Chomsky, Opus Dei, Salvation Army, war, Tatnuck Books, PowerPoint, the alternative press, and burning draft cards.

Chomsky in Newsweek:

The Bush administration has succeeded in making the United States one of the most feared and hated countries in the world. The talent of these guys is unbelievable. They have even succeeded at alienating Canada. I mean, that takes genius, literally.

John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, has written a book about Opus Dei, which he describes as “the Darth Vader of the liberal Catholic imagination.” He thinks they’re really not so bad. There’s a wide-ranging, typo-ridden interview with him in Godspy.

Via Worcester Magazine, I saw this blog entry about working at the Worcester Salvation Army.

These people deserve more than coffee, mediocre baked goods, and soup.

I used to volunteer at a food program in NYC run mostly by arrogant young punkers who drove me crazy. I started looking for better volunteer opportunities, and one morning I stopped by the Catholic Worker soup line. That first day I was serving soup, and a guy asked if he could have a whole loaf of bread to take with him. I asked whoever was running the line (I think it was Tanya Thierault) and she said, “If someone asks for something, and we have it, give it to them.” This freedom to treat people with respect, without having to ask the person in charge of the soup line, was something I hadn’t encountered elsewhere. If the person running the line that day had been in a cranky mood, no telling where I’d be today. Probably not in a Catholic Worker community. The little things matter.

The Illusion of Guilt-Free War, by the Catholic Peace Fellowship, revisits the question of whether soldiers are responsible for their actions. (Conclusion: Yes.) It responds to a disappointingly crappy article in the conservative National Catholic Register, which considers the question almost entirely from an Old Testament morality, not quite what you’d expect from a Catholic source.

(The subtitle of the NCR article pisses me off: “They face terrorists abroad, protests at home.” Plenty of soldiers, and family members of soldiers, have thanked me at peace protests. I know of no soldier who has “faced” me, whatever that’s supposed to mean. If you’re concerned for the welfare of our troops, this should be phrased: “They face terrorists abroad, their president at home.”)

Tatnuck Bookseller, the biggest indy bookstore in Worcester, has closed. This is too bad. Tatnuck wasn’t the greatest store in the world, but it was nice to have around. A couple weeks ago I went to a nearby Borders, and here’s my quick comparison of the stores:

  • Borders stocks many more books than Tatnuck.
  • They still didn’t have the book I wanted, though their website claimed they did.
  • Their clerks were just as incompetent as the ones at Tatnuck when it came to ordering the book for me.
  • The entryway to Borders is completely sterile. As you entered Tatnuck, you were surrounded by posters, leaflets, and newsletters, including such esteemed publications as Worcester Magazine, InCity Times, and The Catholic Radical. At Borders, you’re surrounded by a bunch of junk on closeout. You are clearly entering a corporate, not a community, space.

Since I came to Worcester, we’ve lost a downtown cinema, a couple used bookstores, and now Tatnuck. I am bummed.

Main South Speaks has a fun feature on the neighborhood called The Mystery of Main South. (Kids, don’t forget that PowerPoint makes you dumb. Edward Tufte explains it all.)

Alternative local newspapers have been a sometime subject on this blog. An appropriate quotation:

In addition to linking geographically separated communities, in late 1966 the underground press was also emerging as the youth movement’s most important mechanism of internal communication. It was the main site where radicals ascribed significance to their activities, and unlike most mass media outlets, the underground press typically encouraged a “horizontal” conversation among its readers–that is, rather than always showcasing the thinking and writing of luminaries, underground rags typically opened their pages to anyone who could muster the energy to write about something. Said one scholar, “Certainly, no individual was to gain more ‘status’ from writing in the underground than from reading it.”
( from John McMillian’s article “Electrical Bananas,” which appeared in the June/July 2005 issue of The Believer)

All My Heroes Have FBI FilesData Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists is a cool article, and even includes the Zwicks’ The Catholic Worker Movement in its list of subversive books. But the author of the article echoes a sentiment I’ve seen a lot in the press:

Reputable organizations like the Catholic Worker, Greenpeace, and the Vegan Community Project, have come under scrutiny by FBI “counterterrorism” agents.

Many writers think it is somehow ridiculous for the FBI to be spying on Catholic Worker activities. Listen, Catholic Workers have been involved in prophetic yet illegal activities for decades now. It makes perfect sense for an organization like the FBI to be watching Catholic Workers.

I can understand if someone hasn’t heard about Catholic Worker “actions” like the Saint Patricks Four or the Pitstop Ploughshares–they are both famous in some small circles, and otherwise obscure. But the Catholic Worker movement has been deeply involved in more famous crimes–draft card burning, for instance.

