Friday, May 7, 2010

Soundtrack for a Revolution: A Review

Last night I had the opportunity to see the documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution which bills itself as telling "the story of the American civil rights movement through its powerful music — the freedom songs protesters sang on picket lines, in mass meetings, in paddy wagons, and in jail cells as they fought for justice and equality." The film merges historical footage of the major moments of the civil rights movement with performances of classic freedom songs by contemporary performers such as John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, Angie Stone, Mary Mary, Blind Boys of Alabama, and The Roots. It also features interviews with prominent civil rights leaders such as Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, and Andrew Young.

The film is most successful as a powerful and visceral portrayal of the civil rights struggle. The interviews with the survivors and heroes of that struggle are warm, and poignant at times. They put a personal face on history. Like others who have reviewed this film, I was especially moved by the visual litany of civil rights martyrs accompanied by Richie Havens' rendition of the gospel song "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?". Also moving was a sequence where the contemporary faces of the heroes/survivors were displayed side by side with their mug shots from their arrests during those times. And the relentless footage of police violence. You become acutely aware of the price that has been paid for the relative equality we enjoy now. Even if you are very familiar with the civil rights movement, there is so much footage that new details might emerge for you. I was struck by the fact that the marchers displayed the UN flag along with the American flag, something you don't really see anymore.

It is not so successful as a documentary about the freedom songs and civil rights era music. As a fan of the late folk singer Phil Ochs, I cannot pretend to share other critics' positive appraisal of Wyclef Jean's performance of "Here's to the State of Mississippi". I found it offensive that Jean chose to completely ignore Phil Ochs' original melody and substitute his own. The filmmakers would have done better to ask other performers such as Kim and Reggie Harris who are familiar with both the freedom songs and Phil Ochs' music.

And there were conspicuous omissions. Where is Joan Baez whose presence at Dr. King's side during major protests was almost iconic? Where are those who continue to keep the civil rights songs alive such as the Freedom Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock in addition to the aforementioned Harrises?

And while I know you can't include every song, as I watched the footage of Medgar Evers' funeral, my mind jumped immediately to Malvina Reynolds' classic "It Isn't Nice":

They kidnapped boys in Mississippi,
They shot Medgar in the back,
Did you say that wasn't proper?
Did you stand out on the track?
You were quiet just like mice,
Now you say we're not nice,
We'll if that's freedom's price,
We don't mind. . .

We could also think of Phil Ochs' "Too Many Martyrs (The Ballad of Medgar Evers)" or Bob Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game", or even Judy Collins' "Medgar Evers Lullaby".

Finally, even though I contributed to the man's campaign and voted for him, I was disturbed by the conspicuous use of President Obama's image as the sign that "we have arrived" at the end of the film. In my opinion, it would have been better to use a montage of images of integrated classrooms and boardrooms, of interracial couples, of lines of racially diverse faces waiting to cast their votes or even the mixed crowds at an Obama campaign rally rather than focusing so bluntly on the president himself. If we have risen, we have risen as a people, not just one individual in the White House.

All in all, "Soundtrack for a Revolution" is a powerful movie. Its good aspects more than outweigh its drawbacks and it is an excellent introduction to the civil rights movement for today's generation who often take their freedoms for granted and forget the gratitude they owe their parents and grandparents for bringing them to this day.

The story of the salt doll

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Lately we have devoted our reflections almost exclusively to environmental issues and the challenges that climate change implies for the future of our civilization, for production and consumption.

However we should not neglect the everyday problems, the ongoing building of our identity and the molding of our sense of being. It is a task that never ends. There are several challenges in it, two of which defy us constantly and we must face them: acceptance of one's own limits and the ability to be detached.

We all live in an existential situation which, by its very nature, is limited in scope and imposes barriers of all kinds -- of place, profession, intelligence, health, economics, time. There is always a lag between a wish and its fulfillment. Sometimes we feel powerless in the face of things we can not change, such as the presence of a schizophrenic with his ups and downs or someone who is terminally ill. We must resign ourselves to this unavoidable limitation. However we don't have to live in sadness or stop growing. We must be creatively resigned. Instead of growing outward we can grow inward, to the extent that we create a center where all things are unified and discover how we can learn from everything. Eastern wisdom put it well: "If anyone feels deeply for another, the latter will perceive it even if he is thousands of miles away." If you change your heart, a source of light will be born in you that will radiate to others.

