Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
The following address was delivered to the American Solidarity Party's second annual Midwestern Conference on Saturday, October 21 by Tara Ann Thieke, Chairwoman of the Dorothy Day Caucus and Vice-Chair of the ASP-PA Chapter.
Good afternoon everyone! My name is Tara Thieke, and I've just been elected the new Vice-Chair of Pennsylvania, and am currently the Chairwoman of the Dorothy Day Caucus, which is an independent group of ASP members. I'm thankful to be here with you all today, and want to extend my especial gratitude to Dr. John Das who so kindly invited me here to talk a little bit about Christian Democracy, the state of our society, and why I believe the American Solidarity Party is our best hope for transforming our politics.
I don't know how familiar any of you may be with contemporary Japanese fiction, but there's a particular author I'm very fond of named Haruki Murakami who I'd like to discuss. He isn't Christian, and he isn't overtly political. About seven years ago he was invited to accept an award in Jerusalem, an award he was pressured to turn down for political reasons.
Mr. Murakami did not turn down the award. Instead, he went to Jerusalem, where he spoke some words which have stayed in my heart since I read the transcript of his speech a few days later. I'd like to share them with you, and then talk about how these words are relevant for believers in Christian Democracy, third parties, and the sacredness of all human life:
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?
What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.
This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others - coldly, efficiently, systematically.
I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong - and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.
Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.
That is all I have to say to you."
Mr. Murakami has chosen the side of the egg. The human face, the human soul, that is the egg. And it is the face, the soul, that our current political and cultural conversation ignores.
Our thought leaders, our think tanks, our cable news networks are full of utilitarian thinking, of fulfilling Daft Punk's dream of "Bigger Better Faster Stronger." But mere accelerationism tells us nothing about the present, about the souls around us and their needs. Perhaps this is why Christian Democracy is treated with such wariness: because it is so desperately needed, and because it recognizes goods which cannot be sold on the market.
A politics built around Christian Democracy places the person at its very center, because the person is made in the image of God. It establishes both a rule and a limit at its core, and that is what accelerated state capitalism seeks to destroy.
We have heard such beautiful promises, of the End of History in one breath and ever-increasing prosperity in the next. Perhaps we should ask what is happening to the people without megaphones, to see what it is like for our neighbors:
Suicide rates are increasing every year.
Teenagers and children face a particularly gruesome escalation in suicide rates.
Teen depression, anxiety, and stress are all rising. Adults face a similar, though less stark, rise.
Over 3,000 abortions are committed each day, destroying a human life and leaving a woman with a scar that will last a lifetime.
We are in the grips of the most powerful opioid crisis we have ever seen.
The number of homebound, elderly Americans who are all alone has never been higher.
We have the highest incarceration rates in the world.
Working-class men without college degrees are disappearing from the work force.
The elderly and disabled are increasingly at risk of being pressured to end their lives prematurely.
Heavy binge drinking has dramatically increased in the past ten years.
The use of antidepressants has increased almost 400% since the 1990s.
Children, especially boys, are increasingly drugged.
Foster care children are the most drugged of all.
Alienation, however it manifests, is killing millions of Americans.
How can everything be wonderful and getting better every moment when more children and teenagers kill themselves with each passing year? When children and teenagers and young adults are enduring a mental health crisis, how can we neglect what our politics has failed to do? As liquid capital has been allowed to dictate the norms of our world, reality itself is liquidized and replaced by virtual substitutes. Youth, with no defined roots or common good to attach themselves to, are burdened with the task of self-creation, a self-creation that is actually promoted and defined by a market which calls for every bond to be dissolved and replaced by a profitable dissatisfaction. So it is that even their own bodies are weaponized against them.
The evidence is before our eyes but we lack the will to see it or the strength to admit the prevailing orthodoxy is ill-equipped to understand the depths of the crisis. It's time we admit that, whatever great gifts our economic and technological progress have bestowed upon us, we have done nothing to off-set the negative consequences of that progress. The balance sheet is not drawn in favor of human good, but for the good of a System which counts success in numbers. Our failure to recognize human beings have needs other than to watch large numbers get larger, or gadgets get smaller, has created a culture of despair, of addiction, of waste, of inhumanity. We must restore a vocabulary which has a fuller understanding of the human condition, which does not run to programs or markets to solve problems, but understands the depth of our need for meaningful relationships and lasting bonds.
