Ever since I wrote a book about Occupy Wall Street, I’ve often found myself being asked, “What happened to Occupy, anyway?” Now, more than two years since the movement faded from the headlines and in the wake of French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-selling diagnosis of economic inequality, the urgency of the question is mounting, not diminishing. The answer is also becoming clearer: The networks of activists that formed in the midst of 2011’s worldwide wave of protest are developing into efforts to create durable economic and political experiments. Rather than focusing on opposing an unjust system, they’re testing ways to replace it with something new.
To celebrate the Catholic Worker movement’s 81st birthday today, I snuck Dorothy Day into two articles in the space of a week. Today, at Al Jazeera America, “What’s Left of May Day?”:
On May 1, 1933, the Catholic journalist and activist Dorothy Day went to New York’s Union Square to distribute copies of the first issue of her newspaper The Catholic Worker. As she made her way through the crowd, she had a ready audience of thousands: men in coats, ties, and hats — as low-wage workers and radicals apparently used to dress — gathered around a maze of signs for labor unions, fraternal societies, and parties representing the various varieties of socialism then on offer. These groups disagreed in every way they could think to, but they shared the square regardless. For decades, in the U.S. and around the world, May Day was International Workers’ Day, commemorating protesters killed in Haymarket Square, Chicago, during the 1886 strike for an eight-hour workday. It also had earlier roots as a spring holiday of maypoles and flower baskets.
Dorothy Day was only one among many at Union Square trying to suggest a way out of the economic crisis of the time. This was well into the Great Depression, when the breadlines and the legions of unemployed people posed an existential threat to American capitalism; skirmishes between fed-up workers and abusive employers were common and often bloody. Day proposed a synthesis of Christian love and communist solidarity, militant pacifism in pursuit of “a society where it is easier to be good.” The Catholic Worker quickly became the script for a new religious and political movement. Within months, circulation grew from a first run of 2,500 copies to 10 times that, and it reached 150,000 before Day’s pacifist convictions caused subscriptions to drop during the lead-up to World War II. Each May Day, New York’s Catholic Workers still celebrate the birth of their movement with a communal supper and singing.
And something shorter a few days ago for Reuters on the double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII:
The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a long restoration, has a new mural over its main doors. Surrounding the Holy Spirit, in the form of an incandescent dove, is a gathering of women and men flanked by angels. Most have soft yellow halos, but three figures, including the pair closest to the dove, do not.
The three are local icons. Activist and writer Dorothy Day wears a hat with the inscription “NO WAR” and holds a stack of Catholic Worker newspapers, the publication she founded. Beside her is Bernard Quinn, a priest who served Brooklyn’s African American community at a church just blocks away, and whose Long Island orphanage was twice burned down by racists. Pierre Toussaint, who looks intently toward the dove, was a slave-turned-philanthropist who, on gaining his freedom in 1807, adopted his surname from the leader of the Haitian revolution.
My latest at Al Jazeera, on Bitcoin’s most ambitious successor, Ethereum. This may or may not be the future, but for now it’s the hype:
Even the most flexible platform comes with certain built-in tendencies. Ethereum, for example, makes it easier to build organizations that are less centralized and less dependent on geography than traditional ones and certainly more automated. But it also creates a means for corporate ownership and abuse to creep ever deeper into people’s lives through new and more invasive kinds of contracts. To perceive the world through a filter like Ethereum is to think of society as primarily contractual and algorithmic, rather than ethical, ambiguous and made up of flesh-and-blood human beings.
How this new ecosystem will take shape depends disproportionately on its early adopters and on those with the savvy to write its code — who may also make a lot of money from it. But tools like Ethereum are not just a business opportunity. They’re a testing ground for whatever virtual utopias people are able to translate into code, and the tests will have non-virtual effects. Idealists have as much to gain as entrepreneurs. As for any utopia, though, the power struggles of the real world are sure to find their way in as well.
Years in the making, my profile of a Catholic nun with a secret ministry to the transgender community has been published at Al Jazeera America. I hope that, above all, it points to some ways in which transgender experience not merely challenges Catholic faith, but is poised to deepen it:
[Hilary] Howes told the story of her life as a parable, a tale of a girl born with a penis and expected to live like a boy. “She died a little each day.” The girl grew up into a man, married a woman and became a father. Yet the dying continued. She decided to reveal herself, at last. Her wife and daughter stuck with her through it all. With the help of hormone treatments, father and daughter went through puberty together.
As the parable caught up with the present, Howes turned to a discussion of the hierarchy’s official position, or lack thereof, and the basic comfort she feels in her church, and in her faith, day to day. “I make a good spokesperson because I’m disarmingly normal,” she said.
