Sitting in a former chapel of the National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD, recently, enthusiastically participating in the free-for-all opening night of the annual Great Labor Arts Exchange, singing along to stories of triumphant faith, feeling the fellowship of fellow activists--I was struck not for the first time, but more strongly, by how much we had in common with those we are supposed to be least like...and least like.
It was Friday night, not Sunday morning; the walls were bare of religious insignia; there was no (or only discrete) mention of God-- but there was no doubt we were in church. We felt the warmth of the gathering, we contemplated a power greater than ourselves, we were inspired to believe and act in better ways. I think an evangelical Christian would have immediately recognized the mood even if confused or offended by the message.
The goal should certainly be familiar: a happier world of justice and peace. Differences only arise in identifying the obstacle to that worthy end. Among politicized religious conservatives, it is big government and a bureaucratic culture that stands in the way of moral and economic progress. My fellow labor singers and I place the blame on big business and unfeeling, unrestrained capitalism.
In both cases, though, the cure concocted is the same: educate, organize, mobilize. I think the focus of the Tea Partiers and religious rightists is way off-target, and that many of them have nasty (racist, xenophobic, homophobic) agendas. But many others, I’m convinced, are motivated by a sincere desire to do right, and to do it with others. So they gather, and share, and sing. Just like us. And that gives me hope that one day we can all sing the same songs, together.