SOCIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZING AND THE CHURCH [AND RELIGION, TRIBALISM, SOCIALISM] HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR] VARIOUS UPDATES
See, too, our community organizing "mini-course" http://hunterbear.org/my_combined_community_organizing.htm
Social Justice Organizing and the Church
[Much More than Craw Dads]
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR 4/03/05
At this moment in which I am settling down at the Computer [truly indeed the
New Faith], our radio is carrying the opening song of the Sunday morning
Shoshone-language religious hour at the nearby Shoshone/Bannock Fort Hall
reservation [adjoins Pocatello.] I do not know that language -- my
grandson/son, Thomas, regularly plays basketball on that res -- but I rather
like the music's mournful, dirge-like quality. Things go up and down with
me and the song of the moment certainly fits my present moment. [Thomas came
over very early this morning to look in on things; Peter [Mack] and family
drove almost 3,000 miles to see us for a very pleasant three days or so last
week; John [Beba] checks regularly. Other family members, Maria and
Samantha and Josie and Cameron, live right here.] Anyway, along with
millions of others, we have been watching the events surrounding the passing
of the Pope.
I began involvement with e-mail discussion lists in the early Fall, 2000.
On one of those lists, I was unpleasantly surprised at the numerous and
stridently anti-religious and certainly anti-Church posts -- most of which
appeared to have little or no experiential basis. Hence I posted that which
follows this present Introductory Note of mine. Later, a spate of
anti-Mormon stuff emerged on that list, based on poisonous nonsense posted
on the Internet -- and virtually none of that had a grain of truth. [The
charge that the LDS church operates "residential schools" to the detriment
of Native people is not at all accurate, since the Mormons -- on the whole
extremely pro-Indian -- have never at any point operated residential schools
of any kind. They have only a few higher ed institutions -- e.g., BYU and
Any Native person today is confronted with much that is non-Indian. As a
consequence, while maintaining our own basic identity, we do develop a sense
of tolerance, if not outright respect, for many differing points of view.
But I think matters go even deeper: Almost always fundamentally spiritual,
Native people especially respect the religious views of others -- whoever
the others may be. On the matter of the LDS church, I often think of Dr
[PhD] Bahe Billy, Dean of the Shiprock campus of Navajo Community College
[now Dine' College] for many years. Bahe Billy is a most traditional Navajo
as well as a Bishop [local ward leader] in the Mormon Church.
But virulent anti-Catholicism has recently broken out in several ostensibly
radical quarters -- some of it so rank in its verbiage and ungrounded
implications ["papists"] that I have automatically recalled some of the
old-time Klan tracts in such settings as Mississippi and Eastern North
Carolina and elsewhere. [I have noted that other, thoughtful radicals --
some very possibly non-believers themselves -- have endeavored to clarify
matters in a commendably helpful fashion.]
How any social justice organizer could ever hope to win over grassroots
people while expounding stridently anti-religious views is a Great
Mystery. I can only conclude that those poisonously verbose folks have
never even organized craw-dads in a bathtub.
Anyway, here is my post on all of this from awhile back:
One of the more consistent proofs I've seen of the durability and fertility
of religion is its oft-spectacular proliferation as a vigorous -- sometimes
wildly emotional -- discussional topic. This is true for a very wide range
of people -- and it certainly applies to radical, social justice activists.
And then there's the even more provocative question of, "Can a militant
radical who is fundamentally committed to substantive social justice
accomplish anything "within" the institutional Church -- and can he/she
survive there over the long haul?"
Let me tell you.
For myself, I certainly have no apologies whatsoever of that which I'm
certain is my own inherent spiritual dimension -- manifested in our
interesting family/tribal blending of the traditional beliefs with some of
the more attractive facets of Jesuit Catholicism. I should add that
Ignatius of Loyola -- he of single-minded and super-intensive organizational
commitment [whatever his own historical goals] is for us a special entity.
I have a large personal library replete with works on American and Canadian
and Mexican radicalism and much, much indeed on Native American matters.
