I always felt the wave of the women’s power was rising, the men are destroying themselves and we are looking on. Maude Gonne 1914
Maude, in the center of this photo dressed in black, was a passionate, outspoken, articulate, and relentless champion of Irish independence, human rights, and social justice. She not only championed the rights of women, she inspired them to acknowledge their outrage, find their voice, and join her in the streets. They proved a formidable force.
Change happens when women step into their power – and take to the streets.
Resistance and change. It’s going to be a long journey, friends. Song, dance, music, and humor will sustain us. So a bit of humor….
I remember trying to find a museum in Cork City. We were totally lost. When we asked for directions from an elderly gentleman he thought for a moment before saying, “Ah. The museum is it?. No, you can’t get there from here.” For anyone who has driven in Ireland and asked for directions, I offer this delightful video from Foil Arms and Hog. Enjoy.
Injustice and oppression can only be maintained by arbitrary, tyrannical and criminal methods of government. Maude Gonne, 1913
The Irish have a long history of standing against injustice and women were often on the front lines of resistance. Maude Gonne was foremost among them. A tireless champion for home rule, women, and children she literally put herself between the battering rams and the cottages during the time of the evictions. There is a rich heritage here of power, hope, and possibility. I will be writing more about Maude…but first this introduction.
It was 1970. My first year at university. I was in the honors program and living in a sorority. My parents thought it was all good. But I was beginning to listen to the social justice and anti-war messages from that radical campus organization, the YWCA. Messages that would change me. Messages that would lead me to be president of the YWCA, a student member of the all-university senate, and a leader in the anti-war movement on campus.
Did they see this coming? I have no idea. But my parents thought that an experience in civics might be a good thing, so they arranged for me to spend the following summer back in Washington DC working for a Democratic congressman. It didn’t go as planned. I saw my first production of Hair. I bought my first pair of buffalo sandals…perhaps you had to be a child of the 60s. And I volunteered to participate in a health care initiative in some of DC’s poorest neighborhoods.
For the congressman I was, among other administrative tasks, responsible to compile the results of a survey on the Vietnam war he had sent to his largely Republican district. The will of the people was absolutely clear. Over three quarters of the responses wanted us to get out. If not immediately, soon. The other quarter wanted us to ‘bomb the hell out of Hanoi.’
But the will of the people didn’t match the will of hawkish Senator HM Jackson and so when the vote came before the House this congressman voted to continue the war. It wasn’t even that he agreed with Jackson. It was all about currying favor with this powerful individual to strengthen and sustain his own congressional job. It was a summer of critical thinking and radical ideas and if I had any idealistic illusions about how government works, they were fading fast.
Dennis and I have been talking about faith in government. Faith that, for some, seems to manifest in petitions to current elected officials, especially Republicans, hoping that they will do the right thing around issues of health care and confirmations. Faith that folks are tenaciously clinging to in a belief that this system of governance can and will work. Dennis and I have faith in a lot of things, but we don’t have much faith in this. For me, that faith was called into question decades ago. Even then I knew it was a faith that would be sorely tested.
“…we saved Ireland’s capital from the disgrace of allowing traitors to triumphantly flaunt their crimes and treason before a cowed and quiescent people.” Irish Activist, Maude Gonne, 1933
Harsh words. But those were harsh times for the Irish, as these times are for us. It seems the theme of greed and self interest over governance is a thread woven through history. It is certainly present in our nation’s capitol today. It’s intrinsic and hardwired in our national system of governance. And it’s all about the money.
As reported in a Huffington Post story and just last year in a CBS 60 Minutes story, of every ten-hour day they are in Washington DC, our congressional representatives will spend four hours on ‘call time’ to raise funds, one hour for ‘strategic outreach’ fundraising, an hour to ‘recharge’, and the remaining four hours on the actual work of being a member of Congress. “The whole schedule of how work gets done is scheduled around fundraising. You never see a committee working through lunch because those are your fundraising times.” The goal: $18,000 a day.
