Peace and Nonviolence with Rev. John Dear, Attack on PA Higher Ed, Dystopia on the Horizon?, Global Fashion Faux Pas, and More!

This week in Meet a Progressive we travel outside of Bucks County to learn about Rev. John Dear. I was excited to hear back from him because I have been a huge fan of his work and his commitment to peace and justice since reading his autobiography “A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World” when it came out in 2008.

In case you missed it, check out my latest column for the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer: “Hysterical social media mob targets Doylestown businesswoman.”

Finally, thank you Raging Chicken Press for having me on your podcast! I am really excited to be a regular guest on the show to talk about politics in Bucks County and beyond.

Watch the interview HERE.

Meet a Progressive

Rev. John Dear is an internationally recognized voice and leader for peace and nonviolence. A priest, activist and author, he served for years as the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the U.S. After September 11, 2001, he was a Red Cross coordinator of chaplains at the Family Assistance Center in New York, and counseled thousands of relatives and rescue workers. John has traveled the war zones of the world, been arrested some 80 times for peace, led Nobel Peace prize winners to Iraq, given thousands of lectures on peace across the U.S., and served as a pastor of several churches in New Mexico. He arranged on many occasions for Mother Teresa to speak to various governors to stop an impending execution, and helped draft Pope Francis’ Jan. 1, 2017 World Day of Peace message on nonviolence. He is a co-founder of Campaign Nonviolence and the Nonviolent Cities Project, works with, and is the founder and director of “The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus.” 

His thirty five books include: The Beatitudes of Peace; They Will Inherit the Earth; The Nonviolent Life; A Persistent Peace; Living Peace; Jesus the Rebel; and most recently, Praise Be Peace: The Psalms of Peace and Nonviolence in a time of War and Climate Change.  He has been nominated many times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?  

I’m 61 now, and grew up very aware about Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Robert Kennedy’s Campaign for president. When Dr. King and RFK were killed, I was deeply shaken. In college at Duke in the 1970s, I really studied them, and still felt the impact of their deaths, and decided to become a priest.  

But just before I entered the seminary, I spent several months walking through Israel to see where Jesus lived. While there, Israel launched the 1982 war on Lebanon, and killed 60,000 people. While meditating at the chapel of the Beatitudes at the Sea of Galilee, and pondering Jesus’ teachings “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Love your enemies,” I saw Israeli warplanes swoop down over the Sea of Galilee, and fly on where they dropped bombs and killed people in Lebanon.  

That changed my life. I decided then and there to try to practice and teach the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teachings on peace, love and nonviolence, and have been doing that ever since. This journey has led me to write 35 books, speak to a million people, travel the war zones of the world, and get arrested over 85 times in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and injustice. I now think that to follow the nonviolent Jesus means we have to become nonviolent and work for a new nonviolent world. So we’ve got a lot of work to do!

What do you identify as the top issues progressives must confront nationally and globally?  

There are so many! We need to end systemic racism, police brutality, white supremacy, corporate greed, executions, gun violence, hunger and poverty. But fundamentally we all have to renounce violence, become nonviolent like Dr. King, and join the grassroots movements for nonviolent change, so we need a shift from a culture of violence to a new culture of nonviolence. And that means, we have to fundamentally build a massive global grassroots movement and really put our energies and resources to ending permanent warfare, abolishing nuclear weapons, and immediately stopping every form of environmental destruction, or we’re headed toward global destruction. We can no longer afford the luxury of sitting back and doing nothing. Everyone has to get involved.  

What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?  

I’m involved in many projects, such as the annual national Campaign Nonviolence national week of action every September; the Nonviolent Cities project (trying to get cities to organize around a vision of nonviolence), and the new organization I just founded, “The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus,” where I offer regular online zoom classes about Jesus and nonviolence. Check it out, sign up, and tell your friends! I’ve also been organizing an annual vigil outside the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Labs in New Mexico, birthplace of the bomb. I am also involved in the anti-death penalty movement and Fire Drill Fridays, an environmental movement.  

How can folks get engaged and involved?  

Best thing to do is pick a cause they feel passionate about—fighting racism; ending homelessness; or protecting Mother Earth—and start joining groups and start, when you can, attending organizing meetings. I think we should all be tithing our time to the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, such as giving our Saturdays to some movement for positive social change. On top of this, pray about it, talk about it with friends, and somehow make movement activism an ordinary part of your life. But mainly, join your local peace/justice/ environmental group to learn what needs to be done and find community support to sustain your involvement for the long haul.  

