M.L. King Day

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

This month’s celebration of Rev. Martin L. King (1929-1968) is of course about more than King. The civil rights era is about more than the Montgomery boycott that began in December 1955. It certainly includes Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus. And, Parks’ disobedience was not a momentary reaction, but was the outcome of much preparation.
In recent times several scholars have drawn attention to “the longer civil rights movement.” Karen Johnson of Wheaton College is one of those scholars. Her book, One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), details significant civil rights activity as early as 1930—not in the South but in Chicago. Her examples, perhaps surprisingly, are Catholic organizations.
Johnson’s thorough account in eight more-or-less chronological chapters plus 49 pages of valuable footnotes is “primarily a story about laypeople” who in addition to highlighting aspects of Catholic doctrine also challenged the notion that priests are above laypeople, that urban Catholicism is synonymous with intra-parish ministries and that Catholics acting as Catholics should keep their efforts separate from Protestants and Jews.
Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a pioneering black physician involved with Federated Colored Catholics and then with Catholic Worker movement, is prominent in the first four chapters and appears throughout the book. The fifth and sixth chapters feature Friendship House with Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), Ellen Tarry (1906-2008) and Ann Harrigan Makletzoff (1910-1984); the seventh and eighth feature the Catholic Interracial Council with John McDermott (1926-1996) among others. Msgr. Dan Cantwell (1915-1996) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004) appear in nearly all the chapters.
These Chicago Catholics were successful to a degree. They “helped enlarge America’s moral imagination,” Johnson explains. They showed that racial justice is more than a political matter. Due to these Chicago activists and also to many religious leaders in the South and around the nation, civil rights became a significant aspect of faith, both for blacks and for whites. Further, the Chicago Catholics—years before Vatican II (1962-1965)—taught others that individual salvation and personal transformation are not enough. They communicated, in words and more so by way of example, that full-time Christians must seek “the common good by reforming the institutions shaping the public sphere.”
A contagious esprit surrounded these dedicated Catholics. They nourished one another in several institutional spaces, Johnson emphasizes. They all knew that liturgical grace was essential to their efforts. They believed that the liturgy of the word continued out the church door as each of them did their part in the Mystical Body of Christ to live a liturgy of the world.
Johnson includes enough detail to dispel any suggestion of hyper-romanticism about these civil rights pioneers. These people were street savvy. They knew how to agitate and at the right moment what to compromise. They avoided getting personally bent out of shape as they necessarily engaged in sharp disagreements with one another over strategy: How to include Chicago’s bishop—if at all. Whether or not to include anti-poverty measures in efforts against racism. Whether or not to maneuver inside the Democratic Party, which in Chicago was the Daley Machine. Are discussion groups a waste of time? Can Catholics be militant?
Remarkably, most of these Catholic civil rights leaders remained Catholic their entire lives. It is remarkable because, as Johnson details in parts of two chapters, more than one bishop, some influential pastors and the Catholic system itself reinforced racial distinctions. For example, Falls once told me that the segregation that hurt him the most was on Saturday afternoons when he went to confession. Blacks had to stand in one line and wait until each person in the white line had received absolution.
Johnson writes a comprehensible story. This is an achievement because all her subjects died before she began. She thus scoured multiple libraries for newspapers, magazine articles, minutes of meetings and more. Johnson, by the way, is not Catholic. Yet the book flawlessly covers Chancery politics and points of theology.

A powerful 2% of young Catholics are once again interested in the social question–in race relations, in living wage campaigns, in the dignity of all life, in socially responsible business, in green technology, in mental health delivery, in criminal justice reform and immigration topics. One In Christ is an inspiring account of visionary Catholics who navigated the push-and-pull of public life, and had some fun along the way. As we rightly celebrate King Day, we can continue to learn from all the efforts in our country toward “liberty and justice for all.”

