An unprecedented opportunity | An interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams

Rev. angel: Yes, that’s the good people not showing up. It wasn’t just white progressives, either; a lot of people of color didn’t show up. And you can talk about policies all you like—but the facts don’t support some of the negative narrative regarding Clinton, Obama, and the Democrats. Take the economy: it’s recovering. Take health insurance: there’s been an increase of 400,000 people signing up for the Affordable Care Act since Trump’s election. There are fewer uninsured Americans now than ever in our history. Twenty million formerly uninsured Americans now have health insurance. And yes, the Affordable Care Act could have been better, but who should take responsibility for that? Obama probably thought that introducing what was essentially Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan was the most politically viable thing he could do. It was a Republican’s plan!

So there’s something bigger going on underneath all of the discussion about this policy or that policy. As you noted, a million other candidates would have gone up in flames had they said just one of the racist, sexist, inflammatory things Trump said during his campaign. And that’s what we have to wonder about. It’s not just that Hillary “didn’t take.”

Not because she’s all of the things people said about her, but because she wasn’t addressing this deep divide that splits us. Trump was addressing it through hate-mongering: it’s all these brown, Muslim, LGBTQ people’s fault. The Democrats didn’t adequately address it because they’re still pandering to white capitalist maleness. They didn’t unify people around an ideal of a different kind of America. I think that until a different kind of America is being spoken about and drawing people into it, we’re going to keep demonizing and distancing ourselves from each other, rather than recognizing that we’re all in the same boat.

This is why I think Obama won despite being black—his ability to envision—embody—a different kind of America. For good reasons he wasn’t able to manifest it in many of the ways he probably could have imagined. But I think we have to begin the conversation by recognizing that the America we typically talk about—the America in history books—the land of liberty and justice for all—never existed. It never existed. But until we recognize that fact, we keep having conversations about a fictitious America—built by white ingenuity and individual hard work—a meritocracy of individualism. How can we get back to something that never existed? In fact, these people want to get back to an America built on cheap slave or immigrant labor, that kept women out of the workforce and out of politics, and that gave all power and glory to white males. Now the cheap labor has been offshored and all these “excess,” illegitimate Americans keep wanting a share of the pie, but the America of equal opportunity that keeps being promised was actually never set up to be that way.

The MOON: How do we come to terms with this divide? I’m part of an email list-serve that frequently has this conversation: Is America its history, or is it its ideals and aspirations?

Rev. angel: It’s its history.

The MOON: Oh. I got that wrong. [Laughs]

Rev. angel: That’s the conversation we need to have: the split between those two visions–are we our past, or our aspirations? People who believe we’re our aspirations got a rude awakening on Nov. 8. The election went to the candidate who thinks we need to go back—to the time when America was great. Except that if you’re a woman, or a person of color, or an immigrant, or Muslim, or gay, the past wasn’t so great.

I think Bernie Sanders in some ways, started that conversation, but he couldn’t connect to people of color. But at least he articulated that the owning class is calling the shots and turning us all against each other, when we need to pull together. He correctly understands that the economy is structured to benefit a relatively few, taunting the rest of the people to fight amongst themselves while dangling the hope that “you too have the potential to get to this great high aspirational place,” but only if you keep the other ones back.

Nevertheless, it’s not about demonizing. It’s not about fearing or hating each other. It’s about asking people to look at their core beliefs about how we should be in relationship as fellow Americans—and then asking whether we have the systems in place to implement those values. I’m saying that we’ve never had the systems in place to create equality for all because that was never the goal of the founding fathers. They were afraid of “the people.” They didn’t trust the poor to not rise up and threaten their wealth. The system we’ve got reflects that. It’s actually working as it was designed to work. The inspirational slogans like “equal opportunity” and “liberty and justice for all” are merely ways to keep us all engaged in supporting this system, instead of rejecting it as not in our interests.

“Good people letting bad things happen” reflects that many of us have wanted to believe that the system just needed incremental adjustments. We’ve wanted to believe that efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, for example, were exceptions to the rule because we live in “the greatest democracy on Earth.” Progressives too often want to say things like, “Thank God I don’t live in North Carolina,” or other sentiments that reflect their insulation from miscarriages of justice. Unfortunately, that’s another example of elitism; of privilege; of “good people letting bad things happen” because they know they’re not going to have to personally deal with the fall-out. Or maybe they’re even OK with some disenfranchised people not voting because “the Obama coalition” or whatever, doesn’t need them. They thought they could win without them.

