Saturday, July 28, 2007
THE NEW SANCTUARY MOVEMENT:
(AND THE NEANING OF DIRECT ACTION):
The latest issue of Time magazine (July 30- Aug.6) has an article on the New Sanctuary Movement in the USA. This coordination of faith groups is a response to the increasing repression and harshness that so-called illegal immigrants are facing in the USA these days. It's a wide coalition of groups ranging the spectrum from the Unitarians, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalians and the United Methodists to Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, Evangelical Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. Like the sanctuary movement of the early 1980s when the US government attempted to deport refugees fleeing repression and wars in Central America this movement offers sanctuary in churches for immigrant families under immediate threat of deportation and all sorts of other help for those not in an immediately critical situation.There is actually no legal right to sanctuary in churches, but authorities are almost always unwilling to raise the public stakes by violating the customary rule of sanctuary.
The most recent growth of this movement to follow the gospel's edict to "shelter the stranger" stems from a March, 2006 Lenten message of Cardinal Archbishop Roger Maloney of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in which he urged his priests and other faithful to disobey Bill HR 4437 should it become law. This bill passed the House of Representatives where it was introduced but later failed in the Senate. It would have criminalized any aid given to an illegal immigrant even if the giver was unaware of the legal status of the recipient. It put the onus to know on the giver of charity and essentially outlawed charity towards undocumented aliens in the USA.
(Molly Note: The article in Time Magazine gives the date of this instruction by Mahoney as 2005 while the website of the NSM gives it as March 2006. Time has made a mistake in this case. Their confusion is a result of the fact that HR 4437 was introduced in 2005 and passed on Dec. 16th of that year- a little early "Christmas gift" from the ruling class of the USA to poor people in that country. Molly has one of her recurrent fantasies stimulated by this, a retelling of A Christmas Carol with Ebeneezer Bush in the starring role and the ghost of Ronald Reagan come to warn him to mend his evil ways. The ghost will be dragging a chain made of nuclear missiles, boxes labelled either "To Iran" or "To Nicaragua" and various other unsavoury items. But more on this later in the year)
The New Santuary Movement continued to organize throughout on January 29th, 2007 they met in Washington DC to set up coordination of their various efforts. The Time article refers to the "founding" of the NSM as being in May of 2007, but once more it errs as what the NSM calls 'The Convening' in January is a more accurate date for the "founding". The consensus of the meeting includes the following guiding principles and goals:
Guiding principles or values:
-Faith platform: focus on faith-based moral principles
-moving immigrants from victim to witness
-ensuring the dignity of those we serve and those who oppose us
-open public witness being willing to take the consequences of our actions
-To protect immigrant workers and families from unjust deportation
-to change the public debate
-to awaken the moral indignation of the country
-to make visible immigrant workers and families as children of God
The website of the NSM gives much more information on their organization and goals. There are similar initiatives in Canada for immigrants and also for deserters from the American armed forces, but the religious efforts are considerably sparser and uncoordinated as compared to those in the USA. Anarchist efforts such as the No One is Illegal coalition do fine work here but lack the ability to offer people subject to deportation the sort of sanctuary that religious groups can.
What the Time article lacks in chronological accuracy it makes up for in situating the NSM in a wider context of what be termed "the struggle for America's soul". In particular it discusses how America, as one of the most religious nations on Earth, has "two wings" to its faith communities and how this initative from "the left wing of religion" overtakes the neo-conservative wing that has had far more publicity in the past. A particularily interesting comment is how, in the case of immigration, the left Christian position is far more biblically based that the conservative position. In the Old Testament, for instance, God speaks of being "the God of the aliens" 103 times. Right wing pundits can find no passages to challenge this. Molly has seen in the past little while how the power of the right wing manipulators of Christianity is gradually being eroded, even within the segment of the church known as "Evangelicals", by a slowly developing movement for a new social gospel. always meant to comment on this. Hope to say more later. Nowadays it is not only the traditional "liberal churches" that are questioning the designs of the American state but also some rather unexpected(to orthodox leftists) critics from different theologies. Have a look at the article if you can, and check out the NSM website.
All this leads into the subtitle of this blog. What is the meaning of direct action ? Basically it is identifying a problem and then taking direct action, either collective or individual, to remedy the problem. Seems simple, but it actually isn't. It contrasts with "indirect action" which is lobbying an authority or attempting to change the personnel in that authority so that they rather than a group or individual affected by the problem will take action to correct the problem. Direct Action is often taken as a subject of unquestioned belief amongst anarchists. It's assumed that it is not only the best course of action at all times and in regards to all problems but also that it is the only method that ever solves a problem. This is obviously not true, and a more rational and less ideological modest anarchism would admit this while retreating to the word "usually" and laying stress on "the law of unforseen consequences", also known as TANSTAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch), in that carring out problem solving by "indirect action" has other effects seperate from the immediate problem in question and often leads to less than optimum solutions.
That's all well and good and probably deserves more discussion than I have given it above. A much more grevious problem, however, is the great confusion that exists amongst too many anarchists who can't see the difference between direct action and a militant posturing. What the churches mentioned above are doing is direct action in its purest sense. Some of what they do either challenges or violates laws. Some of it does not (but would if bills such as HR4437 were to be passed). Direct action does not depend upon illegality to be so defined. A housing or food coop, for instance, is also direct action in its purest form.
Neither does the aspect of illegality or especially a violent attitude and actions make indirect action magically into its opposite. Arranging regular riots whenever certain members of the ruling class meet to plot evil -with a 100% certainty of failing to prevent any such planning on the part of the ruling class- is, at best, petitioning with a brick rather than a ballot. In may be seen as a media circus to influence others, but only a true believer could believe it is effective in this regard. The money spent on organizing, travelling to and defending the arrested in such circuses would be far better spend buying air time for ads. Worst of all it can, and to a large extent has, become nothing but an identity badge for those who not only don't care about reaching the unconvinced but would be very disturbed if their self image was disturbed by their ideology becoming more "normal". The sadness of some of the attempts to give examples of "success" in regard to these events (they cost the state X dollars for security, they prevented a third understudy to the 2nd assistant ass-kisser to the vice director in charge of boot licking from attending, etc.) is actually quite pity provoking if seen from outside.
Direct action presumes at least a good chance that the plan will succeed. Not necessarily a guarantee (nothing is certain in this world), but at least a real chance. When there is pretty much a 100% certainty that it won't succeed it is no long direct action. It is, at best, the symbolic action that advocates of violence like to disparage. At worst it is far less than that, existential justification perhaps.
Molly for one is quite pleased that large numbers of people, most of which have never heard of anarchism, are adopting its methods at least in part. She is displeased that some anarchists seem determined to stray from them.