Droel of Chicago is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

In Praise of Cash

The Working Catholic:
Bill Droel

It says “legal tender for all debts private and public.” But cash is out. Indeed, some businesses now refuse cash, including a hair salon in Los Angeles, a few pretentious chain restaurants and several small shops. Visa has declared “a war on cash,” reports New York Times (12/6/18). Other credit companies are implicit allies in that war. Only 30% of transactions by one survey currently involve cash, says Wall St. Journal (12/30/18). Most cash transactions are in small amounts; 55% of them are for less than $10. The popular alternative to cash is called a credit card. However, cards are also out. Nowadays a purchaser obtains ready credit through an app on a mobile device. It is not swiped; it is tapped.
We crusty old-timers prefer cash. This is not only because a cashless economy further impoverishes those without access to credit. There are other troubling consequences of going cashless, ones that threaten middle-class families.
Number One. Cash is or was a nearly universal societal benefit. The trend these days is to allow private companies to own public life. The outcome of this trend is generally no good. Prime evidence here in Chicago is the expensive parking facilities in the Loop and elsewhere. Citizens do not benefit from the revenue; a private entity does. Likewise, the ubiquitous cameras that catch any and all minor traffic miscues would be annoying enough if the tickets’ revenue went to our city. But a private company has the contract. Prohibiting cash in favor of private currency is another destruction of the public realm.
Number Two. A cashless private economy is premised on automation. Working-class jobs at what were once called cash registers are disappearing. It is entirely possible to stock one’s grocery cart and put the produce, meat and bread in one’s car without dealing with a grocery clerk. The same impersonal approach is taking over in restaurants. Banks don’t have tellers.
Number Three. Another result of cyber-automation is increased violation of privacy. The private company that extends credit and the retailer join forces to develop one’s consumer profile. This is used by the retailer to pitch more products or it is sold to other private companies. Also, cyber-banking and cyber-transactions expose one’s cyber-wallet to thieves. The best robbers these days eschew cash; they prefer hacking.
Number Four. It is true that credit, wisely obtained and carefully managed, can be a form of wealth. A home mortgage obtained from a neighborhood bank or credit union is an investment. Credit perhaps leads to wealth in sophisticated margin trading in 90-day stock options. Right? Most credit obtained by working families, however, is basically usury. There is no credit app (formerly called a credit card) that comes without a line of credit and interest fees. The singular factor that hampers the financial standing of working class families is credit app/card debt.

Is it possible to manage a household without credit? It is possible, but it requires resistance to the new capitalism—a capital economy in which products are not that important but in which investment rules. How to manage without credit? Get a checking account from a neighborhood bank or credit union. Don’t deal with Wells Fargo or other national entities. Do not accept any line of credit on the account. Don’t cyber-shop too much. Use the currency that comes with a picture of President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), President Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) or other notables. If you already have a credit card/app and you made only a partial payment last month, see a reputable, neighborhood-based finance advisor immediately.

Droel edits a free printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Advent Habit

The Working Catholic: Advice on the Eucharist
by Bill Droel

Advice columns are exercises in deconstruction. Dear Abby and Ask Amy must intuit or impose a context for the short query. The newspaper reader, in turn, puts the question and answer into their own context—often comparing the situation to that of their dysfunctional relatives. Smile.
Advice columnists in Catholic newspapers or on Catholic websites (usually priests) must likewise deconstruct the question and the reader must imagine some applicable situation. A fair number of the questions are personal (Should I forgive my spouse for…?). A generic answer in a pastoral circumstance is not, in my opinion, a good idea. Some questions though can prompt a general lesson about the faith.
For example, a writer tells a Catholic News Service columnist that she or he, as a Eucharistic minister, is “bother[ed]” by the pause or separation between “body of Christ” and “blood of Christ” during the reception of communion. The writer believes that Christ is entirety present in each of the Eucharistic elements. The writer implies that each minister (of the host and of the cup) should say: “The body and blood of Christ.”
The priest/columnist affirms the writer’s belief but tempers any change in rubrics. He reminds the writer, in so many words, that Jesus paused or separated body and blood at what is called the Last Supper.

I’ve heard several Eucharistic ministers vary the correct phrase. Several say, “Receive the body of Christ.” Some say, “Take the blood of Christ.” One recently told me to “become transformed through this Eucharist.” At one church, while on vacation, I got a sermonette: “This is the real body of our Lord who died and rose that you…” That communion line moved slowly.
The correct phrase for the Eucharistic minister is intentionally vague or, better yet, inclusive by implication. No modifiers, no verbs. Even the article “the” is unnecessary. Just three words. Then the corresponding minister uses three words. The correct phrase applies to the consecrated bread and wine. Christ is fully, entirely and really present.
The seeming imprecision of the three words actually means that in addition to the elements Christ is really present in the communicant (John 6: 55-56). Plus, Christ is present in the collective worshipers, the congregation. And, Christ is really present in the church scattered after Mass, in the Mystical Body of Christ. Any additional words used by the Eucharistic minister only decrease the power of our dogma on Christ’s real presence.
Put it this way. If worshipers do not believe that Jesus is really present in their fellow humans, how can they really taste and see Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine? Street-level society is the Mystical Body of Christ, just as the ordinary elements and gestures at Mass are the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. Yes, it takes religious imagination to believe in the real presence within one’s hapless boss, one’s grouchy neighbor, one’s sullen teenager. But it is no different from the energy and creativity and persistence it takes to believe that the Owner of the Entire Universe is really present in a small piece of flat bread and a small amount of wine.