And then there are people who are so disenchanted and disenfranchised that they don’t turn out to vote because for decades it hasn’t mattered who won—they were always on the shitty end of the stick. A lot of poor rural whites, in addition to poor blacks, fall in that category.

So some of us play “good cop” in this discussion, thinking we’re better because we don’t sound as hateful as the “bad cops,” but we’re not recognizing ourselves as part of this huge fabric in which we’ve all—along with the natural world—have been reduced to expendables; commodities; resources to be exploited while we’re useful and discarded when we’re not.

The MOON: So how do we have this conversation? It seems far too nuanced and deep for most Facebook postings

Rev. angel: Right. It is. America is having a spiritual crisis in which its identity is on the line. We’re trying to reconcile this spiritual crisis by political means which are short-term, short-sighted, and that don’t make the deep shift in people’s hearts and minds that is necessary for a long-term shift in in what America could be. We have to begin, I believe, by coming to terms that America was never that great for a lot of people. And then we also have to realize that it’s painful for the group of people for whom America has been great to have their values and privilege diminished. We have to call people to a vision that includes everyone and demonizes no one. That’s a spiritual vision…which we will then pressure politicians to implement.

The MOON: Are there any groups calling people to that vision now? What about the leadership at Standing Rock, or Rabbi Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives, or the Occupy Movement?

Rev. angel: I think the leadership of Standing Rock is great and it’s contextualized to that location. I think Rabbi Lerner is great, and he doesn’t resonate with everyone. I think Rev. Barber, who leads “Moral Mondays,” is great, but because of religious differences he can’t speak to everyone. But what’s important about all of them is that they are strong in the values they stand for without denigrating their opposition—those who feel differently.

The purpose of the “Reckoning” webinar was to ask participants to do some soul-searching to identify what their contribution might be. As you recall, I encouraged people not to jump to a conclusion too soon. I think we have a tendency to do that—to do something, anything—rather than abide in the painful feelings of grief, disillusionment, anger, and despair. And I think we have a tendency to point fingers across the divide—to say, look at how horrible those Republicans are—or whatever, rather than look within at the ways we perpetuate the system that privileges us and is unjust for so many others.

We have to recognize that the worldview of other people is understandable given their history and context and what they’ve been brought up to believe. Believing we’re superior to those “ignorant, backwards, deplorables,” or whatever, that we’re in “the right” and they’re in “the wrong,” foments the same split as them believing they’re superior and more entitled to the benefits of being American. We have to recognize that, whatever side we’re on, we’re feeding what I would call “the beast in the machine.” Instead, what we need to do is remind people of their basic goodness and kinship, which allows us to view with compassion the worldview of someone who feels very differently from us. We each have our blind spots. Progressives may be more willing to see the humanity in a Muslim, or a Palestinian, but not in a Kentucky redneck. How could they be so foolish as to want their coal-mining jobs back when the world is reeling from the effects of climate change? Well, to them it’s their livelihood.

Perhaps we could begin the reckoning conversation by acknowledging the togetherness of loss, even while allowing for the truth of our differences. I think in many ways Obama tried to do this, but his hands were tied, and I’m not even sure it’s the conversation for a politician to necessarily be charged with.

The MOON: One thing I really was impressed by during the webinar was the way you received questions and responded to participants who were challenging you. Your equanimity was not ruffled in the slightest. You were able to be present and hear someone challenging you without defensiveness, or impatience, or hostility of any kind. It was actually quite breathtaking. I realized, “Oh my god. That’s the difference doing your spiritual work makes.” But we’re in crisis now, and we don’t have time for everyone to spiritually evolve…if they even wanted to!



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18 Responses to An unprecedented opportunity | An interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams

  1. Hudson January 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Nice Interview!

  2. Kiki January 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Wow! Good read!

  3. Jean Zellweger January 2, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    Great interview Moon Magazine , Leslee! Now to forward this to my progressive friends. Mom

  4. Charlie Stein January 3, 2017 at 6:55 pm #

    Beautifully articulate. I appreciate the idea (maybe a new one for me) that America has never been great for the majority of people. That our founding laws were created to keep rich, white males in power. I’m starting to get it. And I love this quote “So we have to be able to both stand firm in our resistance without standing against the humanity of another”

    • LORAYNE GRINDROD January 11, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

      Good ‘thinking’ article. The comment that we understand and respect the people like us but feel disdain for the coal miners is a good thought & explains some of negative feelings of the ‘trumps.’

