November 29: Remembering Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, 1929
Dorothy Day, 1929

November 29 marks the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. I owe much of my formation as a Catholic, as an activist, and as a writer to Dorothy Day and the Worker movement. Currently, I’m making my way through the recently released The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. Dorothy’s personal papers were embargoed for 25 years after her death. Ellsberg has done a phenomenal job in sifting, collecting, tracing, and editing. (I’ve written a few times about D. Day and the Catholic Worker movement for Sojourners.)

Below is a poem by my friend Ted Deppe, recalling Dorothy:

House of Hospitality
Tivoli, NY, 1976

Down the hall, someone’s playing Schumann and cursing,
and Dorothy says, ‘That’s why we call this a house of
hostility. At least we don’t turn away those in need,
but all our farms are failures.’ She quotes Dostoyevsky
to sum up fifty years of the Worker: ‘Love in dreams
seems easy, but love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’

Outside, the ice on the Hudson keeps breaking with loud booms,
and Dorothy recalls the San Francisco quake
when she was eight. Which prompts an elderly man, silent so far,
to clear his throat and say, ‘I was there—I heard Caruso
sing from the window of the Palace Hotel. We were running
down Market Street when Mother stopped, pointed up,

and there he was, testing his voice they say—he was afraid
he might have lost it during the disaster—singing from La Boheme,
that magnificent tenor of his floating above the sound of collapsing
buildings.’ ‘And you heard him sing?’ asks Dorothy, ‘you heard
Caruso?’ and the man—a very articulate schizophrenic—says,
‘I saw a city destroyed and heard Caruso sing on the same morning.’

‘What a life!’ Dorothy says. ‘See, I was in Oakland,
where it wasn’t so bad. I only read about Caruso. And his valet—
did you see him? A character out of Ignazio Silone!
I mean, I love opera, I love Caruso, but this valet, when the quake hit,
reportedly came into the maestro’s hotel room
and told him, “Signor, it is nothing—nothing—but I think

we should go outside.” Then, once he’d waited in the shaking
building for Caruso to sing, a cappella, the complete aria,
once he’d finally escorted him safely to the open square,
he climbed six floors to that Room with a View
to pack the great man’s trunks, and carefully—apparently
calmly—carried them down, one by one.’

This poem appeared originally in The Shop and will appear in Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009)..

Green “Super Hero” Van Jones VS the Kryptonite of the Far Right

van-jones-hog-lgI’ve been tracking former Obama green czar Van Jones since his days as founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. He’s a good guy with a good vision who is very grounded in the working-class neighborhoods of California.

Jones has got the deep West Coast understanding about environmental issues plus the analysis of race and class. It’s a very needed combination.

He and Far-Right propagandist Glenn Beck have been fighting each other since the presidential campaign. With Jones’ forced resignation from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Beck struck a blow against Obama.

I’m afraid this shows that the virulent Far-Right spasm that’s rippling across the country has got the Obama crew scared and off their game. They should have backed Van Jones up and kept moving forward.

Maybe the West Wingers need to re-read The Politics of Unreason by Lipset and Raab and Richard Hofstadter’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” It’s time for them to get caught up on the history of Far-Right backlash and how to handle it.

Van Jones is the kind of real “super hero” we need to organize us for the fight to save the planet. But Beck and others have the kryptonite to weaken even the best of leaders, unless we surround them with a shield of truth.

Here’s an excerpt from a commentary by Francesca Rheannon on Jones’ resignation:

Green jobs champion Van Jones was dropped from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) last week after being targeted by a conservative smear campaign. Exceeded in its shamelessness only by its dementia, the right wing attack was spearheaded by Glenn Beck, a radical racist schlock jock host on Fox News.

Beck had a personal bone to pick with Van Jones, who was a senior advisor on the CEQ. After he called President Obama a “racist” who was “trying to enact a socialist agenda“, Beck’s show became the target of an effort to get advertisers to drop sponsorship. The campaign was mounted by Color of Change, an organization Jones co-founded but is no longer associated with. Fifty seven companies have already responded by pulling their ads. The roster includes some of Amerca’s best known corporations, including AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Procter & Gamble, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Wal-Mart.

The White House didn’t show the same courage against Beck’s mendacious spew the companies did. It failed to back up Van Jones in the days leading up to his technical resignation, nor, tellingly, did the Administration urge him to stay on after he tendered it. Jones had been one of its most visionary appointments in the effort to promote green jobs and wrest the economy out of recession.

Read  Rheannon’s whole commentary here.