Friday, August 29, 2014

Market Basket: A case study in Finance Capitalism

Market Basket was a profitable company, owned by one family. Paid employees well and was a good corporate citizen.

After some machinations in the owning family, it faced being sold up to powers of finance capital -- sold on Wall Street. Family members would get a huge payday. The new management would eventually required by its Wall Street investors to run the company like every other supermarket chain. Lower wages, lower benefits etc. etc.

I rag on and on about the difference between capitalism and finance capital. This is an example of what I am talking about.

The more that the productive wealth of the country is controlled on Wall Street, the behavior of individual companies will directed toward maximizing short term profits, in order that the company is an attractive investment on Wall Street. The success of a grocery chain depends on being more profitable than any other form of investment: resort chains in the tropics, gun manufacturers, medical marijuana distributors. It will not survive simply because it is a profitable and successful grocery store that gets groceries into the hands of people who need them at a fair market price.

The employees of Market Basket and the citizens of New England communities fought to keep the ownership and control of Market Basket local. They won. Good on them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

6H for a Relentlessly Useful UUA (Cooley)

We all know that as the world around us changes, congregations need to change as well. Doing it the way it was done 50 years ago doesn't work anymore. And I don't believe it will work for our Unitarian Universalist Association, either. While there certainly have been changes and reorganizations since 1961, it mostly continues to follow along the same lines, with departments that have similar-sounding names and that often function as silos – unaware of what other departments are doing. Lest you want to argue with me, first ask me to tell you about my 2013 General Assembly experience, when I got up-close and personal with many different areas with the UUA administration and learned the truth of this siloing first hand.

In addition, I believe that it is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

So what is the UUA (organizationally) supposed to do? How might we have a "relentlessly useful" UUA?  I think that, in part, rather than serving as a denominational entity, the UUA would best serve the needs of congregations (and thus the larger world) by being a macro-congregation. That is, just as individual people participate in a congregation, so do individual congregations participate in the UUA.

In a post over on my blog, I proposed a 6H Approach for congregations to use to best serve their mission. This is a philosophical reorganization that would have ramifications in a congregation's structure. I think the UUA could adapt this model in relationship to the congregations it serves. And this is what it might look like.

Using the 6H Approach, the UUA would be busy...
  • HEALING congregations. Many of our congregations are wounded and struggling. Issues such as clergy misconduct, unhealthy system dynamics (and much more) mean that before we can expect these congregations to best incarnate our UU ideals, they must be given the resources to heal. A part of this would be holding congregations accountable for their own healing by providing opportunities for regular assessment and followthrough. For instance, congregations that have a history of abusing clergy would be required to go through a particular course of action before being allowed to participate in the settlement process.
  • HOLDING congregations in care by providing congregations with the tangible things they might need to lift their vision off the floor. For instance, many of our smaller congregations have difficulty finding and funding such essential positions as bookkeepers and webmasters. The UUA could provide such resources for a much reduced fee, freeing up valuable resources in the congregation for mission. Additionally, the UUA might provide conventional support, such as an updated “Church in the Box” that has what people need to start small covenanted communities: how to advertise, material to use (or where to find it), how to ask for money, things that work well to build community (maybe built on the youth group principles).
  • HEARING congregations. Once congregations are healthy and are being held in care, they can better listen and discern how they are called to minister in the world. Tandi Rogers has done some excellent work on finding a congregation’s sweet spot. Congregations should be encouraged to focus outward – how can they best “Love the Hell out of the World?" The UUA can support this process with tools for discernment and a framework within which congregations can work. Congregations should not be encouraged to hang out in the HOLDING phase as this does not serve our greater mission.
  • HELPING congregations. Once they have discerned their mission in the world, congregations may need assistance and support in bringing their mission to life. The UUA can connect congregations doing similar work (for instance, putting together congregations looking at serving a meal to the homeless, or installing solar panels). This is also where CSAIs and SOCs come in – what sort of questions should congregations be considering? Similarly, UUA social justice programs, such as the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, help congregations live their mission. The UUA can also connect congregations to resources they might not have thought of otherwise, such as alternate revenue streams or interfaith efforts in the same arena.
  • HANDING OFF. Congregations that make it through to this stage are now experts in their mission. Congregations at earlier stages of HEARING and HELPING might be referred to these leadership congregations – much like the Leap of Faith initiative. This also removes from the UUA the burden of providing these resources and places it again in the hands of a congregation. I would encourage certification of leadership congregations with specific areas of leadership identified. The UUA does not have to contain the experts, it just has to know where to find the experts.
  • HOMECOMING. This stage provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the UUA as a whole and the member congregations. I see General Assembly being such a celebration, with congregations learning about the resources available at the phase they are currently in as well as the one they aspire to, making connections with other congregations who have discerned similar missions, and getting leadership from leadership congregations identified in the HANDING OFF phase.