Here’s an Advent habit. Look at each worker you encounter this month and say to yourself: “Body of Christ; Blood of Christ.” The clerk at Walgreen’s, the student who arrives late to class, the orderly who complains about the patients, the snowplow driver, the postal worker, even the most clueless waitress who doesn’t know the difference between a stout and a porter. Smile.

Droel’s book Monday Eucharist is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7)

Ten Strikes

The Working Catholic: Strikes
by Bill Droel

Not so long ago strikes were deemed counterproductive, says Commonweal magazine (3/26/18). That was until this past February when 20,000 teachers in West Virginia walked off the job. This job action, Commonweal notes, initially occurred “without collective bargaining powers or the legal right to go on strike.” Yet it was “well-executed [and] wide-scale… Its size and scope proved critical.” With visible public sympathy and sufficient solidarity, the West Virginia teachers were successful. Credit goes to “a decentralized rank-and-file made up mostly of women,” Commonweal concludes.

The West Virginia example does not mean that the strike tactic is back. Nor that it is a sure-fire remedy to income inequality. Strikes are still rare in our country–maybe a dozen notable ones per year. Further, strikes are often broken with no immediate improvement for our country’s workers.
The full positive results of a strike and of the union movement itself might only materialize some years after the event. That’s a conclusion to draw from A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis (The New Press, 2018).
The book’s first chapter centers on the “mill girls” of the early 19th century. A New England economy based entirely on farms and craft shops gave way in 1793 when Samuel Slater (1768-1835) opened a textile mill in Pawtucket, RI. Francis Cabot Lowell (1775-1817) thereafter opened another mill along the Charles River in Boston. His company expanded after his death, including a mill along the Merrimack River in a town renamed for Lowell. That town was nicknamed Spindle City because by the mid-1800s its 40 textile mills and 10,000 looms, operating six days a week, produced about 100million yards of cloth per year.
Instead of using child labor these mills recruited young women from area farms and elsewhere. The young workers, who were capable of operating somewhat complicated machines, lived in boarding houses and were encouraged to read and to attend cultural events. For some young women at the time, it was considered a great adventure to assert independence from their families. However, workdays were routinely 13 hours. The definition of young woman was really teenager. The workers paid for their company housing and their employer increased rent when the company wanted more discipline.
In 1834 and again in 1836 the town’s mills cut wages. In both cases a strike spread to several mills, but was crushed within a week. In 1845 the young women added a strategy: Documenting health and safety concerns and then testifying in favor of a state-mandated 10-hour workday. Only nearby New Hampshire legislated 10 hours, but its mills ignored the law with impunity.
Think about the struggle of these young workers come February 2019 when your donut shop hands you some change. You might see a quarter honoring Lowell National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/lowe). On the quarter is a woman toiling at a cotton loom and a clock tower in the background. Modernity requires increased public awareness of hours and minutes. Thus one town after another installed mechanical clock towers. The Boott Mill clock tower of 1835, as depicted on the new coin, symbolizes New England’s transition from a village economy to an industrial economy—for better and for worse.

Loomis anchors another chapter of Ten Strikes with autoworkers in Flint during December 1936-January 1937. As with the West Virginia teachers, these autoworkers were two steps ahead of their union leaders. Most strikes, of course, occur outdoors. They include picket lines, protest signs, maybe lawn chairs and maybe a huge inflatable rat. But the strike in Flint was different. The workers sat to conquer. That is, they stayed inside; commandeering in a sense all of General Motors’ expensive equipment. Again as in West Virginia, the women from town played the crucial role. With coordination they brought food and newspapers into the plant; they rallied citizen support, not only in Flint but in other locales.
The AFL at this time, Loomis explains, was focused on craft workers across lines of employers. The door was thus open for the United Mine Workers, the United Auto Workers and the CIO to organize all the workers of a single employer and then all the workers in a specified industry. The champion of this type of organizing was John L. Lewis (1880-1969), and he was a major factor in the Flint job action.
Loomis drives home one of his main themes in this chapter. There are three major players in the national economy: big business, organized families/workers and government. Workers cannot make headway, Loomis argues, without some support from government. In the Flint example, the workers’ ally was Governor Frank Murphy (1890-1949), who was later appointed to the Supreme Court. At a tense moment, Murphy sent the National Guard to the General Motors plant. But not—as was expected—to evict the workers. Murphy had the National Guard protect the workers. General Motors was soon ushered to the bargaining table where they gave recognition to Lewis and the United Auto Workers.