Every one is needed, everyone can bring some gift to the movement. We need all hands on deck now. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something!

Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration? 

In terms of inspiration, I don’t find much inspiration from the media. So I continually read the Gospels of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, the writings of Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and the histories of nonviolent social movements. For news, I follow, and  

But mainly I get inspired by people who are taking nonviolent public action for justice and peace, such as young Greta Thunberg and the student environmentalists; the Parkland students organizing against gun violence; the Black Lives Matter marchers, all those working to end the death penalty and nuclear weapons; and Jane Fonda and the Fire Drill Fridays project. Millions of people are currently involved in grassroots nonviolent movements around the world, and you won’t read about it in the main stream media, so you’ve got to dig deep and join the movement to find out what’s happening. Where the nonviolent action is, there the real inspiration is. 

State of the Nation

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is calling for PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein to resign. The head of PA’s State System of Higher Education drew the ire of state university faculty, staff, students, and lawmakers (as well as local businesses) who care about public education for suggesting to the legislature that they dissolve the system he is in charge of running if his plans to combine two sets of three universities and have each set run by a singular administrative team. Democratic State Rep. Peter Schweyer called the threat a “nuclear option” and “fear mongering” in an oped for Lehigh Valley Live. “There are more than 84,000 Pennsylvanians who are learning either full or part time at a PASSHE school, 2,452 of whom reside in Lehigh County. What kind of message is he sending to those students?” wrote Schweyer.

Apparently it is a hugely tone deaf and unpopular one for everyone involved. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) released a survey Wednesday that reveals “under 8 percent said they supported consolidation plans, and only 7 percent thought the process was transparent,” of Greenstein’s plans to essentially turn six universities into two. According to APSCUF President Jamie Martin, “Words matter, and the chancellor’s words about dissolving the State System were reckless and irresponsible ... The chancellor should be a leader and advocate for higher education in Pennsylvania, but his suggestion only creates fear, uncertainty and mistrust for students, their families, faculty, coaches, staff and Pennsylvania residents. His detrimental testimony crossed a line, and we are shocked, appalled and outraged.” Greenstein’s plans would gut the university system, cause huge job losses, and is the kind of austerity corporatization of higher education people need to fight against.

A Proud Boy’s Journey from Bucks County to DC to Jail. Philadelphia Proud Boys president Zach Rehl once rallied hand-in-hand with Bucks County GOP members outside of Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick’s office in Middletown. He was also a guest on Philly Republican radio host and local columnist Dom Giordano’s show on 1210 WPHT. More recently he was arrested for helping lead the capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. Check out the latest information surrounding this alleged domestic terrorist’s case at the FILE411 newsletter.

Dystopia on the Horizon? The US Intelligence Community’s projections for the next 20 years are horrifying. The Global Trends 2040 report, “A More Contested World,” states that “climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions — are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country.” It singles out social media as an accelerator for a growing distrust in democracy and democratic institutions. "Looking forward, many democracies are likely to be vulnerable to further erosion and even collapse" and “more political volatility, including growing polarization … and, in the most extreme cases, violence, internal conflict, or even state collapse." We already saw what happened in Washington on Jan. 6. This is why is is so important to advocate for policies like A Green New Deal which addresses both climate change and social and economic inequality.

Beyond the U.S. Bubble

What’s Wrong with Global Capitalism? Apparently everything. This headline says it all: “Richest 20 billionaires own same wealth as 50% of world’s population.” Chuck Collins, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality said, “Unless we tax the world’s billionaires, the legacy of the pandemic will be accelerated concentrations of wealth and power.” Exactly what we don’t need given the aforementioned intelligence report.

Global Wage Theft Should Be Unfashionable. However, according to a new report by the Worker Rights Consortium, fashion brands like Walmart, Nike, Adidas, Macy’s, Benetton, and Gap who outsource their labor to factories in 9 different countries owe millions of dollars of wages to garment workers around the globe. The report, “Fired, Then Robbed: Fashion brands’ complicity in wage theft during Covid-19,” tells the disturbing story behind the labels of the clothes we wear. “Severance wage theft has been a longstanding problem in the garment industry, but the scope has dramatically increased in the last year,” due to COVID-19, Scott Nova, the group’s executive director said. The wage theft and lost jobs cause both hunger and debt, among other severe social and economic hardships. As the group continues to collect more data, it is believed lost earnings could reach between $500 and $850 million.

Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.