The other task of self-actualization is the ability to be detached. Zen Buddhism puts as a test of personal maturity and inner freedom, the ability to be detached and take leave. If we look closely, detachment is part of the logic of life: we say goodbye to the womb, then to childhood, youth, school, the parental home, relatives and one's beloved. In adulthood, we said goodbye to jobs, professions, strength of body and clarity of mind, which waste away uncontrollably until we say goodbye to life itself. In these farewells we leave behind a little of ourselves.

What is the meaning of this slow leave taking of the world? Merely the irreversible fate of the universal law of entropy? This dimension is undeniable, but does it not have an existential meaning that has to be explored by the spirit? If we are phenomenologically an infinite project and an unfathomable emptiness that cries out for fulfillment, doesn't this letting go mean creating the conditions so that a Greater Being will come to fill us? Might it not be that the Supreme Being, made of love and kindness, takes everything away from us so that we can gain it all, beyond life, when our searching finally comes to rest?

Through losing, we gain, and through emptying ourselves, we are filled. Some say that this was the path of Jesus, Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, among others.

Perhaps a story from the ancient spiritual teachers may clarify for us the meaning of this loss that becomes gain.

"There was once a salt doll. After a pilgrimage through arid lands, he came to discover the sea which he had never seen before and therefore could not understand. The salt doll asked, "Who are you?" And the sea answered, "I am the sea." The salt doll asked again: "But what is the sea?" And the sea answered, "I am me." "I don't understand," said the salt doll, "but I would like very much to understand you. What can I do?" The sea simply said: "Touch me." Then the salt doll timidly touched the sea with the tips of his toes and noticed that it began to be understandable, but then he realized that the tips of his toes had disappeared. "Oops, sea, look what you did to me!" And the sea answered, "You gave me something of yourself and I gave you understanding. You have to give yourself completely to understand everything." And the salt doll slowly began to enter into the deep sea, slowly and solemnly, like someone doing the most important thing in his life. As he entered, he was also becoming diluted and understanding the sea more and more. The salt doll kept asking: "What is the sea?" Until a wave covered him entirely. At the last moment, before becoming diluted in the sea, he could still say, "I am me."

He let go of everything and gained everything: the true self.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila on feminism and Lacanian psychoanalysis

Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila gave a presentation on feminism and Lacanian psychoanalysis ("El potencial feminista del subjecte lacanià") during the V Conference on Gender Relations at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona on April 27, 2010. The presentation was captured in a 6-part video series. We have included the first one and links to the rest of the series for those who understand Catalan.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Boycott Arizona -- And Another Update!

Rolling right along...

  • NBA Teams Sporting Special Jerseys in Solidarity: Tonight the Phoenix Suns will don their ‘Los Suns’ jerseys. Now there are six teams that have introduced jerseys to embrace some of the Latino fans who support them: the Chicago Bulls (Los Bulls), Miami Heat (El Heat), Dallas Mavericks (Los Mavericks), New York Knicks (Nueva York Knicks), San Antonio Spurs (Los Spurs), and the Phoenix Suns. The reason for the appearance of these alternate jerseys has to do with the new Arizona law. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer signed a very tough bill on immigration a few weeks ago...

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Boycott Arizona -- Another Update

    Things continue to be hot on the Boycott Arizona front.

    • The Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association said Friday that 19 meetings representing 15,000 room nights have been canceled because of the immigration law. The cancellations could have an economic impact of more than $6 million.

    • One of the most recent groups to cancel is the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the oldest integrated and historically black Greek-lettered organization in the world, which will be moving its 104th Anniversary Convention from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Said Herman "Skip" Mason, Jr., the fraternity's national general president: "It was the full opinion of the board that we could not host a meeting in a state that has sanctioned a law which we believe will lead to racial profiling and discrimination, and a law that could put the civil rights and the very dignity of our members at risk during their stay in Phoenix Arizona." The meeting was expected to draw 10,000 visitors.

    • A chorus of Latino celebrities have spoken out against the Arizona anti-immigrant bill including Shakira, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, and Paulina Rubio.

    • Lawsuits were filed in Tucson federal court by fifteen-year police veteran Martin Escobar, who argues that there's no way for officers to confirm people's immigration status without impeding investigations, and in a federal court in Phoenix by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders who are seeking an injunction preventing authorities from enforcing the law.
    The protests have already had some effect. On Friday, Governor Jan Brewer signed a "follow-on" bill attempting to modify some of the most egregious aspects of the new law:

    ...Changes to the bill language will actually remove the word "solely" from the sentence, "The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin."