Ten Strikes is a good introduction to U.S. labor history. Loomis, however, trips on his rhetoric once or twice. Workers today must take back “our dignity from our employer,” he wrongly writes.
No employer can give a worker dignity. A job promotion does not confer dignity. An employee of the month award is not about dignity. Paternalism is incapable of adding to dignity. Likewise, no employer can take away an employee’s dignity. Harassment, for example, is a sin, but it does not diminish the essence of a person. No one loses an ounce of dignity if his or her hours are cut. Dignity is innate; it is God-given. This is important to believe. This is a truth about power. Each person—middle manager, owner, janitor, skilled engineer, clerk, receptionist and more—possesses as a gift from birth the power of one’s own dignity. It can’t be given away; it can’t be taken away. Don’t ever think that it can.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter on faith and work.

Bad Words

The Working Catholic: Bad Words
by William Droel

Violent language keeps company with violent behavior. The former does not usually cause the latter directly, but in due time violence can follow. To be clear by way of an example, the rhetoric of Sarah Palin did not incite the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, six of whom died. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, had an advertisement that put some Congressional districts (not individual candidates) in a mock crosshairs during the 2010 midterm campaign, including Giffords’ Arizona district. But those who said the shooting was a direct consequence of Palin’s violence-tinged electioneering (using slogans like “Don’t Retreat, Reload” and “Take Up Arms”) were jumping to a simplistic conclusion or, in her odd phrase, engaging in “blood libel.” Not to say that no relationship exists between violent metaphors or hateful rhetoric and physical attacks.
Violent language originates in and plays upon resentment. Though the hateful speaker appears tough and rugged, she or he is insecure. For example, Palin (now like President Donald Trump) has no public identity apart from the reaction of those who believe she is over the top. Her insecurity (like Trump’s) requires so-called enemies to fill her inner void by reacting to outrageous statements.

“The resentment felt today is the product of widespread feelings of powerlessness, writes Jeremy Engels in his important The Politics of Resentment: A Genealogy (Penn State Press, 2015). Those anger feelings are legitimate but become problematic when expressed with no context and directed at mistaken adversaries. Resentment is ineffective. Its expression soon enough turns back to the frustrated person, whose self-image becomes an inadequate victim. Resentment is all around these days because some of our “politicians and our sensationalized media seem intent on training citizens to be frightened, frustrated, apathetic, acquiescent and ultimately [more] resentful,” says Engels, who details the Palin-Giffords example. The politics of resentment is nefarious because it plays upon an honest desire for powerful reform but employs life-destroying strategies. Of course, some local, national and international figures play on resentment. Listen to them carefully: Their alternative to the status quo is always vague. They usually offer no lasting reform policy or improved organization and thus their promises only result in more alienation.
Resentment is like an addiction, which is why it seems like fun for awhile. However, it only pulls down. A resentful person, truth be told, has made herself or himself dependent on a larger force without being able to do anything about it.

The opposite of resentment is gratitude. Anyone who desires effective social reform must believe that the world and its environs is a gift. Maybe that belief is not explicitly stated upon awakening each morning. Maybe the word thanks is not used. But a person who is capable of improving his or her business or church or neighborhood or political party is a grateful person. Such a person knows that she or he is not self-made. He or she realizes that one’s interests have to be negotiated among the rights and wishes of others and that the beautiful gift of freedom implies care for one’s family, for society and to a degree for the world.
Let’s not get soft here. Politics is hardball. Business can be quite competitive. Civic groups can strike fierce poses. Specific interests must often be strongly asserted. Issues get sharply framed. Meetings get contentious. In democratic public life there are adversaries, opponents and perennial rivals. In a democracy, however, there are no enemies. Social change advocates and politicians who use that word betray the gift of our country. At a minimum they exhibit self-righteousness. Worse, they open a door to violence. In war there are enemies. In regular public life the word enemy, and other violent phrases, are not to be used.

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Misdirected Idealism

The Working Catholic: Misdirected Idealism
Bill Droel

John McKnight directs Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He objects to the standard approach toward a neighborhood by urban planners, government officials, and bank executives, building inspectors, social workers, some police officers and even some teachers. Instead of projecting joy and enthusiasm, they give exclusive attention to a neighborhood’s defects (old buildings, broken curbs, high number of transients, roaming delinquents, dim street lights and more). The well-meaning prophets of doom sometimes propose cosmetic interventions (new basketball hoops and additional street sweeping) to buoy drooping spirits of families.
McKnight, contrary to standard understanding, thinks many seemingly good interventions are in fact disabling help. A forceful ideology, he details, assumes some people are not competent neighbors; they are instead clients with deficient parts. This ideology is apolitical. There is no need to radically address the economic or cultural environment. Service, sincerely delivered, is an unquestioned good. There is no compelling need to explain why our country has terrific medical discoveries and many improved medical instruments and yet poor health. Or why our country has lots of knowledge about food and great interest in culinary arts and yet poor nutrition. Or lots of new classroom technology and yet declining reading scores.