Christian Democracy is what is missing from our vision. Not to be confused with the Religious Right, Christian Democracy recognizes values other than utilitarianism, growth, or mere respect from the powerful. It restores a voice to those left voiceless by The System.
We need a politics which does more than try to win elections. Christian Democracy enables us to encounter and hear our neighbors. We need a politics that worries about more than electable candidates. Christian Democracy meets this need by knowing a strategy is only as good as its motivating values. We need a politics where people outside gated communities are heard, not merely managed. This requires subsidiarity, a principle too quickly discarded for its difficulties, but that Christian Democracy recognizes as necessary to some degree for common flourishing.
We need a politics willing to do more than encourage polarization or self-righteous tribalism. Christian Democracy is rooted in the humility of Christ, and reminds us we, too, are sinners, and that we are called to love people even while disagreeing with them. We need a politics unafraid to ask what a good life looks like beyond "college degree, resume-building, travel, and access to cutting-edge technology and fine dining." Christian Democracy understands a human life is not a mere balance sheet tabulating up the pleasant and unpleasant experiences, but a gift bestowed by God. Peace, love, wonder, and Theosis are our highest callings. They cannot be purchased, they cannot be sold.
We need a politics that asks what makes a community, what makes a home. Christian Democracy, recognizing how the family stabilizes and provides a context for finding our place in the world, is able to identify the catastrophic effects of what Zygmunt Bauman called "liquid modernity." We have long endured a process of liquidization which devours mediating institutions and uproots families in order to make them more manageable workers or consumers (depending upon where you live in the world). Christian Democracy seeks to protect the family and local communities, knowing that it is relationships which best heal, and it is restored relationships we crave. We need a politics willing to ask if machines serve people, or if people serve machines. Christian Democracy can be open to the positive changes of technology, but is willing to step in when the progress of machines interferes with the good of people. We need a politics that asks how many people have to die to acknowledge mass despair is a political issue, we need a politics that asks what progress could ever mean in a world where any child commits suicide, let alone one where more and more do so. Christian Democracy maintains an unshakeable commitment to the truth that our good cannot be found by liquidizing those things which make for human flourishing simply in order to be richer, more autonomous, or better entertained. It instead proclaims every human being is of irreplaceable worth from conception to natural death, and we are bound to one another as neighbors and children of God.
Too often political choices are framed as though if we act in our self-interest we are acting amorally, while if we act guided by morality we are acting altruistically. We must reject any such distinctions. If we are to succeed as a political party, it will be by articulating and demonstrating how moral politics (a politics rooted not in the performance of markets or the aggregation of statistics, but in the fundamental dignity of every human being), is in the self-interest of every single human being.
Our politics have too long ignored the eggs smashed against The System. The coltan miner in the Congo who works as a virtual slave is the egg. The Chinese worker in the iPhone factory with suicide nets outside the windows is the egg. The dispossessed farmer in India is the egg. Our youth facing unemployment or prison are the egg.The laid-off factory worker in Ohio is the egg. The teenagers addicted to social media and unable to identify the cause of their increasing anxiety are the egg.
But the wealthy professionals of Silicon Valley, DC, and New York are also the eggs, however convinced they may be that they (and the rest of us) are better off with smart phones and tablets and infinite options for streaming entertainment and meal delivery services than we would be with thriving local communities and strong neighborly and familial bonds. Their shells may strengthen the wall after they crash against it, but they are still fundamentally smashed eggs.
Telling people the things and systems they believe are making them happier and the world better are actually making them more miserable and the world worse will not be well-received. This was a truth faced by Christ, faced by all the prophets. It will indeed be mocked by many. But we will never succeed as political party by chasing people where they are. There are two political parties in this country with incredible resources and with brands, however damaged, that are known by all. We cannot hope to beat them at the game they themselves crafted. Even if we were to devise the most popular combination of policy positions and the cleverest of messaging, as long as we were not threatening the current power structure in any great way, that platform and messaging would just be coopted by one (or both) of the two existing parties.