    Another change replaces the phrase "lawful contact" with "lawful stop, detention or arrest" to apparently clarify that officers don't need to question a victim or witness about their legal status.

    A third change specifies that police contact over violations for local civil ordinances can trigger questioning on immigration status...

    But Arizona has taken additional steps to shore up its anti-diversity reputation in other ways:

    1. The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English. State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. Please note that we are not just talking about English or ESL teachers here, where such requirements would be understandable, but also teachers of math, physics, etc...The problem again is that nobody defines "heavily accented" or "ungrammatical". Does this mean that the teacher who lets an occasional folksy "ain't" slip from her mouth gets reassigned? What about the one with a Southern drawl? Does he have to sign up for accent reduction classes?

    2. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer now has on her desk a measure (HB 2281) that targets an ethnic studies program from a Tucson school district. Among other things, the bill would prohibit classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group. Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Republican Tom Horne — who's running for attorney general — has been trying for years to pass a bill limiting the program after learning that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told Tucson high school students in 2006 that "Republicans hate Latinos." Maybe we should ban all school districts in Arizona from teaching about the First Amendment as well in case the students "get ideas"...

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Violence: a disease that must be erradicated

    This week we have been doing a lot of thinking about violence and its prevention. The theme was first brought to mind by Fr. Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina's Catholic Church in Chicago, who is so fed up with adults refusing to stand up to and take responsibility for combatting the violence that is decimating the youth in his neighborhood that he has produced a T-shirt. The T-shirt says "I am a 'SNITCH'" and includes a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "In order for Evil to prevail, good men must do and say nothing." The back of the T-shirt implores us to "Break the Silence" and reminds us that "Silence Kills". For those who are not familiar with the streets and jails of this country, a "snitch" is someone who reports wrongdoers to the police. Snitches can become targets themselves which is why many people prefer to live in fear rather than speak out against evil.

    The issue of standing up to violence was on my mind yesterday during the immigration rally as I observed a young Hispanic man arguing violently with his girlfriend. The young man frequently grabbed his partner forcefully and tried to pull her. She would pull away. It was somewhat alarming, although the young lady was clearly able to hold her own and with the abundant Park Police presence it was unlikely that much would occur. Finally an African American abuelita and an equally elderly white gentleman had enough of the scene and approached the couple. Though the young man obviously protested that he wasn't doing anything and told them to mind their own business, it was just enough to let him know that his behavior was not acceptable and it made the couple aware of where they were. They walked off and sat down under a tree to presumably carry on their disagreement in a more civilized manner. A concrete example of the value of speaking out against violence.

    And so we come to the article I want to share with you on the same theme from Fr. Alex Diaz (El Tiempo Latino, 4/30/2010). Fr. Alex is a Catholic priest who grew up in El Salvador during that country's civil war and so is no stranger to violence. He is now pastoring the Hispanic community of St. Anthony's in Falls Church, Virginia, a parish that is right across the street from the Culmore housing projects, long plagued by gang violence. His words are simple but heartfelt:

    We must seriously and responsibly seek out the roots of violence, which is only the fruit of the irresponsibility of many who have not boldly assumed their educational role, either as parents or as the government in charge. The truth is that today we must seek alternatives to achieve stability and reduce the violence that affects us all so much.

    Violence has invaded us terribly; every day there are murders everywhere, and authorities are now virtually unable to cope with so many people who have lost respect for God and life. Faced with this reality of violence we ought to ponder: Are we really aware that violence is invading us?

    What are we doing in our families, in our community, to uproot this evil phenomenon that is destroying our families and our youth? Sometimes I think that perhaps we only make the minimum effort. President John F. Kennedy once said: "Mankind must put an end to war [and violence], or war [and violence] will put an end to mankind." Wise words.

    No fire has ever been put out with more fire, but always with something other than fire, so those who seek to sow peace in the world by cultivating violence are behaving like fools. In the history of humanity, violence has not done anything except destroy humanity itself and it will continue to destroy us as long as everyone does not do the right thing as Christians to make it disappear from our lives in the first place.

    The big question is: Have we considered carefully that sometimes we become complicit in this phenomenon when we do not seek the solution to problems through dialogue and tolerance? I don't think we have very much.

    Brothers and sisters, we must think about the violence that causes suffering to the whole world but also about the violence that is hurting our families, our communities and people. And we must act and pray for this reality to change.

    Amen, Amen, and Amen.