Just as with congregations, the UUA could use the 6H Approach not only philosophically, but structurally. The focus would shift from providing resources, to connecting resources – with the exception of special expertise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's Wrong with this Picture?

The picture is explained by this article by Tobin Grant at Religion News Service, and is based on data from the Pew Research Group.

What's wrong with it? Aside from the fact we call ourselves Unitarian Universalists, not "Unitarians". Other groups have names larger than their circles, so why not us?

I don't doubt that Pew Research has the best data around on religion, denominations, beliefs among the laity than anyone.

But they just have accepted rightwing tropes about politics. And because they do, how they place religious denominations isn't useful in the context of the actual political struggles of the coming day. 

First of all, who says that the most important ideological division in the country is between big and small government? Just about every committed rightwing commentator and every shallow minded mainstream centrist. That should tell us something.

"Small government" as an ideology has a history in the United States. Supposedly, it is one of the guiding principles of the US Constitution, and that is partly true. The Constitution is a compromise document that creates the strongest possible national government that would not have the power to interfere with the institution of slavery in those states that wanted to preserve it. If you do a clause by clause analysis of the Constitution, you can see that while it creates a new national government, that government was structurally prevented from interfering with slavery. "Limited or Small Government" is the ideological window dressing for preventing the US government from acting on behalf of African Americans. 

Small Government is still the principle by which federal action on behalf of African Americans is opposed. Conservatives are not against strong and powerful governments that act on behalf of white people, or against black people. Many conservatives, it appears, are all right with the police having the power to summarily execute suspected black criminals in the streets. A huge military, OK! Torture, OK! Corporate Welfare, OK! Food Stamps? No, we need small, limited government! 

So, what is wrong with this picture? The horizontal axis is mis-named. It should be Anti-Institutional Racism on the Left and Pro-Institutional Racism on the Right.  Some of the denominations might have be moved. Many would be stay the same. But it is true that the predominately black denominations would stay close to where they are now. 

This is an important change in language. Nothing is more mystifying about our political debates as the obscuring of the role of race in political ideology. This re-naming of conservatism to an abstract, ahistoric principle hides where people are on the real issues of the day. The most important ideological conflict in the United States is now, and has always been, over whether African Americans and other non-White people have a full and equal place in the United States. If they are, then the government has to be committed to their welfare. Are we a multi-racial democracy, or is the US a white peoples' nation with non-whites in a permanently subordinate status? 

When people say that they are in favor of helping the black poor, but just not with the government, they are saying that an abstract principle is of higher value than black poor people. It's a rationalization. 

What else is wrong with this picture? The vertical axis (protection of morality) is equally premised on a rightwing, conservative bias. Is stealing from the poor through usurious interest rates moral? Is causing the death of innocent civilians in war moral? Is a minimum wage that is less than a living wage moral? Are CEO salaries hundreds of times greater than the average worker's wage moral? In this chart, one gets the idea that morality is just sexuality and marriage, in other words, patriarchical morality.  So, the real axis is Pro-Patriarchy at the top and Anti-Patriarchy at the bottom. 