She’d observed over the years that liberal Catholics — the kind likely to be friendly toward LGBT rights, the kind likely to be in the room — often feel uncomfortable with the masculine language Catholic tradition tends to use for God: Him, Father, Lord. Some prefer to discard those words altogether. But Howes had noticed that the old-fashioned words have never really bothered her.
With her dimples hinting at a sly smile, she said, “I suppose it’s because I know that a father can also be a woman.”
Read the rest (and see William Wedmer’s moving photographs) at Al Jazeera America.
Jantar Mantar Road, a short passageway through the administrative center of New Delhi, takes its name from a complex of gigantic red astronomical instruments at its north terminus, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1724. The Jantar Mantar consists of a series of geometric jungle gyms that surround the all-important shadow of the Supreme Instrument, a four-story, right-triangular sundial surrounded by semi-circular wings. The complex reflects the style of politics practiced by its autocratic creator — one based on charting the positions of the sun and planets across the zodiac with maximum pomp and precision.
The road named after the Jantar Mantar, however, better reflects the aspirations of India’s past few decades as the world’s most populous democracy. In the space of several hundred yards between two sets of hand-painted red-and-yellow police barricades, an assortment of political and religious outfits have set up tents, encampments and shrines each dedicated to some particular cause — for the prosecution of a high-placed rapist, for the rights of migrant workers, for various flavors of spiritual-social awakening. Several tents contain men on hunger strikes, each reclining on a couch and nursed by supporters, on behalf of a petition like airline employee pensions or voting rights for Indians living abroad. Despite the amplified speeches and droning chants, Jantar Mantar Road is a respite from Delhi’s non-stop hustle; people slowly mill through to listen, strike up conversations and eat deep-fried snacks.
What better gift to give friends and loved ones than stories of grasping at the impossible?
According to the Los Angeles Review of Books, God in Proof “breathes life back into proofs” and is “entertaining, well written, and historically comprehensive.” Says former Washington Post columnist and peace educator Colman McCarthy, Thank You, Anarchy is “rich with metaphors, historical allusions and clearheaded reflections.”
Use discount code 13M4225 for 20% off the list price
In the coming months, I’ll be making the following live appearances:
- 12/8, Washington, DC: Center for Inquiry lecture
- 1/15, New York, NY: Rubin Museum screening of Miracle of Weebosch
- 2/16, Pasadena, CA: All Saints Church
- 2/22, San Francisco, CA: The Green Arcade
- 2/24, Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University
- 3/1, Seattle, WA: AWP conference panel: “Doubt Is My Revelation”
Other great gift ideas
- Contribute to the online communities that made these books possible, and which support countless other writers in doing uncommon work—give the gift of membership to Waging Nonviolence, which covers movements for justice and peace around the world, or Killing the Buddha, a literary magazine of religion, politics, and culture. Both are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, and membership dues are tax-deductible.
- Last month, The New Press published a new edition of Noam Chomsky’s anarchist writings, On Anarchism, and they asked me to write the introduction. The result is a slim, sweet little stocking-stuffer that presents anarchism as a tradition with both a long history and particular relevance today.
- The growing revival of interest in my favorite theologian, William Stringfellow, continues with a new reader published by Orbis and edited by Bill Wylie-Kellerman. It’s the best introduction yet to a thinker who will turn your cosmic situation upside down.
Thank you, as always, for reading!
The filter blog Arts & Letters Daily is great, and it’s even greater that today it featured Robert Bolger’s excellent Los Angeles Review of Books review of God in Proof. Writes Bolger:
Schneider tips his hand a bit with the title God in Proof. This isn’t, thank God, another book about the proofs for God’s existence, but rather a search, at once historical and personal, for the God that lives in proofs. The reversal — from proof for God to God in proof — is both linguistically nifty and philosophically important. It isn’t that the proofs for God lead us to God, but rather that God may be found — or may be shrouded — in the language of proofs. People see God in different settings. Some see God in song, others in nature, and others still in humanity as a whole. Schneider, in searching for his God, finds it revealed in the souls who historically sought out proofs for what they believed in.
The review was also picked up two other wonderful blogs, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish and 3 Quarks Daily. The quasi-New Atheist Jerry Coyne even says he’ll read the book. Based on his earlier assessment of my writings on proofs, I don’t expect he’ll like it, but you never know.
I suppose this is what you get when you publish a book with “anarchy” in the title. This month I’ve got two new anarchy-related essays, both of which are available in good-old print. Here’s a bit of a taste.
One is an introduction to a new collection of Noam Chomsky’s writings on Anarchism, straightforwardly titled On Anarchism, which comes out this month from the New Press.
The first evening of a solidarity bus tour in the West Bank, I listened as a contingent of college students from around the United States made an excellent discovery: they were all, at least kind of, anarchists. As they sat on stuffed chairs in the lobby of a lonely hotel near the refugee camp in war-ravaged Jenin, they probed one another’s political tendencies, which were reflected in their ways of dressing and their most recent tattoos. All of this, along with stories of past trauma, made their way out into the light over the course of our ten-day trip.