Anand Giridharadas applies this analysis to those who sincerely believe that by doing well they can do good. Idealistic students, enterprising tech engineers and many innovators in finance “declare themselves partisans of change,” he writes in Winners Take All: the Elite Charade of Changing the World (Knopf, 2018). Yet they selectively take on problems with projects they design, jumping over most of the people affected by the problem and quite often blocking government agencies from access to the problem. The goodwill of these educated and highly positioned do-gooders is insufficient, Giridharadas argues. In many cases it is harmful.
The tech entrepreneurs and the enterprising finance wizards, Giridharadas says, believe that “to change the world you must rely on the techniques, resources and personnel of capitalism.” The approach of these economic and cultural leaders is taught to students at big-name colleges. “The private push into world betterment,” he continues, sidelines “the older language of power, justice and rights.” Instead, the elite-style of social change uses phrases like leveraged data, social impact, and incubation of ideas, start-up venture, empowering endeavor, social enterprise club, impact investment and more.
The internet began in the mid-1960s, first among select engineers. It soon grew in scope and now is, of course, nearly universally used constantly by way of many types of devices. A philosophy came along with the hardware and the programs. The big tech players and their fans, says Giridharadas, believe in the leveling ability of technology. Everyone is entitled to access, they say, and extensive use of cyberspace, in and of itself, increases equality. (See for example The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, Picador, 2007.)
Perhaps the tech giants are sincere. But their notion of change always includes a payoff for the tech entity and never addresses the basics of our economic system or our dominant culture. Keep in mind: Today’s tech industry is more concentrated than any other sector. A small number of people own the entire infrastructure. Their companies greatly add to wealth inequality.
Is it better then for tech leaders and for young adults who aspire to do good and do well to stifle their philanthropy and cease their forays into social problems? Might they simply put their excess wealth and lingering idealism back into their portfolio?

Catholic social doctrine has pertinent principles. According to subsidiarity, decisions should be made as close as possible to those affected by the decision. Maternalism or paternalism is a step or two removed from the scene. For example, says Catholicism, workers make the decision for or against a union without interference from management, even if management seemingly knows better. According to the principle of participation, a society increases in justice as more families have an increasing stake in the economy and the direction of culture. Catholicism favors private property and never requires exact material equality of income or wealth. It does insist, however, that all families have agency—usually by way of intermediate associations.
Context is a crucial difference between tech/finance philosophy and Catholicism. Individuals login and travel around the tech world as they please. In Catholicism, there is no such thing as a person without an environment; without family, friends, clubs, and more. A large portion of the social environment, Catholicism appreciates, is a gift.

Winners Take All is an important critique; one made by only a small number of other commentators like John McKnight in The Careless Society (Basic Books, 1995) and more recently by Thomas Frank in Listen Liberal (Henry Holt, 2016).

Droel is the author of Public Friendship (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Tech Companies, Part II

The Working Catholic: Media/Tech Companies, Part II
by Bill Droel

The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 is among the most significant chapters in U.S. labor relations history. Homestead, Pennsylvania is just south of Pittsburgh, on the west bank of the Monongahela River. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) owned the prosperous steel mill there. Some of its workers were highly skilled and belonged to a craft union, Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Carnegie was determined to break this union. He cut wages. Knowing there would be trouble, he enlisted the Pinkerton Detective Agency to assist him. At that time Pinkerton employed more agents than the U.S. Army had soldiers. The 1892 event resembled a naval siege; the union was eventually broken.
Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker (8/27/18), reminds us that several months before the Homestead Strike Carnegie wrote a pamphlet about disposing of one’s fortune. Titled The Gospel of Wealth (www.carnegie.org), it argues against a big inheritance for one’s children. It also argues against handing out money to the poor. Instead, Carnegie said the wealthy have an obligation to endow institutions that benefit the public—universities, libraries, cultural centers and more.
The juxtaposition of Carnegie’s pamphlet and his management of Homestead Steel “made explicit” to critics “the inconsistency of Carnegie’s position,” Kolbert writes. “How could a person ruthlessly exploit his employees and, at the same time, claim to be a benefactor of the toiling masses?” Why, for example, didn’t Carnegie endow a pension fund for his employees?