But that would only rename what is there.  When consider the morality of economics and social arrangements, the real division is whether the a church's moral stance declares the individual moral duty to go along with oppression, or to challenge it. Or, does the church really favor the full flowering of the human being, or try to tame it for the benefit of others. 

To be useful, a chart should where denominations and religions are in relationship to the power structures in this country at this time. Because the future will be the history of those struggles. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

William James on Lynching

A friend of mine, Peter Reilly, who writes a blog on tax matters, and studies history on the side has discovered a forgotten essay by William James, the great psychologist of religion. The essay is an introduction to a book written by another author on 'negro lynching'.  Read Reilly's post here. It includes the full text of William James's essay.

A key graf from James, speaking about the author of the book he is introducing
...Dr Dean Richmond Babbitt in this book correctly writes of “love of bloodshed” and of “homicidal instincts”, for the indulgence of which the possession of a black skin is rapidly coming to be regarded as a legitimate provocation. I find it hard to comprehend the ignorance of history and of human nature which allows people still to think of negro lynching as of a transient contagion destined soon to exhaust its virulence. It is on the contrary a profound social disease, spreading now like forest fire and certain to become permanently epidemic in every corner of our country, north and south, unless heroic remedies are swiftly adopted to check it.
James places the blame for lynching on the murderous impulses of humanity. To be more precise, he concurs with Dr. Babbitt's statement to that effect. He does not see that the practice of lynching was terrorism in service of the systems of political and economic subjugation of African Americans. This distinction, between a psychological motivation for racist violence and a systemic view, is important.

The great migration of African Americans to the North created a new system of economic and political subjugation: housing segregation and inner city 'ghettos'.  There were a whole wave of white riots in various cities as to keep African Americans in their new places. And now, it is the police for whom "the possession of a black skin is rapidly coming to be regarded as a legitimate provocation."  Or as commentator has said "They used to hang black men from trees; now they lay them on the pavement." And as the groundswell of support for Darren Wilson shows, there are many who support this modern day lynching.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson: Stepping Back To See the New Situation

Ferguson is a new situation: it is exposing the mechanisms of institutionalized racism in the suburbs. This Vox explainer article is a good primer on the issues. Previous national level discussions of racism often centered on the inner city and the urban poor.

Ferguson is a new situation: African Americans have long been treated as a suspect and potentially criminal population in the United States. Whatever else has changed for the better, this reality has not changed. It may have gotten worse, with the Wars on Crime, Drugs and Terror. At the grassroots level, how the police treat African Americans has been where white racism has been most imposed, and most resisted. Remember that most of the urban uprisings of the 1960's were sparked by police actions.

Demonstration in support of Ferguson Community in San Francisco
After the death of Trayvon Martin, concern over police brutality is crossing over into portions of the white population. The Michael Brown killing continues that trend. It's an uncomfortable process right now. There are issues about how whites can appropriately identify with these protests: how does the "hands up - don't shoot" gesture read when performed by white people who don't face that reality. What about the role of white anarchists and communists who ally with the most militant street fighters? Do white clergy get co-opted by the police into being crowd control agents?

Despite these points of friction, it is true that broader white support for African American stuggle against the police is a relatively new thing; previously, white support for the African American movements engaged issues like voting rights, or public accommodations, which did not challenge the politics of respectability.

Supporters have raised over $400K for Darren Wilson. 
Predictably, there is also a backlash brewing, as other portions of the white population are rallying to support the police.

Where all this goes is everybody's guess. But we are in a new situation.

What does it mean for congregations of liberal religion, and specifically, Unitarian Universalism?

We are in the suburbs. Every UU congregation can be inquiring into the systems of racism in their community, and the communities of their members.

All that we have been learning about institutional racism will be needed in the future as we try to make sense of suburban racism: how seemingly race neutral policies in areas like mortgage approval, zoning, election cycles serve to keep African Americans disempowered in suburban communities. Chances are that your all-white suburb did not get that way by chance.