With goals like that…well, they aren’t calling me. And they aren’t calling folks like Bernie Sanders supporters who averaged $27/donation. Nope. They are calling big donors, both individuals and corporations. It’s all about big money. The big money necessary to sustain the salaries, benefits, and massive infusions of capital that many of our national legislators clearly consider their due. The big money that, quid pro quo, ensures the perpetuation of big money for their major donors. What comes around goes around…and around again. It is a system that guarantees greed over governance. And now the Republicans in power, our brothers and sisters of the trough, are gorging themselves with much triumphant flaunting.
So. The point of this post? Expectations. Knowing that this is the nature of the swamp, now with even more gluttonous gators, is important in managing what we can expect of this very broken system. Well, broken for most Americans. It is working quite well for the oligarchy. As we resist the horrific philosophies and policies of the new regime, as we raise our voices and take to the streets, as we demand change, it’s important to be realistic about what we can expect…and what we cannot expect. If we want a system of governance not based on greed and self service, we cannot look to our nation’s capitol. We will need to look to the local systems of governance. We will need to look to ourselves. And there, the real work begins. Let us not be cowed or quiescent.
These days I am scanning the landscape. Looking for kindred spirits. Listening for common moral ground. Because I know it is there. Because while I believe the Irish people hold a powerful and compelling heritage of compassion and justice, they are not an anomaly. The moral values we need right now live in all of us. Albeit obscure in some.
It’s deeply gratifying to find common ground in uncommon places. For me that would include the Baptist Church. So I was delighted to receive this poem, Now The Work Of Christmas Begins, written by an African-American Baptist pastor.
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.
Following is the most succinct and articulate statement of my moral values.
May all beings have fresh air and water May all beings have food to eat May all beings share love with someone May all beings have a home May all beings know their true purpose May all beings be well and happy May all beings be free from suffering.
This All Being Metta Prayer has its roots in the Buddhist tradition. But Buddhist or Baptist, the energies of this poem and this prayer are the same. And it opens such wonderful possibility to consider the idea of Baptist bedfellows. To make music in the heart together.
Imagine a time when people govern themselves. When they are both held accountable and willingly accountable for their actions. There are no police or jails – they are simply not necessary. Imagine a time when everyone in the community is honored and taken care of. A time when people hold the Earth and all who live on her as sacred.
A utopian ideal? Not at all. For this is the system of governance that was present in Ireland for hundreds if not over a thousand years – oral traditions evade historical timeline. They are the Brehon Laws and they were the laws, more accurately the civil codes, that embodied a sense of social justice and fostered thriving communities. Communities in right relationship with the sacred, with the Earth, and with each other.
These codes, these mores, were organic. They were created by the people and adjusted by the people when necessary. These laws were not created through delegation. There were no local, regional, or national legislative bodies to create and impose law upon the people and there were no policing agencies to enforce them. It was a system of self governance. The only exception were the Brehons, judges steeped in the law who were called upon to arbitrate when there was a question of interpretation. But the Brehons held no enforcement power. That was left to the people. Justice was restorative not punitive and there was no capital punishment.
There is much to be explored about the Brehon Laws from the value of honor accorded each individual, the rights of women, and the care of children and elders to the requirement to locate hospitals next to running water. There is a rich depth and complexity to this civil structure. But the questions I sit with are about relevance. How is this relevant to us today? What might be possible if we were to consider the Brehon Laws, or any indigenous system of civil codes, as we create our future? It is even possible? Our Irish ancestors were no more or less human than we are. They held the same spectrum of human strengths and weaknesses that we do. But there is one critical difference.
Mores are defined as folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group. The Brehon codes were based on shared moral values that were intrinsic to and embedded in the heritage and very psyche of the Irish people. So the real question is what moral values are as equally embedded in our American psyche and intrinsic to us as Americans that could serve as the foundation for enlightened civil codes in this country? Do we have the courage to claim a moral foundation for our future?