An Evolving Secular Palm Sunday Sermonette: Direct action is an obligation

purposely made difficult. (Here’s the Wikipedia discussion of “direct action.”) Young people, the worker, and the poor correctly sense the sickness of our world, purposely made to seem invincible. We “expect” them to work when there are no jobs and deal with contradictions and injustice with superhuman self-discipline Jesus Christ would not expect them to marshal. They are made of flesh and blood. They do not like the crap sandwiches we feed them. They sometimes seize temporary escapes or feed on each other. Who can say that is not purposeful too? … but not by them. Every addict, teenager, and petty thief is a revolutionary could-a-been, not to mention a potential profit center. Much better to keep them scrambling for self-medication and blaming each other than to allow them to band together in human solidarity. By all means, keep them from voting. Screw democracy, we’ve got a global economy to run. [Continued from this “top of the blog” video of The Clash’s Ghetto Defendant:]

But who are “we”? Which side are “we” on? Why should “we” reflect the interests of the powerful and not the powerless? Just “because”? Who is chained here? Not just the powerless but also the comfortable. The comfortable are chained by their desire for comfort. The powerful dole out comfort. Unless we are willing, as individuals, to lose things the powerful have that make us comfortable, we not only cannot challenge the status quo but are the very instruments of the status quo. And the status quo is a material disbursement of resources. And unfair material disbursement of resources is not God-ordained. Remember the part about “on earth as it is in heaven.” “God,” according to the above-mentioned Jesus Christ, is materially, not just spiritually, on the side of “them,” not the comfortable “we.” A fair distribution of the things that humans need is a moral issue. But, to side with the poor and the weak is to require some of that superhuman self-discipline we cannot expect others, including the poor and the weak to have, which is itself a contradiction that the powerful have on their side.

We cannot wait on the new socialist men and women magically to appear. This IS a struggle. The status quo is amazingly tough to change. It always has been, which is why it rarely happens. Reinhold Niebuhr suggested that “we” are faced with ugly systemic situations that require imperfect but necessary direct coercive responses because political democracy alone will not suffice, although political democracy is nonetheless valuable. Thus, “realism” to Niebuhr was complex and bound into the need for direct and indirect action in human solidarity, which is good, because, after all, life is complex and bound into the need for direct and indirect action in human solidarity.

So, in the end, “it” is about human solidarity. WE can only choose to be the best species-beings we can be. That is all the good that we can do. But accomplishing good will require direct action. We can confront and hopefully change our definition of “we.” We can organize, march, occupy, strike, and, if necessary, where democracy is not available and will not realistically become available, “fight” using the most peaceful means available to us for “all” of us, but bearing ever in mind, as the Jesuit Father Arrupe said, that justice must be in the service of love or it can become the very evil it seeks to overcome. By doing so, “we” can force the powerful to become just like the rest of us. They are powerful because “we” allow them to write the rules of our world. When the plutocrats write the rules of our world, that is not democracy.

[Above the asterisks is the original text. Below is evolving thought about the video.]


The above-referenced video of The Clash’s Ghetto Defendant has a song by The Clash, played over spoken word parts by Allen Ginsberg, who contributed the lyrics. The song has stayed with me a long time in a positive manner. I truly love it. It has a chilly vividness perfectly combining instrument, voice, and stark urban poetry. But to what end?

When I look at the video imagery carefully, from start to finish, I get confused. I never like to see anyone injured, including a policeman. That is what seems to happen toward the end of this. I also see smiling faces on some protesters’ faces. This adds to my confusion.

I didn’t know the circumstances of the video imagery. Some of it is obviously authentic footage and some of it is acted. According to this post about the song, it is from the film Rude Boy. It also points out the lyrics mentioning Rimbaud and the 1871 Paris Commune:

Strummer’s lyrics were just as politically charged as Ginsberg’s poetry, and both were living icons at the time. A perfect match, ideologically. The risk came in having a poet speak in slow, even-toned lines in between Strummer’s passionate lyrics. The end result? I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not always in the mood for it myself, but it’s hard not to smile at such enjoyable lines as “Do the worm on Acropolis / Slam dance cosmopolis” or “Methadone kitty / iron serenity.”

But this post is about Rimbaud, who makes an appearance at the 2:55 mark. For those of you who aren’t fans of The Clash (blasphemy!) and don’t want to bother listening, the lines Ginsberg reads are:

Jean Arthur Rimbaud
1873 Paris Commune
Died in Marseille
Buried in Charleville
Shut up in eternity

I know that the youth pictured should be taking direct action, so I am glad they are marching. They are in some ways heirs to the Paris Commune, even if bungling. For the conditions of oppression in our world are still very real. The cause exists, even if we, the participants, are dazed, confused, and even sometimes stupid or wrong in our specific conduct.

But I guess maybe they were “rude.” I am not sure they were doing their direct action the best way in this video. I am not sure under whose orders the policemen are assembled either or the need for the techniques they were employing. Maybe someone can clue me in.

So, this taps into the subject of “Anger Management,” about which I have written at some length. I know that often the criticism has been leveled against the Occupy Movement that some people have thrown rocks on some occasions in some places.

A few rocks do not change the merits of the protest.

[More thoughts and research:] But throwing rocks does have its dangers, to the targets and to the throwers. The throwers can be tempted to substitute emotion for strategy, and even to drift rightward, to the guardians of hatred. Indeed, a review of the movie Rude Boy stated:

Rude Boy is part documentary and part short film centering on punk band, The Clash and one of their “roadies”(he’s really more of a tag along as he is somewhat lazy and doesnt appear to have any technical knowledge on setting up or fixing sound or music equipment.) by the name of Ray Gange, who is actually one of the writers and directors of the film. The film takes place between the bands release of their explosive debut album and its follow up, the very underrated, “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”(an album that has largly been cast aside solely because of its more radio friendly production brought about by Sandy Pearlman who was seen as unfit to work with a a punk band because he had previously worked with bands such as Blue Oyster Cult.) Ray the roadie plays the foil by being somewhat dim and spouting off knee jerk conservative statements to which the rest of the band, in particular, Joe Strummer, can respond and react to. The film captures the tension on the streets of London in the late 70s as economic disaster seems to loom overhead and many begin to look for scapegoats in the form of non white immigrants. The conservative political group, the National Front takes this cue to fan the fires of race war in the streets and groups like The Clash both observed and addressed these issues in their music at a time when no other bands would outside of the punk music scene.

Said another reviewer:

The commentator who said this did not give a true picture of the politics of the time is surely wrong. I was there and it seems pretty accurate to me. We see the resurgent National Front, the Anti-Nazi League, the bullishness and racism of the police at the time (which would shortly lead to the Brixton riots) and the rise of Thatcherism out of the bankrupt Butskellite consensus. Ray Gange’s character in the film seems intended to represent the British white working class at the time – confused, politically disengaged and borderline racist, the attitudes which led to the Thatcher victory we see at the end of the film. The left, variously represented by the SWP (bureaucratic) and Strummer (by turns tokenistic and diffident) fails to capture Gange’s imagination and it is the right who seize on the desire for change and turn it to their own advantage.

Wikipedia’s blurb points out, “The band became so disenchanted with the film, that by its release, they had Better Badges make badges stating ‘I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film’.”

So, needless to say, in keeping with Niebuhr’s and Arrupe’s nuanced views, it is vital to be careful when “we” play with fire. That is “the devil’s” element after all.

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