“I think I would call myself an anarchist,” one admitted.
Then another jumped into the space this created: “Yeah, totally.”
Basic agreement about various ideologies and idioms ensued—ableism, gender queerness, Zapatistas, black blocs, borders. The students took their near unison as an almost incalculable coincidence, though it was no such thing.
If you’re in the Boston area on November 18, come hear me introduce Chomsky (and you can stay to hear him speak if you want…) at MIT at 5:30.
The other bit is a retrospective review in Commonweal (the online version is behind a paywall) of Paul Goodman’s 1960 sort-of classic Growing Up Absurd:
Goodman’s prose sets out to dazzle us with its iconoclastic attitude and the striking phrases that clothe the author’s not-always-consistent arguments. He quotes from his previous books at length. Throughout he attempts to reconcile his claim to be an anarchist with his conservative instincts, a tension borne out in his life as well as on the page; he was a married family man who was promiscuously bisexual, a Jew who opposed World War II.
Among the other “mansplainers” of Goodman’s time—to borrow a neologism from the feminist blogosphere—one could be forgiven for preferring Ivan Illich, who presented his similarly adventuresome anarcho-conservative proposals with considerably more rigor and coherence; or James Baldwin, who as a black man in exile came by his prophetic tone more honestly. “Allen Ginsberg and I once pointed out to Stokely Carmichael how we were niggers,” Goodman recalled in a memoir-ish essay, referring to a 1967 BBC broadcast, “but he blandly put us down by saying that we could always conceal our disposition and pass.” Carmichael was right.
For more: stop by a fine newsstand or bookstore near you.
I’m a little perplexed by the new review of Thank You, Anarchy by Adam Kirsch, an editor of The New Republic among other things. Short of outright disapproving of my book, he replays a common liberal dismissal of Occupy. “For the vast majority of Americans, it was little more than a news story,” he begins, and he ends by claiming, utterly falsely, that “Schneider’s book suggests that the best way to understand Occupy is as a long, earnest holiday from reality, including the reality of politics.” I never once used the word “holiday” in that way; nor is that even what the book “suggests.” The last chapter concludes with a series of reflections on how to carry the ideals of Occupy into reality, and how people are doing so already. The book throughout strenuously insists that through Occupy, people experienced a return to the real politics of the needs of their communities, a break from the false politics of a deeply corrupted system. Kirsch’s reading, anyway, is suggestive of his assumptions, and, unfortunately, of my own failure to be clear enough to disabuse him of them. In that sense, the subtext of the review may be more revealing than the review itself.
“Schneider does a remarkable job of conveying the euphoric sense of possibility that transformed so many people in the square, as well as the frustrations”—Nick Pinto, Al Jazeera America
“I consider this book one of the lasting benefits of Occupy”—David Swanson, WarIsACrime.org
“[A] fast-moving cinematic chronicle”—Jonah Raskin, Occupy.com
“Part history, part on-the-scene reporting, and part hope for a better future, the work is valuable and delightfully controversial.”—John Scott G, Publishers Newswire
Get a Discount
Between now and the end of October, thanks to a special arrangement with The Nation, the folks at University of California Press are offering a 30% discount on Thank You, Anarchy if you order directly from their website using the discount code 14W3726.
You can also find it at all sorts of fine retailers—ask for it at your local bookstore. If not now, when?
Attend an Event
The interest in Thank You, Anarchy and God in Proof have spawned an improvised book tour:
- 10/8, New York, NY: KGB Bar
- 10/9, Hempstead, NY: Lecture on proofs at Hofstra University
- 10/24, Brooklyn, NY: An Evening of Song and Abstraction at the Oratory Church of St. Boniface
- 10/26, New London, CT: Monte Cristo Bookshop
- 10/30, Brooklyn, NY: “Was Jesus a Zealot?” at St. Joseph’s College
- 11/1, Philadelphia, PA: Wooden Shoe Books
- 11/3, Brooklyn, NY: BookCourt
- 11/8, Providence, RI: Beckett Lecture of the Brown-RISD Catholic Community
- 11/18, Cambridge, MA: Celebrating On Anarchism with Noam Chomsky and the Boston Review
- 11/23, Baltimore, MD: Panel at the American Academy of Religion
- 11/26, Baltimore, MD: Red Emma’s Bookstore
- 2/22, San Francisco, CA: The Green Arcade
- 2/24, Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University
- 2/26-3/1, Seattle, WA: Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference
- 3/9, Washington, DC: Center for Inquiry lecture
More are in the works. If you’d like to try to bring me to your hometown, please don’t hesitate to let me know how I can help.
I hope to see you somewhere along the line!