We face, even among ourselves, even within ourselves, a failure to imagine alternatives, a desire to fall back upon the same answers which have inadvertently wrought the destruction and stalemates we currently struggle against. The temptation is overwhelming: trust that this time the self-proclaimed experts will get it right. They may not have changed the goal, they may not have even understood the criticism leveled against them, but if we would just put aside our pesky devotion to ideals of localism, our recognition that healthy families and communities are the best guarantees of health and happiness, then our flying cars will be just around the corner. Or self-driving ones, at least.
In spite of the temptations which beset us to abandon our commitment to our principles, the American Solidarity Party possesses a virtue which is the key all other third parties in our country have lacked: central to our identity is our belief in the irreplaceable sacredness of every human life. If you believe all people contain within them the Imago Dei, the image of God, then no person can be a means to an end. No person is only a vote. No person is just a path to power. No strategy is more important than a human being. We are not means to an end: we are ends in ourselves, and the end is greater than mere power. It is greater than mere speed. It is greater than mere credentials.
Thus our party has written into itself a principle which is also a gift: the gift of being able to put down our megaphone and meet our neighbor not just with words on our lips, but with ears to listen. We can encounter human beings as opposed to simply yelling at them. With the most firm and loving of all first principles as its foundation, the American Solidarity Party is better equipped than any party in US history to love our members rather than use them. We have built our party upon something greater than ourselves. We have built our party upon our common humanity, rather than narrow self-interest.
It is easy to say the time we live in is dark. It is harder to say what we in this room, or the American Solidarity Party as a whole, can do about it. It is hard to know in any moment where in the ebbs and flows of history we stand, or how far things can go in any one direction before a critical mass will decide they have gone too far. We should do all we can to build a raging fire, but accept that for this moment in history, our role might be to merely light a spark, or gather kindling, or simply to keep the wood dry. What we absolutely cannot do is to accept the darkness and hope our eyes adjust to it.
We will leave here today and return to the difficult, perhaps impossible task of pushing back against a culture of death and despair. All around us will be eggs undergoing the slow, horrible process of being smashed. We will hear the familiar and exhorting commands that we acquiesce to the solutions offered by the powerful, to the promises of false compromises and shallow dreams. People and pundits alike will chide us for our idealism, pushing always for the lesser of two evils, and never daring to articulate a true good. We will constantly be steered towards the lowest common denominator, while told we should rejoice at what is clearly only a quickening degradation. The weight will be heavy. We will be surrounded by temptations to throw in the towel, to acknowledge the egg is too fragile, and we are too weak, the world too strong.
But let us remember this: the American Solidarity Party holds up the pelican, an ancient but persistent presence in Christian iconography. Legend testifies the mother will pierce its own breast in order to feed its young. Rather than squawking like seagulls or hovering like a vulture, it silently observes the pain of hunger and asks itself what is lacking. Then she looks to herself for the change its young depend upon. The pelican exemplifies the "revolution of the heart," the seeking of the common good before its own. The pelican's sacrifice brings strength and health; the beauty of the sacrifice inspires our devotion to something higher than our appetites, to things which have no price, and inspires us to value love over power. We look at the pelican in awe and joy, and are thus transformed.
Perhaps it takes a pelican to protect an egg.
by Charlie Jenkins
Why Labor Day is Truer to Labor Tradition than May Day
There was an autoworker, Ben Hamper, who used to publish a column in the Flint (later Michigan) Voice, an alt-weekly where Michael Moore made his name by founding. A lot of Hamper's columns were later collected and repackaged in an excellent book, "Rivethead."
