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January, 2006

Spirit of the Revolution: The Spirituality of Politics

By Deborah Bassett

The Conference on Spiritual Activism took place in Berkeley, California, from July 20-23, 2005. Sponsored by the Tikkun Community, an interfaith movement geared to heal and transform the world through political and spiritual alignment, and the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of Berkeley, the pioneer event drew over 1,200 globally conscious attendees. The convention offered a broad range of topics to the highly evolved network of "spiritual progressives," featuring guest speakers from around the world, including academics, artists, healers, musicians, and visionaries from a multitude of religious faiths and backgrounds.

The conference commenced with an opening prayer and visualization followed by Director of the Institute for Spirituality and Politics at New College of California Peter Gabel's presentation, "Politics of Meaning and How it Differs from Traditional Liberal Politics." Pointing to social disconnection as the greatest source of spiritual suffering in America, Gabel suggested that the media's role in the "dehumanization" process plays a critical part in the widespread disillusion plaguing today's society. He gave the example of the lack of emotion and the neutral persona of the newscaster as a tactic to keep the observer "at bay," therefore creating a social separation that hinders the viewer from being "fully present." This phenomenon, he continued, ultimately leads to a collective shift toward mass paranoia as the viewer eventually becomes desensitized and in many cases may begin to perceive the "other" as a threat and not as a source of completion and salvation. "How can we possibly accept one's divinity when we completely reject their basic humanity?" he asked, clearly setting the underlying focus for the following three days of discourse.

In the afternoons, smaller workshops met to address key issues with a panel of experts on a given subject. Nuclear disarmament, sustainable development, religious fundamentalism, and the crisis in the Middle East were at the forefront of discussion throughout the conference.

World-renowned musician and expert on the crisis in the Middle East, Mark Levine, reminded one workgroup that a militant, yet non-violent, peace movement is indeed possible. He pointed to the life works of Dr. Martin Luther King and the beloved Mahatma Gandhi, whose grandson was in attendance, as leading examples that peace through non-violence is not only possible, but may be the only solution. Levine was also keen to suggest that the focus of the peace movement should not be solely to end one war. Rather it should challenge the entire system of domination that exists in the world. How to do so? "Piss off a lot of people with love," he told a roomful of receptive attendees.

The final address of the opening evening, indeed one of the highlights of the conference, was delivered by Rabbi Michael Lerner to a standing-room-only lecture hall full of open-minded and invigorated participants. Co-founder of Tikkun Magazine, Lerner spoke about the "real potential" of building a progressive spiritual movement to transform American society by replacing the current fear-based political agenda. He suggested that instead of adhering to tactics that aim to create fear and thus simultaneously create reaction, citizens need to insist upon a system that chooses compassion, caring, and understanding as vehicles of transformation, with particular regard for foreign policy.

The inaugural evening ended with the inspired songs of devoted spiritual activist and musician Shimshai, who in a Marx meets Marley manner, fittingly conveyed the message; "to the workers of lust, greed, and power, remember Babylon walls could fall in one hour."

The next conference on spiritual activism will be held in May 2006 in Washington D.C. The event will witness the launch of the new spiritual politics agenda directed at both politicians and the media and will also coincide with the launch of Rabbi Lerner's Spiritual Covenant for America.

Please contact http://www.tikkun.org for further information. Regarding Shimshai, including his performance at this year's World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, please visit www.shimshai.com. Together we can make a difference.

Deborah Bassett is a graduate of the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. She currently writes for various political, spiritual, and travel magazines.