Carnegie was not alone. When it comes to charity, most companies and foundations in our country are guided by the so-called Protestant business ethic. Deserving individuals or the public at large are assisted by targeted programs or enrichment venues. However, the programs never challenge the system and the benefactors never question “too deeply how it is they came to do so well,” Kolbert concludes.
The attitude of 19th and 20th century industrial titans parallels that of our 21st century tech titans and their admirers. The big tech players today—the founders, the original investors and the elite engineers—are technology determinists. As Evgeny Morozov puts it in To Save Everything Click Here (Perseus Books, 2013), each and every application of technology is “inherently good in itself, regardless of its social or political consequences.” In fact, if someone happens to notice a social problem, then its solution is more technology. Homelessness, to give an extreme example, is tolerable with an app that makes streets feel like home. Or as a Google executive said: If you want to solve economic problems, create more entrepreneurs.
Central to the philosophy of the tech leaders is their belief that they are doing something for the greater good, both in their business ventures and in their philanthropic enterprises. Some of them are sincere. Their frame of reference all the way from high school to their current position never included concepts like structural evil or the priority of labor or even an obligation to the common good (which is not the same as calculation of a common denominator).
When it comes to their big charity ventures, explains Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All (Alfred Knopf, 2018), the high-tech players plus their financial and political admirers assume a noble posture. They cannot imagine that their good intentions might actually be making things worse. There is no need to consider any systematic change, they presume. Inequality cannot be causing more suffering because doesn’t the economy allow for universal opportunity?
The big stage for tech philanthropy is the conference circuit. Events are held on Cape Cod, in Silicon Valley, in Colorado, often in Manhattan, maybe in Switzerland or France. Headliners often include Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and movie starlets. They are joined by guests who have a startup project in Los Angeles or Africa. These events are low on content, high on puff, says Giridharadas. Key phrases heard at the conference include incredible, amazing, awe-inspiring, empowering and the like.

The leaders of big tech companies want to do good, they say. But they never challenge power arrangements in our society. All of this, I suppose, is too much of a moral burden to place on someone who simply hails an Uber ride or gets a referral from Task Rabbit or orders a keurig through Amazon. But today’s tech industry is far from morally neutral. It warrants moral consideration. To be continued…

Droel edits a printed newsletter about faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Our Statue

The Working Catholic: Lady Liberty
by Bill Droel

The primary symbol of our country is our flag, the “stars and stripes.” Closely connected to our flag is the song Star-Spangled Banner, based on an 1814 poem by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key (1779-1843). It is customary to stand and doff one’s cap when our anthem is performed at the beginning of every sporting event. There is, by the way, no obligatory rubric about other songs at the ballpark. America the Beautiful, a 1910 tune by Katherine Bates and Samuel Ward, is not our national anthem, though some fans seem to think it is. Nor is there any compulsory ritual around the seventh inning song about Katie Casey, produced in 1908 by Jack Norwoth and Albert Von Tilzer. Likewise, fans can do and think what they like when the public address system blares out the 1978 song by Victor Willis and Jacques Morali, YMCA… So too in Boston with the 1969 song by Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline.

Our country’s second most important symbol is the Statue of Liberty. Whereas the U.S. flag is revered mostly by U.S. residents and those of us serving or working overseas, the “Statue of Liberty is the world’s most universally recognized symbol,” writes Steve Fraser in Class Matters (Yale University Press, 2018). What does it symbolize? “Above all, Lady Liberty is thought of as the patron saint of hard-pressed immigrants.” Our statue in the Upper New York Bay stands for “an uplifting promissory note.”
The statue has a conflicted history and was not always associated with immigrants, Fraser recounts, as does Tyler Anbinder in his massive City of Dreams (Houghton, Mifflin, 2016).
It was 1865 when Edouard Rene de Laboulaye (1811-1883) first proposed a gift from his fellow French citizens to the citizens of the U.S. in recognition of our country’s extension of liberty to former slaves. His project went slowly. Frederic Bartholdi (1834-1904), a sculptor, joined the effort. The original completion date having past, the goal then became delivery to the U.S. for the 100th anniversary of our independence. As the days went by, the theme for the proposed statue came to include a beacon of liberty to those still under regressive or colonial governments. The motivation of the French committee, writes Fraser, was “to inspire and memorialize their dedication to a stable, middle-class society.” It was not so much to have “a monument to the nation that had pioneered in inventing [liberty],” to the U.S. The premise was that both France and the U.S. “cherished learning, enterprise, peaceable commerce and republican liberties.”
No matter the theme, the project remained in low gear. Finally in 1880 the French committee delivered the statue in crates to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The statue’s eventual location in New York Harbor was assumed, but because the French committee was broke the U.S. was responsible for building a pedestal. Four government entities said no to an allocation for the project. Likewise, several wealthy people here declined to donate.
A stateside committee held a fundraiser; an auction of original paintings and literary pieces. It was a bust; only $1,500 was raised. One item in the November 1883 auction was well received: The New Colossus, a poem by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887).
It looked like the statue might forever be warehoused in crates. But in March 1885 Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), a Hungarian immigrant, ridiculed the wealthy in his newspaper and called upon working families to send along their nickels. The common people responded; the pedestal was built; a dedication was held in October 1886. Of note: No mention of Lazarus, of her poem or of immigration was made at that ceremony. Thus for many years the statue was a symbol mostly for French-U.S. friendship and vaguely for liberty as an exportable ideal.
The common people enter the story once again. In 1903 friends of Lazarus had the 14-line The New Colossus inscribed on a bronze plaque and with permission installed it inside the statue, on the second-floor landing. The theme of welcome to immigrants, especially the thousands who arrive in this harbor, was making a slow comeback. In 1945 the poem was moved to the main entrance of Lady Liberty. It was then, Fraser writes, that “the Statue of Liberty became the symbol we have assumed it always was.” The statue, the famous poem, Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island are now basically one, and together are firmly associated with our country’s grand experiment in pluralism, with the compassion of our citizens and with the gratitude nearly all of us feel for the opportunities that this great country gave our ancestors.