Hamper was born in 1956, a fairly clever kid growing up in Flint, Michigan, the chronological and geographic apex of American industrial unionism. Every kid's father worked for GM. Hamper could have gone to college, but he impregnated a young woman, and so went to work on the assembly line. His reasoning does not show a sense of obligation, or that infamous Catholic guilt as a source of motivation for leaving the college path, but because the factory path seems as good a life course as any other. It’s what every man he knew had done, and under the mighty UAW the pay is on par with the kind of “educated” jobs you could get anyway. Why not?
So Hamper went to work on the line and eventually ended up writing a column about it. In his columns he talks about the color of the factory culture, playing soccer with rivets for balls and cardboard boxes for goals, drinking mickeys of malt liquor in your car on lunch break, the absurd fur-suited mascot “Howie Makem, The Quality Cat” GM would feature at rallies and shop-floor tours, being laid off in economic downturns and put into the “job bank” where you get paid waiting to be rehired in the next upswing, and developing a perfect rhythm with your partner, developing into a harmony so perfect you can each trade off doing the two-person job yourself for 4 hours while the other one goes out to a bar on the clock. It was the dignity and solidarity of the American worker.
Time passed and eventually his marriage fell apart but he took it in stride, and his column was recognized and he takes pride in its fame. Then eventually he had an epiphany, and a complete breakdown, which are basically the same thing. The inciting incident is when an older line worker, some guy he’d looked up to as a model of quiet, philosophical stolidity, just literally shits himself and is barely coherent enough to even notice what has happened.
At that moment Hamper realized this man he respected hadn’t been some sort of Zen master, he’d just been a checked-out mindless drunk on the line every day. And he realized the rivethead life is destroying him, that the only thing holding it together was a budding alcoholism, and it’s working the same slow poison on all his co-workers. He looked back even further and found it had done the same to every grown-up man he knew as a child: his father and uncles, men he had looked up to as models of masculine strength and fortitude, actually had just had their spark snuffed out and the life beaten out of them years earlier. Whatever pride they took in the cars out on the road was a defensive attempt to locate in an external form the sense of self-value that had been exterminated within them. When Marx talked about “alienation”, well, this was it. And so Hamper went mad, and couldn’t bear to work on the line anymore, and there’s no redemption, and that’s where the book ends.
And that is what I want to stress. There were two great working class traditions that echoed through the ages, and they were:
1) avoiding work
Back in the pre-mechanized age of small-group workshop manufacturing, workers would celebrate “Saint Monday," which was simply not showing up for work, as they were hung over after the weekend. This was a riff off of Catholic feast days, or holy days, from which we take the word “holiday." As time went on they counted an increasing share of the days of the year. There was a reason poor workers were aligned with the Church, and nobility, in “Altar and Throne” coalitions resisting the development of industrial capitalist liberal democracy.
We see in our own era, particularly the 1980s which were a miserable time in the American auto industry, that one trick which was passed around (pre-internet, so by word of mouth largely) was to look at the codes stamped on car bodies, which would tell you what day of the week they were manufactured, and thus workers knew to avoid Mondays and Fridays. Those days had the highest defect rates, because the workers tended to be drunk, or hungover, or absent. And back in the workshop days, you’d drink at work. Apprentices would be sent out for growlers or buckets of beer, and there were elaborate rules of who in the hierarchy of workers was expected to buy rounds for which person and when.
There was hellacious resistance to attempts to get men to knock this off as the industrial era kicked into swing. Those great satanic mills, where women and children worked in shifts at great water-or-steam-driven sewing and spinning machines, which produced wrenching stories of small children having their hands mangled by the machinery? (Ironically, one of the great moral victories of the 19th century was supposed to be getting women out of the workplace, and one of the great moral victories of the 20th century was supposed to be getting them back in.) One of the major reasons women and children were preferred was because they would actually show up on time every day, and stay sober around all those hand-mangler while the men were drunk.