And I have a great deal from other parts of the Earth. Several works of
and about Ignatius are immediately adjacent to my 45 volumes of Lenin [no
two volume index with my set.] I'd say that Lenin and Ignatius certainly
have something in common.
I certainly don't feel that a spiritual dimension is anything except
intricately correlated with that dimension of ours which demands material
well-being. And I certainly think we have a liberty-seeking fire as well.
I'd say that all of these are fused together beyond any precise analysis.
And I don't think for a moment that anyone in the history of Humanity -- or
any group or tendency -- has captured the entire complexity of the Cosmos
and all of its components [and all of these components, in my view, are
intricately linked.] And, by the way, the existence of certain
parapsychological phenomena -- e.g., telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis
[psychokinesis], precognition -- have been very well established under rigid
lab conditions. [I've been a member of the American Society for Psychical
Research for many decades.] But these, always known consciously by tribal
people and found, in my opinion, in all humans -- however cloaked they may
be in the superficialities of "western" science -- cannot be put as formulae
on blackboards. I think the case for "survival of the human personality
beyond bodily death" has been at least fairly well established by
parapsychologists. But, presumptuous as it may sound, most humans know
this anyway and most of us aren't inclined to think too much at this point
about what lies beyond the Fog.
But I do state, and categorically, that I'm alive today because of certain
clear and overwhelmingly intuitive warning feelings.
Anyway, I certainly do indeed think that religion -- or the lack of it -- is
up to the individual. And I certainly say emphatically that any really
working organizer seeking to get grassroots people together, develop
on-going and democratic local leadership, deal effectively with grievances
and individual/family concerns, achieve basic organizational goals and
develop new ones -- and build a sense of the New World To Be Over The
Mountains Yonder and how all of this relates to shorter-term steps -- can
hardly afford, whatever the organizer's particular stand on religion may be,
to become involved in his constituents' views on religion.
The institutional Church [or church] can indeed be something else. I parted
company with that in the summer of 1978 at Rochester, New York. For the
better part of the two previous years, I'd been Director of the Office of
Human Development, the social justice arm of the twelve country Rochester
Catholic Diocese. For years it had been a mostly talk situation -- and I
was hired because part of the staff genuinely wanted to do some genuinely
tangible things [and the Church bureaucracy was unaware of what bona fide
community organization really meant!] We moved quickly on a number of
fronts: organized Native mink-skinners [in some of the most repressive,
feudal conditions I'd seen since the Deep South] into successful strike
actions; launched all sorts of effective grassroots single-issue and
multi-issue projects; developed meaningful and effective liaisons with union
labor [and I was a prime organizer and co-chair of the regional Labor Law
Reform Committee -- seeking strong pro-union legislation]; pushed
international justice issues [Chile, southern Africa, Panama] and actively
supported the Iroquois land claims cases -- all of these both directly and
through the New York State Catholic Committee; vigorously supported gay
rights; and we did much else.
And we also pushed hard for the socialization of utilities power -- the
people-gouging [super-gouging] Rochester Gas and Electric -- whose board
chairman, we knew, was the biggest single contributor to the Diocese.
Tension between our bona fide social justice organizing and fighting -- and
the institutional Church -- had been growing steadily as Church politicians
began to realize what we were doing via the Office of Human Development. I
was given a series of ultimatums which, of course, I ignored -- and, in due
course, I was fired by the Bishop's hatchet-man for "insubordination"
[later changed to "a breakdown in communication."]
There was a hell of a grassroots protest through the remainder of the Summer
of 1978: Native organizations, grassroots groups, the 89 unions making up
the Rochester Central Labor Council and the Teamsters Union; many inner-city
parish priests and nuns; faculty from St. Bernard's Seminary; the Diocesan
canon lawyer; Episcopal clergy; the Catholic Worker movement. The widely
read National Catholic Reporter devoted much of an entire issue to the
Rochester upheaval. The Bishop took early retirement; his hatchet-man
[rumored to be his successor] was passed over and relegated in due course to
an obscure rural parish.
I was never, not surprisingly, reinstated -- my growing family and I went on
to the Navajo Nation -- but we did accomplish some solid victories on the
New York scene and we sowed many seeds of discontent. We hear from time to
time of those emergent fruits.