Tom Cornell recalls:

The August 23, 1965 issue of LIFE magazine featured a two page spread of photographs depicting the small but growing opposition to the war in Viet Nam. On the left was a black and white photo of an “all-American boy”, crew cut hair and neat of dress, his eyes fixed on a draft card burning in his hand. Unidentified by LIFE, the young man was Christopher Kearns, associate editor of The Catholic Worker and a direct descendent of Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

On the opposite page was a color photo of a demonstration that had occurred two weeks earlier. About 1500 people had marched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. As we marched peacefully, we were interrupted by an enraged right-winger. He threw a bucket of paint at our leaders, but we pressed on. This dramatic moment was immortalized by LIFE.

These photographs caught the attention of some conservative senators. They hastily framed a bill proposing to make draft card burning a felony punishable by five years in prison and $10,000 fine. The bill sailed through both houses with no debate and was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

Undeterred by the new law, on October 15, sometime CW volunteer David Miller burned his draft card.

And then things really got going. In the latest issue of Muste Notes, David McReynolds recalls what happened next:

Four men—Tom Cornell, a member of the Catholic Worker, along with Roy Lisker, Marc Edelman and Jim Wilson—decided to burn their draft cards. Congress had just passed a law to making the burning of draft cards illegal, and the four of them felt it was time for a dramatic challenge to that new law, and to the war. I agreed to join the action, in part because of a guilty conscience for having, a year earlier, been so sure the election of LBJ would limit the Vietnam War.

We made a first effort to burn the cards in late October 1965 near the Federal Court House in Foley Square, with A.J. Muste as the “host” of the event. However the press jammed in so close to us that it was impossible for A.J. to make any statement, or for any of us who were involved to burn our cards in a dignified way. A.J. called off the burning, and we rescheduled it for a later date in Union Square. Our co-workers built a platform at the north end of the square.

Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker joined A. J. in hosting the draft card burning on November 6 in Union Square. Both made brief statements, and then each of the five of us stepped forward to burn our cards. (There was a moment of drama when someone who opposed us squirted us with water to put out the burning cards-we realized later that it could just as easily have been gasoline that he squirted!)

The draft card burning was attended not only by a large number of our supporters, but by a picket line of pro-war folks carrying signs with slogans such as “Burn Yourselves, Not Your Cards.” There were police on the rooftops of the buildings around the square to guard against any snipers attacking us. We were emotionally keyed up when the burning was over, and as we left the platform, escorted by police to their patrol cars, we assumed we were under arrest. To our surprise, the police cars drove swiftly downtown to the old War Resisters League office at 5 Beekman St., and let us out there, telling us: “you should be safe now.”

The arrests came later, at the hands of federal agents. Of the five who burned their cards, four went to prison for six months. I was not arrested, in theory because the FBI couldn’t find enough of my draft card to be sure it was a draft card-but more likely because I had just passed my 35th year and the government doubted the law would be upheld if applied to someone past draft age.

“All My Heroes Have FBI Files” graphic used with kind permission of Herbivore Clothing Company.

3 thoughts on “Items”

  1. In re the closing of your local bookseller:

    I was talking with Jen today about how I don’t have much of an opportunity to find interesting small local businesses any more. The me of ten years ago would go out of his way to find used record stores, comic book stores, movie theatres, etc. Since then, I’ve found most of these places that interest me around Southern California, a good number of them have closed, and in many ways they’ve been replaced by institutions that are by most measures superior— yet utterly faceless and lacking in charm. There’s a handful of used record stores I visit regularly, and I buy new CDs online and popular new releases from discount retailers. Nowadays I only buy compiled trade paperback editions of comic books, and by and large I can get those online or at Borders. Movie theatres built today have great auditorium construction and sound, but they’re all basically the same. I signed up for Netflix yesterday and don’t even have a need for a local video store anymore. Last week when I found the Lego Outlet Store in Ontario it was my first significant retail find in a long time. The one independent store I can go to and say is definitely better than any chain or online store is the California Map and Travel Store in Santa Monica. Otherwise it’s pretty much just restaurants keeping up the tradition of the small businessman.

  2. Small retailers definitely need to be smarter. Yes, Wal-Mart and its cohort engages in awful business practices, shady deals with city councils, etc., but even if it cleaned up its act, they and the other big-box retailers would still be beating them in the marketplace. If small retailers want to survive, they need to recognize that they’re serving a niche market, and they need to build their whole business around that concept.

    By and large, consumers aren’t going to patronize your business out of a sense of charity. You’re going to need to provide something the big guys don’t— a specialized stock, a high-quality stock, convenience, better service (and no, just because you’re a local doesn’t mean your service is better), etc. Even then, by and large, most small businesses will fail. Niche stores largely work in affluent areas where people can afford luxury, poor areas where access to transportation is poor, immigrant communities where specialized items are in demand, or tourist areas where people are more willing to spend money on a whim.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.