Archive for December, 2009

Shoplifting: Crime or Liberation?

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

Feed the hungry, undermine the system!

Philathropists often have limits. Most people care about the poor, and will jump at a chance to make a legitimate difference in the life of someone who is going through a rough financial spot. But as soon as the gift makes a significant difference in the life of the giver, things get shady. If a hungry person walks into a soup-kitchen, they will ideally be met with hospitality and a warm bowl of soup. Yet if a hungry person walks into a grocery store and begins eating the food, they will surely be forecfully moved and arrested, not to mention scorned at. Our chairty has limits, and the limits are that is must exist with in the confines of the system. As soon as one begins to question those confines, shit hits the fan. It seems that there is a time and a place for charity, and that is exactly the difference between charity and justice. Justice would say that food, clothing and shelter are human rights and to deny someone food, clothing or shelter is wrong… period. Yet when we try to insert a value so simple into a society so complex, the problems are endless. The system dictates who get what, how they get it and when they get it. The complexity of the system is the cause of need and greed, unquestionabley so. As the famous quote goes:

 “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” 

Recently a british priest has come under fire for a sermon he gave in which he argued that shoplifting can be justified if a person in real need does not take more than he or she really needs to get by and as long as they do it at large national chain stores, rather than small family businesses. One of the many news reports says the following:

 
The Daily Mail reported that Jones claims his sermon at St. Lawrence Church in York did not violate the Bible commandment: "Thou shalt not steal," because God's love for the poor is more important than the property rights of the rich.

"Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift," Jones was quoted as saying. "This is a call for our society to no longer treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."

The sermon has drawn fierce reaction from police, retailers and politicians in Britain.

 

Solidarity

Posted: December 2, 2009 in Uncategorized

Within radical circles there seems to be a tendency to throw around the
word 'privilege.' It's a difficult word because for many of us who hold
lots, it's a deep-hitting personal thing. Being white, male, in my
twenties, healthy, European, coming from a middle class background, I
hold nearly all the privileges I can, minus being relatively poor. Yet
I acknowledge that even my economic state is a choice, a choice that
many don't get to make. I think sometimes many of us who hold such
privilege fall into the temptation of thinking we can rightly use it to
further justice. Examples of this are far and wide, ranging from those
who get a good paying job to be able to donate money to the poor, to
non-profits that get grants to work within commmunities. I don't think
this philanthropy is necessarily bad in and of itself, and surely
always comes with the best intentions, but I think it's misguided.
There must be a distinction drawn between solidarity and charity. This
goes beyond the typical conversation about handing out food versus
eating with someone. It's a question of which systems we are willing to
work through to accomplish our means. Solidarity with the poor and
oppressed has to take into consideration the kinds of injustices that
people face on a daily basis, including the inability to do the
simplest things such as taking out loans or getting a decent job. The
problems of our society are systematic, and true solidarity calls these
systems into question. Let's take a second to enter into the world of
someone with less privilege. Imagine that a person of color is living
there life as best they can making minimum wage at a job. As they are
driving home from work, the pigs roll up behind them and use their
racial profiling skills to nab this person for something or another.
The conviction stands and after missing work from being in jail, the
person is fired. They can't get another job because they have a
criminal record. They can't ever take out loans, go to school, or do
anything else to pull themselves up by their bootstraps because of the
injustices of the system, which seeks primarily to forward the economy
and not the individual. This person is, for all intents and purposes,
fucked. The whole capitalist system works the way it does with this end
goal in mind. Interest, loans and all of the things 'necessary' to make
it yourself in this system (get an education, start a business, etc)
are absolutely unattainable by a good amount of people in this country.
This needs to be taken into account when we, as people of privilege,
work for justice within out communities. Solidarity must take these
things into account. The change we want is holistic. If we are working
to set up economic alternatives, health care alternatives, food
collectives, etc. I think we have to be careful not to use our
privilege to get what we think we need. I'm not trying to set up a
hard-lined principle that we can never use our privilege, but we just
have to acknowledge that if we were to do so, it is simply not
solidarity.

Here's a quick excerpt from Mark's blog The Jesus Manifesto that sort of inspired this rant:

I’ve had so many heart-breaking conversations with people who want
to open liberated space–they want to live into the “Jesus Manifesto” of
Luke 4. But they mistakenly believe that such a vision can coexist with
the American Dream. They believe that the Kingdom of God works on every
operating system–like iTunes (does iTunes work on Linux). Rather, they
should see the Kingdom of God as a computer virus.

Is it enough to treat the symptoms of oppression in our society and
in our world? To throw charity money at the problems? To wrap inaction
in radical speech and congratulate ourselves when we find “awareness”
about an issue? Or will Jesus’ dangerous words help us see the
possibility of opening liberated space beyond our current experience?