Would I work again for the institutional Church? No. Am I still aware of
my spiritual dimension. Of course. And I will always be so aware.
Traditional Native tribalism [communalistic] -- and this holds true, I should
think, for Fourth World peoples generally, has been characterized by the
primary principle of "tribal responsibility:" i.e., the group has a
responsibility to the individual and the individual has a responsibility to
the group. It's a deeply-rooted mutual kind of thing -- with a recognition
that, at least for the most part, what is good for the group is good for the
person. There is, on the one hand, a recognition that, if the well-being of
the group and the self-perceived well-being of the individual come into
conflict, the group-good transcends the situation. But there is always, in
the traditional tribal context, certain clearly defined areas of individual
and family autonomy into which the group cannot intrude.
All of this has enabled tribal peoples across the world to survive the
blood-dimmed centuries of attempted physical and cultural genocide.
When Father Thomas J. Hagerty, the revolver-packing priest of the Western
Federation of Miners, wrote out the preamble of the embryonic Industrial
Workers of the World in 1905, his creation -- however inspired -- started
off, of course, with "The working class and the employing class have nothing
in common." For my part, I read that preamble decades later when I was a
teenager and, shortly thereafter, I did the Communist Manifesto. To me, at
least, it all goes together, along with the foundation dimensions -- the
sensible balance between group and individual -- of Native tribalism.
And hopefully, this will all add up to a socialism where people are
genuinely free in all respects and where their choices are many indeed.
One of many protest rallies on behalf of me -- and continuing social justice activism:
Speakers [left to right] Alex Gaby, Editor of Labor News [Rochester Central Labor Council]; Jack Skvorak, leader of Metro-Act [large community organization]; John Salter [HG]; John Garibaldi-Erb [Democratic political actionist and county legislator.]
FOR THE STORY ON "THE GREAT ALGONQUIN FREEDOM CAMPAIGN [THE MINK SKINNERS' STRIKE AND RELATED SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIONS] SEE OUR WEBSITE SECTION VIA THESE LINKS:
FOLLOW-UP [12/31/01 HUNTER GRAY]
Note by Hunter Bear:
This is geared toward an ASDnet discussion. But RedBadBear will be
interested as well. They've heard this brief Klan story [included herein]
in another, related context -- but won't mind seeing it again.
Religion and the issues surrounding it haven't been [probably mercifully] a
major piece of the challenging Sociology of ASDnet. But these very recent,
albeit few, professions of militant atheism have been, for me, somewhat
surprising. In addition to running counter to my own religious beliefs [our
Native religion mixed with Jesuit Catholicism] -- which I don't tout --
their "imperialistic" implications strike me as being in poor taste [as do
those of pushy Christian missionaries and much of institutional Churchdom.]
But they also make me wonder, pragmatically, how those deeply and vocally
into "atheism militant" plan to establish workable rapport with the American
proletariat [to say nothing of that of much of the world.]
"Atheism," an old Arizona hard-rock miner, mentor and close friend named
Jim Stevens [who belonged to both Mine-Mill and the I.W.W.] once said to me,
"can be as much a fanatical faith as anything in Christianity or any other
world religion." He considered himself an agnostic -- and gave me things
written by Colonel Bob Ingersoll, who held those views. I was glad to read
the Colonel's thoughtful position on all of this -- though it didn't
undercut [and Stevens didn't expect it to] my own religious/spiritual
We were both good friends -- in those days of the 1950s -- of the admirable
Ammon Hennacy, former Wobbly and major figure [with the also former Wobbly and very Saintly Dorothy Day] of the Catholic Worker movement. Ammon Hennacy, the Catholic Anarchist, came frequently to Arizona -- where he maintained active friendships with the traditional Hopi religious leaders,
Platt Cline [editor of the Arizona Daily Sun at Flagstaff and Platt's LDS
wife], and Frank Brophy of Phoenix [ the reactionary but charming head of
the Bank of Douglas chain.] And, of course, my fellow-Catholic Ammon
Hennacy also maintained very deep and congenial relationships with many in
the exploited, multi-ethnic Arizona workingclass. [And much of that was and
The Day honoring Martin King -- both militant radical and thoroughly
committed religious activist -- is coming up very soon. He wasn't perfect
and never claimed to be -- but I'll confer Sainthood on him and some other
great figures from that epoch without a quiver of hesitation.
