Religious liberals and the Occupy movement

I’ve been reading Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition, the new book by Dan McKanan, the professor of Unitarian Universalist studies at Harvard Divinity School. McKanan points out that although we think of abolitionism, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement as separate movements, they are actually part of one continuous tradition of American leftist politics. McKanan also points out that religion has always been intertwined with the American tradition of radicalism — not that established religious institutions have embraced leftist politics in America, for no denomination or broad religious institution has done that, but rather that many American leftists have been deeply religious, and have drawn on their religious tradition for support and inspiration.

With that in mind, I was not surprised to learn that when Occupy Oakland was broken up by the police yet again last week, most of the 32 people who got arrested were at the Interfaith Coalition tent — including Unitarian Universalist ministers Jeremy Nickel and Kurt Kuhwald, and seminarian Marcus Liefert. (Jeremy even made the news in a small way: AP photographer Paul Sakuma snapped Jeremy’s photo as he stood handcuffed and surrounded by three police officers near the Interfaith Coalition tent.) Jeremy has been blogging about his participation in the Occupy movement, and his posts offer a good example of the connection between liberal religion (especially Jeremy’s Unitarian Universalist commitment to democratic process) and his leftist politics — just what Dan McKanan is talking about. Here’s Jeremy’s post about getting arrested — and here’s a follow-up post.

6 thoughts on “Religious liberals and the Occupy movement”

  1. The New Deal couldn’t have happened without the South’s Dixiecrat. LBJ couldn’t have accomplished civil rights legislation with Illinois Sen Ev Dirkson, a Republican, agains the Dixecrats in his own party not to mention norther machine Dems like Daley. Your line’s history is very very fuzzy.

  2. Bill, you forget that the Republican Party had a radical, leftist past that persisted, in muted liberal form, until the Voting Rights Act broke up the Democratic Party and the Republicans made their fateful Nixonian gamble to become an ideological right-wing party.

    Dan, you may be interested in a brief interview I conducted with Dan McKanan at the Occupy Boston site for “Beacon Broadside,” although he goes over ground he covers in depth in his book and his recent article for UU World. Here’s the video:

  3. Bill, although I left McKanan’s book at the office, as I recall he makes pretty much the point you’re making. But I did fail to make one thing clear: McKanan is talking about abolition, the New Deal, and the civil rights movements as the most prominent outcomes of radicalism — not as movements, or the Movement, themselves.

    Chris, thanks for pointing out the radical leftist past of the Republicans, which persists in muted form today in New England. And thanks very much for the link to the interview — no, I hadn’t seen it.

  4. What’s left today, strikes me as reactionary in the sense of Krugman when he talks of the more equitable income distributions of the 50s.

    What’s right today, strikes me as radical e.g. the tea party.

    American politics all about at what level of government decisions should be made: Federal, State, local, by the courts, or if by Gov at all.

    There is a “right” concerned with Liberty.

    There is a “left” concerned with Justice.

    The right has an easier go of it because Liberty usually involves what not to do.

    The left has a tougher slog of it because correcting an injustice often means committing another. The left’s also burdened with pseudo science such as Scientific Socialism (Marxism) and a few other 19th/20th “ism” hangovers.

    Read Howe’s What “Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848” and you’ll find this trends clearly setting themselves up.

    Just some propositions to mull over. Also consider Allit’s The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History

  5. @Chris so what’s “left” and what’s “right”? What’s “ideological” about today’s GOP that wasn’t ideological from Lincoln through Taft, to Vandenburg, and Goldwater?

  6. @Bill, I don’t mind your philosophical definitions of left and right; they’ll serve. Two points:

    The Republican Party from its formation until the end of Reconstruction was pretty radical and justice-oriented—and aspects of that tradition of the GOP persisted in the North well into the late 20th century. I can’t, however, think of any Republican figure of any stature who continues to champion a justice agenda in that tradition (although some “pro-life” figures sometimes cast their fight to restrict abortion rights as continuous with that earlier justice tradition).

    From the end of Reconstruction until, say, the election of Ronald Reagan, both the Democratic and Republican parties were coalitions of extremely diverse political constituencies: What did Southern Democrats and northern urban Democrats have in common, ideologically, in the 1950s? What did black Republicans and country club Republicans have in common, ideologically, back then? When LBJ decided his party had to break away from the segregationists and cast its lot with the civil rights movement, the Democratic Party basically cut loose its largest conservative constituency, and Nixon (and especially Reagan) recast the GOP to welcome them. As a result, liberal Republicans have drifted into the Democratic Party and conservative Democrats have drifted into the GOP, and the two parties are now more closely aligned with ideological poles than at any point in recent history.

    Oh, a third point: The left may be burdened with the errors of Marxism, but the right has its own burdens: nationalism, fascism, and reactionary traditionalism. There’s no such thing as a virtuous ideology.

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