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Dan Lawlor: Anger is Not Enough to Change RI

Saturday, April 07, 2012

 

This is the season of Easter and Passover, two of the holiest festivals in the Christian and Jewish calendars. Celebrations of resurrection and exodus, of new life and liberation are the religious themes this time of year, from the Philippines to Portugal.

I recently came across mention of the life of William T Stead, a refomer and activist who died one hundred years ago on the Titantic. Stead worked with newspapers, reform societies, and activist groups to promote a better world, especially for city people.

Some are quiet happy to describe Providence, Springfield, and Hartford as “dumps.” Clearly, this is based on a short historical memory. Urban America, over one hundred years ago, was plagued by disease and starvation. Stead recalled the Depression of the 1890s, where around Chicago the homeless wandered “like frogs in the plague.” According to Donald Miller, “10% of the population was pushed to the brink of starvation every day, many families saved only by fleet-footed children who were sent out, sometimes in gangs, to steal fuel and food.”

In the US today, children do not work in factories, police do not need to guard barrells of coal from desperately poor people, sewage systems exist, and all citizens, regardless of gender, race, or income, have the right to vote. I don't bring this up to belittle the challenges of today, including the ongoing struggle against chronic homelessness, but to say, take heart. Through organizing, coalition building, moral reasoning, strikes, protests, demand and self interest, life has improved for many people in the last one hundred years.

Stead is famous for a muckraking book which asked, “What would you say if Christ came to Chicago? And what do you think he would do?...” Stead went on to denounce politicians, upstanding citizens, brothel owners and patrons, factory owners, bankers, railroads, saloons, and the like. Not all his demands for a clean, just Chicago became reality, and many that threatened the city's elite were ignored. Yet, his religious anger and moral organization was catalyst for changes in Chicago's parks, municipal reform, and anti-gambling initiatives.

Anger is not enough, and burns out. Righteousness is not enough (and can warp into self-righteousness). For changes in community to really take place, organizations, groups, and community work must happen. This is not always fun. Sometimes you work with some fairly crazy people (including yourself in a group setting), it is exhausting, and the effort seems worthless. At the same time, sometimes, community work is fun, is invigorating, and is exciting to see joy and action in practice.

From protests in Syria, to marches in Russia, to strikes in Chile, to memorials in Florida, so much is happening across the world. At this time of Easter and Passover, Alla Bozarth recalls, “Only surrender to the need of this time- to love justice and walk humbly with your God.”

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