As for me, I know I'm no Saint and have never pretended to be. But I'm a
believer [and a believer in people] and that means, among other things, that
I can see "masses" -- but I can also see individuals and tragic situations
transcended by any ideology. For me, at least, the old Catholic song,
"Whatever you do for the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me" still
Here's a Klan story. Many, many years ago, in the fall of 1970, I made one
of my trips to Mississippi. In the afternoon, from the Magnolia border on,
the highway was the usual Mississippi mess: potholes, chickens, pigs, and
dogs -- and, no fault of the folk involved, rattle-trap junkers. In Jackson,
I was approached by a clergyman who had entered the state in the mid-'60s to
play an active role in the developing Human Relations Council. He asked me
if I would meet with X. I was surprised. The last I'd heard of X, he was
still a Klansman -- and one who had, very specifically and publicly, been
committed to killing me in the "not very far in the past old days." I
raised my eyebrows on this one. The minister told me that X had broken with
the Klan, still had some of the old ideas, but, in the minister's opinion,
was open to basic change -- a process that he, the clergyman, felt was in
its initial steps. I was interested. Then the minister told me that the
Feds were in the process of trying to hang a bank robbery charge on X -- and
that X had definitely not done anything like that. He went on to say that X
needed a lawyer -- a good lawyer -- and fast. Because of X's notoriety, no
local lawyer would touch the case. Would I help him?
I said I'd meet with X -- a guy roughly my own age from a poor-White
background down in South Mississippi -- and I did. We met in the evening at
a [by then long integrated] Jackson restaurant which was, coincidentally,
right across the street from the hospital into which I had finally -- after
an extremely long delay -- been taken as a very seriously
injured person in 1963 following an effort to kill me.
In due course, we talked about his case. He said it was a frameup. I
questioned him closely -- not about his social attitudes but about the Feds'
charges. The US Attorney was contending that X had robbed a bank, at 1:30
pm in a town just outside of Mississippi and had then driven to Jackson. X
had definitely been seen in Jackson, by a number of "neutral" people, just
before 4 p.m. The Feds were taking the position that he could have made the
trip during that 2 1/2 hour time period.
I knew the Feds were flat liars. That was the very Mississippi highway on
which, on a precisely comparable afternoon, I had just driven those
torturous and time consuming miles to Jackson. It had taken me much, much
longer than that.
"I'll help you," I told him. And then I added, "There is, however, one
thing you should know. The lawyer that I have in mind happens to be
Jewish." I then gave the well known attorney's name.
X knew the name immediately. He looked out of the restaurant window into the then dark Mississippi night. A few moments passed -- just a very, very
few -- before he turned his head back to me. "Get him for me," he said.
I did. The prominent civil rights and civil liberties lawyer of Jewish
background -- from NYC -- was extremely interested. Like myself, he saw the
Feds as the far bigger threat to all of that for which we stood.
Three days after our lawyer called the US Attorney involved, the Feds
dropped the case against X.
X went on, as the clergyman had predicted [and as I, from my visit with X
had surmised] to continue his process of change very nicely. And -- nice
wife, nice kids as well.
I've always been glad I did what I did. Martin King would agree with that.
And so would Jim Stevens and Ammon Hennacy and Dorothy Day. And so, as far as that goes, would many, many other radicals and social justice activists
that I've known and liked. It's very much a "least of My brethren"
situation whether or not one sees it from that specific perspective.
It's one hell of a complicated Creation. We all have deep beliefs that keep
us going in what I, presumptuously, call the Save the World Business.
Whatever they are, those deep rivers keep us fighting on the side of the Sun
[a Native metaphor.] And, while we're on that point, let me also say that
the concept of Hell is not found in any Native religion. As we Indians see
it, everyone gets to the Future Happiness.
Solidarity - Hunter [Hunter Bear]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
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