even long distance no matter how remote cannot protect evil forever.

Smart tactics and persistent campaigns are finding pressure points, so let’s hope they can build the leverage to bring home the victories.

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