Some of this may sound like an argument for socialism and worker-owned factories. But as capitalist propaganda will also be glad to tell you, Soviet work culture, at least when the morale thrills of the Revolution and Great Patriotic War faded from personal to institutional memory, was all about shirking and vodka. So when we hear those complaints about how America celebrates Labor Day instead of May Day, ignoring the true meaning of labor - solidarity - in favor of mindless distraction? Psssh. Labor Day is a celebration of the truest, most ancient, most fundamental traditions of labor: not working (especially on Mondays), and getting drunk.
by Kyle Herrington
“X group of people won't change. X are evil. X must be stopped at all cost. #PoliticalTwitter”
Contra the hope and optimism trumpeted after the election of President Obama, the current mood of American politics (most visible on social media) is a disbelief in change. We believe that even with dialogue, debate, and pertinent evidence, people won't change their minds about community issues or policies.
Instead, we assume if a person is wrong about an issue (abortion, tax policy, climate change, social justice, etc.), they are completely wrong and probably evil. Such a mindset exonerates us from having to make our case, therefore we can reduce people to their stances and promptly call them names, all while we feel good because we “did something” about an issue (which usually amounts to merely announcing where we stand and denouncing anyone who disagrees).
If we push this logic further, we get a justification for the use of force to inflict the decisions of a government body or political committee into people without input from those affected or open debate. The explosion of data and the mechanical way in which we increasingly approach policy has exasperated this problem. “These people are wrong and/or evil. They are irredeemably wrong because they are ignorant (probably willfully) and hateful. For the good of the citizen (and my own conscience), such and such policy must be implemented, regardless of what others think. Those who disagree with us must be silenced, ignored, or physically assaulted. #Solidarity (except for those idiots I disagree with).”
This mindset is antithetical to a belief in the common good and solidarity with our neighbors. We must respect our neighbors enough to listen to their (crazy or stupid) opinions and respond with the best argument for our position while addressing our neighbor's concerns. Common good and common ground solutions aren't going to fall from the sky or magically show up in the divided halls of the national congress. Such policies are going to have to be developed, honed, and articulated by those willing to put in the work for the common good, which is a long and mostly thankless job. We have to articulate these goals with respect and charity.
Paving a way for the common good in our politics is going to take time and heartache in trying to convert people to our views, but that is the true change we must believe in.
Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner (R-IL), abandoned the quiet, personal socially “tolerant”, business-focused image he used (with success) when campaigning for the Illinois Governorship and signed HB0040 - a bill striking key provisions in The State Employees Group Insurance Act of 1971, The Illinois Public Aid Code, The Problem Pregnancy Health Services and Care Act, and the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975. In combination, these changes have been interpreted to allow Illinois Health Insurance and Medicaid funding to be used towards obtaining abortions, even in cases not involving rape, incest, or a threat to the health or life of the mother. In response, the American Solidarity Party of Illinois has published the statement, below:
Mainstream political pundits are quick to term Gov. Rauner’s combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism as “moderate”. But while policy encouraging industriousness and monetary prudence may be well-and-good, without a solid moral compass to guide government action towards loving one’s neighbor (including the least of these), the state becomes a cruel and selfish thing, utterly insufficient either to bind its citizenry together or to spur them onwards to greatness. Sadly, this sort of “centrism” is what is being embraced by politicians of both mainstream political parties (including Gov. Rauner’s main re-election opponent JB Pritzker). It is this very type of “double-mindedness” that John Adams, 2nd President of the United States warned against when he wrote:
“But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
As proud members of the American Solidarity Party, the Dorothy Day Caucus believes that respect for the dignity of human life is the most basic tenet of a civilized society, and that human life is to be protected consistently from the moment of conception until natural death. Join us not only in opposing abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, and capital punishment, but also advocating for a strong social safety net so that single mothers and struggling families are truly empowered to make choices that realize God’s full blessings in this life.
About the Contributor:
Tai-Chi Kuo, JD: Tai-Chi is an Illinois-based member of the American Solidarity Party and also a member of the Dorothy Day caucus. He is an Assistant Vice President working in the project management office of a regional financial services company. He holds a Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago and also an undergraduate degree in Advertising from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign – an institution where he is currently studying to obtain a Masters of Business Administration. Tai-Chi serves as worship coordinator for English-language services at a large, historically Chinese American Evangelical church in the suburban Chicagoland area.
Tara Ann Thieke