  5. Anastasia January 3, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Fantastic interviewer and Rev. angel speaking truth. I want to put a whole bunch these paragraphs up on the wall in front of my desk and my eyes so I can read them all day every day. I will get more training and keep my practice going. I love this plan.

  6. Anna Fisher January 3, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

    I am so grateful to Rev Angel for writing this article! On Nov 9, I was rudely and aggressively shaken out of my liberal bubble. Many of my Black friends have said since the election results “welcome to my world! you feel threatened, unsafe, afraid?! well that’s how we always feel!” Hopefully lots of other monkies such as myself are waking up and are ready to take to the streets (or some other point of injury) in non-violent civil disobedience, to INTERRUPT the status quo, not just have these tired old symbolic mass protests that make a photo op in the daily paper, but change nothing. There will be many opportunities to amplify and illuminate and clarify the many faces of injustice. And it will be beautiful and joyful in that we’re all coming together, being a part of something much bigger, and the HUGE love of that! Being in solidarity as deeply as we can be, and celebrating that as we create the world where we can happily and truthfully say “one nation, … with liberty and justice for all!”

  7. Cathy January 4, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    Fantastic! I think the embarrassment factor you mentioned, for some progressives (including myself) is definitely something to acknowledge. I think addressing that in myself is an important thing to help me move forward. Being able to not know things and be vulnerable is so important to grow. …and to read read read and educate myself by reading about history. First off, the history we were taught was totally biased and I was not really interested back then, so now when I read say The New Jim Crow, Evicted, indigenous peoples history etc, I can put the pieces together and accept another layer of my privlege. It is like when one does therapy and realizes the fictional version of our family we have created. I now have to accept that my version (or the one I was taught at home and at school) of the world I live in and it’s history was also fictional. It is a big shift, but one that is so important. Thank you for this interview and for Radical Dharma. Just finished a discussion group with some of my sangha.

  8. Jacqui Lewis January 4, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    This interview leaves me hopeful and yearning for more conversations like this. We need a reckoning, we need ways to engage the cracks in which we have something in common. Revangel’s point of view from a place of Radical Dharma deeply resonates in my universalist (more than one path to God, Light, Love, The Holy, Spirit….) Christian one. It is rooted in what might be called Revolutionary Love or Radical Love. thank you Revangel!

  9. v sorgi January 4, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    Fantastic, Rev.Williams, i applaud your comprehensive view of the majority white male pilgrim paradigm, i share your understanding and will encourage others to read the interview!
    In solidarity and spirituality, power to the people, v

  10. Stefanie January 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    I simply love how this is put together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    This keeps me moving.

  11. Peter S. Long January 5, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    The goal seems to be changing the sentiment of an

    entire population, nationally and ultimately

    globally. Or trying to impart wisdom to a world

    fast approaching it own self destruction. If such

    a thing can be done, and that’s a big if. But if

    such a thing is possible we need to start with the

    very young. Our educations systems are not

    designed to teach truth and wisdom. And favor

    knowledge to create workers for the perpetuation

    of the status quo. Or even worse to perpetuate the

    role of the ruling classes wherever they may be.

    Curriculums that teach the unvarnished truth,

    ethics, morality, spirituality, climate change,

    population growth etc. etc. are not to be found.

    We educate and try to develope one side of the

    brain, the logical, linear thinking side almost to

    the complete exclusion the intuitive creative

    side. That is the side that can change the world,

    and we need to start now and from the very

    earliest stages of development.

  12. Tim McKee January 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    Very enlightening!

  13. Marcella Brady January 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Thoughtful, compassionate article. Thank you so much.

  14. beatrice senese January 11, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

    Very inspiring

  15. Winifred Tigerlily January 12, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you so much. I read this every day to keep my sanity.

    I have always thought that what the Democratic Party has become is so far towards the right, starting with Bill Clinton’s “business-friendly policies,” that they have long ago lost touch with their core constituency. That’s why I’m afraid Hillary Clinton couldn’t go back and reclaim it — nothing personal about her, I wish she was P-E right now! But the party is broken and out of touch.

  16. Winifred Tigerlily January 12, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    And the Founding “Fathers” were so right to fear an uprising by the disenfranchised non-elite: they’d already been through one by the time of the Constitution!


  1. Rev. angel Kyodo williams on why she's hopeful about this moment in US politics - Lion's Roar - January 5, 2017

    […] You can read the full interview here. […]

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