All that we have learned about white privilege gets real, when you consider what a difference it makes to live without the fear that your life is just in danger from the police than from any other source.

Finally, what we have learned from our participation in the LGBTQ struggles for rights and marriage equality is that it makes a difference when we make a firm commitment to people who are being marginalized.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Demonization is Bullying

I have gotten a lot of pushback on the accompanying statement.  I stand by it.

Case in point: I ask you what has been the response to the Michael Brown killing. Conservatives everywhere have had one focus: finding the proof that Michael Brown somehow deserved getting shot. He was supposedly a thug; he stole cigars; he liked rap music; he had marijuana in his system; he beat Darren Wilson in the face and broke his eye socket; he was one of those scary black hoodlums. They have demonized Michael Brown. That is the sum total of their response. And you know, it's exactly the same as was done to Trayvon Martin. It is the main content of conservative media in this time. It is their go-to tool.

Note that I say that while the 'signature gesture' of conservatism are these campaigns of demonization, the "mission" of liberal religion is to re-humanize this culture. Hear what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am not saying that no liberals ever demonizes the conservatives. I am not saying that no one has made unfounded, harsh, and conclusive judgements about Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown. I am saying that the work we should do is to promote the understanding that each person has dignity and deserves respect. All of us are accountable human beings embedded in systems and structures that push and pull us toward certain behaviors.

I, however, specifically reject the idea that "both sides do it." The two sides are not equivalent entities.We are living in a system which is oppressive, and exploitative, and de-humanizing. There are the powerful and there are the powerless. So, watch the direction of the demonizing gesture, please. Not only does conservative media and ideology scapegoat and demonize, they usually demonize "down", toward the powerless. When the left makes harsh and unfair personal judgements, it is usually "up," at the powerful.

The mission of liberal religion to re-humanize this culture. I don't mean that our work is to create safe spaces where liberals and conservatives can get along. That degenerates into liberal religion trying to tone down "our" side. All those efforts will not be reciprocated. It betrays the victims.

I mean that our work is to stalwartly defend the victims of conservative demonization -- defending their humanity.

It means arguing that the young people of color are NOT an army of thugs out to pillage, steal and rape the rest of us. They are not the demons Fox News portrays them as. Michael Brown was a young man who was endangering no one when he was shot by a police officer. Young people of color are human beings.

It means reminding people that the refugee kids at the border are NOT an army of invaders, but children, for God's sake.

It means insisting that women who want birth control coverage in their insurance policy are NOT sluts who want to have recreational sex on other people's dime, but ordinary women doing ordinary things.

It means reminding people that the most of the residents of Gaza are ordinary people, NOT fighters.

The conservative movement is full of bullies. You don't talk bullies down from the thrill they get from being bullies. You stand up for the bullied, first, and always.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Suggestions, Please

Cindy Landrum suggested in a recent post that the UUA should provide payroll functions for local churches and congregations.

Quite a while ago, I suggested that the UUA should attempt to compile a massive database of UU's around the country, including those who self-identify but are not in congregations, those merely interested in our way of faith, those who have indicated support for any of the campaigns associated with Standing on Side of Love, etc.

Evin Carville-Zeimer suggests in a comment that the UUA could take on the task of providing a centralized legal services for churches and congregation.

I had a friend who suggested to me years ago that based on his experience doing nation-wide deals, he thought it would be possible to negotiate a nation-wide banking agreement with a single national bank for congregations and churches.

So, I am setting up the suggestion box here.

What functions do you think that could be centralized, to free up resources and energy in the local congregation to do what they do best?

Make your suggestions in the comment area. Remember that I moderate comments, so if it won't appear right way. You've done it right, don't worry. It will appear eventually.

I will not posts that get into explaining why another suggestion is a dumb idea, a violation of everything we hold sacred, won't work, is already being done, or has been tried with disastrous results. If we actually making any decisions here, such comments would be in order. Think of this as brain-storming.

Let's hear them.