New York City is inexhaustible. But all visitors and residents need to find the Liberty Island/Ellis Island ferry in Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan. Here’s one way to reflect on what your tour means: Look to the bow and see our country’s story of “huddled masses” and then look to the stern and see the great skyscrapers of finance. Fraser’s book can add to that reflection because he examines the tension between bow and stern, the give-and-take of our American Dream. The subtitle of Anbinder’s book is The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York. It too examines the reality of give-and-take.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629) a free newsletter about faith and work.

Working Catholic: Technology & Loneliness

There is a serious downside to use of computers and mobile devices, according to recent medical and social science reports. Several essays and books likewise point to the danger. Nonetheless concerned parents or stressed-out workers still reach superficial or incorrect conclusions about the internet and tech devices. For example, some well-meaning people say internet problems are due strictly to content. Don’t view porn and other trash, they continue, and you will be OK.
To better understand the influence of technology, learn something about the founders of some important companies—their philosophy, the culture of their businesses and more.
It feels odd to distinguish between the old internet and the new internet. The old internet was a tool for the military and for research facilities. As it grew, the internet had a populist aura. The feeling was that the internet is a friendly companion, a community, an extended family of pioneers. That language is still around but it does not apply to the new internet. By about 1995 the internet had become fully commercial. Yes, the content of the internet ranges over every taste, perspective and interest. But it is largely controlled by a small number of companies. The big players in today’s internet business oppose ideas of democracy and communal decentralization, writes Jonathan Taplin in Move Fast and Break Things (Little Brown, 2017). “The dominant philosophy of Silicon Valley [is] based far more heavily on radical libertarian ideology.”
Modernity (which dates from 1500, let’s say) remarkably elevates the dignity of each individual. This is a singular achievement. No longer can someone’s career or lifestyle be determined by the caste of one’s parents. No longer can someone be denied opportunity because of one’s ethnic group or gender. Of course, modernity does not always deliver on its promise. But compared to pre-1500 days, modern individuals enjoy immense freedom.
Libertarians take the otherwise good notion of a liberated individual to its extreme. They believe that, writes Taplin, attaining one’s individual happiness is the only moral purpose of life. That doesn’t mean that a libertarian walks down the block and knocks over older people in the way. A libertarian might sponsor a youth outing or visit the elderly. Simply that the criteria for any behavior is its potential to reward the individual actor—be it financially, psychologically or even spiritually, when defined in an individualistic way.
The big players of the new internet are moral arbiters each onto him alone (and it is a white male culture). They oppose any universal governance of the internet. They succeed—by their definition of success—because they are free to break the bonds, to go beyond, to be above, to push anything aside in the name of liberty. Taplin says their credo is: “Who will stop me.” The men who created the new internet “believed that they had both the brilliance and the moral fortitude to operate outside the normal strictures of law and taxes” and other restraints. They “truly believe that technology can deliver happiness” by its very nature. Thus critical to the success of the big tech companies “is the ability to maintain the illusion that they are working for the greater good even while pursuing policies that serve only their own needs.” Some tech giants give away money and sponsor anti-poverty programs. It is possible that in doing so some of the tech giants are totally sincere. In fact, for some the illusion is their reality.
We take the internet for granted; likewise cyberspace, the dish and cable box, mobile devices, apps and programs of all kinds. This technology is our default position. We don’t concern ourselves with the philosophy of the internet’s big owners. We assume the best whenever our mobile device helps us hail a ride or when our computer allows us to post a blog. We take it as obviously correct when Mark Zuckerberg says, “To improve the lives of millions of people [connect them] to the internet.” We hardly consider the downside of Zuckerberg and others promoting a world of isolated individuals who fend for themselves with a lifeline called the internet. We are content enough with the assumption that the way to better health care is through more and faster connections to web-doctors, cyber-insurance plans and computer-linked pharmacies with a drive-up window staffed by a robot. Better education? On-line courses. Better work experience? Robot colleagues. Better sports fandom? Watch the game on one’s own device…at the stadium, no less.
Is tech really an improvement? Or at a minimum a neutral force? A subsequent column will consider tech presumptions in light of Catholic philosophy.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter on faith and work.

Farm Workers

The Working Catholic: Forgotten Organizer
by Bill Droel

Most grammar school and high school students encounter Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) in one or another textbook. He is heralded as a pioneer in organizing agricultural workers and as a champion of Mexican-Americans. So in September 1965 who were those farm workers who went on strike and whose action launched a boycott that brought Chavez to national attention? The workers were Filipino.
Today’s students and others probably assume that farm worker unions hardly existed until Chavez and others created the National Farm Workers Association in September 1962, writes David Bacon in Dollars & Sense (June/18). Not true. Larry Itliong (1913-1977), a Filipino-American, walked his first picket line in 1930, and even he did not invent farm worker organizing. The United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers, affiliated with the CIO, was long active in the State of Washington, Alaska and California. Itliong was involved with UCAPAW and in the late 1940s he led strikes among asparagus pickers, Bacon details. In 1959 an Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee was formed in the merged AFL-CIO. In the summer of 1965 Itliong led a successful AWOC strike in the Coachella Valley.
On September 8, 1965 Itliong gathered hundreds of workers into Filipino Community Hall in Delano, California for a vote to strike the area’s grape growers. It was a bold move and Itliong realized he needed help. As is common with ethnic groups, Filipino-Americans and Mexican-Americans did not easily mingle in the community. Plus the two ethnic groups competed for jobs. Yet Itliong approached Chavez to join in the strike. Until then, Chavez was spending his time building the base and lobbying; he had yet to launch any job action; only 200 workers were paying dues to his NFWA. But Chavez realized his opportunity and within two weeks joined forces with the Filipino-Americans. Thus began the now famous Delano Grape Strike and National Boycott. Four flags were prominent in the first demonstration: the U.S. flag of course plus the flag of the Philippines, of Mexico and the flag/banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In time the group’s named was changed to United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and then to United Farm Workers Union (www.ufw.org). Itliong served as an assistant to the new union, including as director of national boycotts.

The efficacy of organizing requires some oiled hinges. For example, on one side there is hyperbole and some boastfulness. On the other there is thoughtful compromise. On one side the organizer agitates hesitant people. On the other side the organizer affirms people, even as they belatedly take small steps. One side of the door the organizer fosters fierce loyalty within the group, enough to withstand external criticism. On the other side of this parochial bonding the organizer must create openness to wider society, a commitment to inclusiveness and dispel tribalism.
On one side the organizer must project confident charismatic qualities to attract busy and creative leaders. On the other side the organizer must nurture collective leadership, dampening personality factions. For Chavez, “loyalty to Chavez” often superseded the development of leaders and the external mission of the organization, as Mirian Pawel details in her sympathetic biography The Crusades of Cesar Chavez (Bloomsbury, 2014). His style was too often arbitrary. In fact, over time Chavez imported the cult-like techniques of Synanon into the UFW. Like all of us, Itliong had faults. But he spoke against Chavez’ authoritarianism. The problem, Chavez replied to Itliong, is that “you won’t obey my orders.” Thus in October 1971, Itliong resigned from UFW.

Organizing farm workers is still difficult. It is probably more difficult than in the mid-1960s. A new strategy, called worker centers, shows promise. These are not unions and cannot directly have labor contracts. This restriction is advantageous in some situations, though worker centers have shortcomings.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (www.ciw-online) is the best-known worker center. One-by-one CIW cajoles a major food outlet to join its Fair Food Program. The outlet agrees to purchase only from Fair Food certified vegetable growers. Those growers, in turn, have agreed to pay a couple pennies more to farm workers for each bushel of, let’s say, picked tomatoes. Burger King, Taco Bell and more are participating. The CIW cajoling, you already suspect, includes national boycotts, demonstrations and more.
There are also unions of farm workers. Farm Labor Organizing Committee (www.floc.com), based in Toledo, Ohio and affiliated with AFL-CIO, has a respectable history. Along the turf where Itliong once tread, is recently formed Familias Unidas por la Justicia (www.familiasunidasjusticia.org), an independent union. It recently brokered a positive relationship between berry pickers and Sakuma Farms. First though Familias Unidas had to wage a national boycott of Driscoll Berries and Haagen-Dazs ice cream—both of whom purchase from Sakuma Farms.
Our National Park Service has a Cesar Chavez Monument in Keene, California. Johnny Itliong, Larry’s son, and others want the Park Service to expand with perhaps a site in Delano, California and to honor Itliong, Filipino-American farm workers and all those who act for agricultural justice.

Droel’s booklet, What Is Social Justice, can be obtained from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)