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June, 2001, Volume 8 Nr. 10, Issue 94

by Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, Ph.D.

During May, Resident Bush appeared at the commencement exercises at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Hundreds objected to Bush's presence on the campus. As one student put it, "After spending four years at an institution that teaches Catholic values, for Notre Dame to turn around and bring …Bush here is in contradiction ...of those values." Dozens of professors boycotted the graduation.

The biggest insult came when Bush, "the compassionate conservative", quoted Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  Bush said, "There is no great society which is not a caring society and any effective war on poverty must deploy what Dorothy Day called ‘the weapons of spirit.’"

Does this man have any comprehension who Dorothy Day was and what she stood for? Dorothy Day dedicated her life to living in voluntary poverty, helping others, working with the poor, the sick and the discarded. Through her actions, her life exemplified the abandonment of war and the weapons of war. Dorothy Day and co-founder Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement saw the lending of money for profit as usury and contrary to their religious beliefs.  Catholic Worker folk also withhold payment of war taxes.

Bush invoked the name of a woman totally opposed to killing. Yet, the former governor, while in Texas, signed execution orders for 152 people, including many who are mentally ill and some who are retarded.  It took less than six months after Bush left the governor's mansion in Texas and moved to the White House for the Texas legislature to pass legislation stopping the capital execution of the mentally ill.  Perhaps, Bush believes that execution by the State in the name of the people is necessary in the same sense as expressed by Former NY State Senator James Donovan, when he said, speaking in support of capital punishment, "Where would Christianity be if Jesus got eight to fifteen years with time off for good behavior?"  Or, as comedian, Dennis Miller, put it, "...once in a while, we have to thin the herd." 

There is no need, however, to seek the commentary of others to describe Resident Bush's attitudes on the execution (contrary to the 4th commandment) of the mentally ill.  When in office as governor, during a time of defeat for a bill that would have stopped the killing of the mentally ill and other disadvantaged people, Bush said, "I like it the way it is."  Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., has said, "The death penalty is a poor person's issue. Always remember that: after all the rhetoric that goes on in the legislative assemblies, in the end, when the deck is cast our, it is the poor who are selected to die in this country."  Sister Prejean is the Catholic nun who befriended Matthew Poncelet, a Death Row inmate in Louisiana.

The Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference, 1999 declares, "We oppose the death penalty not just for what it does to those guilty of heinous crimes, but for what it does to all of us:  it offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life."  Both Prejean and Fiorenza, are Catholics, who like Dorothy Day practiced and lived the Beatitudes, one (Verse 7) of which is, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."  How contrary to Dorothy Day is the life of George Bush, Jr.?  How often has he, as advised in Matthew 25 verses 35-40, visited those in prison?  Has he visited the prisoner, even before the prisoner's death,  decreed by his signature? 

As to pardons, or even death sentences commuted to life (Texas does not have life with possible parole), Bush's record hardly suggests a heart of a compassionate conservative, nor that of the teachings of Christ, who when asked by Peter, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?", said,  "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."  While I personally do not profess Christianity, Dorothy Day did.  For Bush to side with the beauty of Dorothy's life is the epitome of either arrogance or ignorance.

Mark and Louise Zwick, in their piece, "Dorothy Day, Prophet of Pacifism for the Catholic Church", explain how Dorothy Day's life and work drew together Catholic biblical and theological resources which established "pacifism and conscientious objection as a legitimate stance for Catholics and for Americans".  In 1983, the United States Bishops pastoral affirmed as much.  It gave Dorothy Day the credit as well.  

While King George the Lesser, this Memorial Day, signs the order to commence building the World War II Memorial, he forgets that Dorothy Day had objected World War II, giving conscripts the option of pursuing conscientious objector status.   Most likely, he doesn't know.  Dorothy Day also exposed the fact that the United States refused to even allow legal Jewish refugees to come into the country under the guise that it would overload the labor market, yet 90% of refugee quotas went unfilled.

WWII Veterans and supporters may want a WWII Veteran's   Memorial (other than the present Iwo Jima memorial).   However, a more genuine and fitting tribute to surviving veterans would be providing them with the health services and education that many go without.  My father, a World War  II  veteran seldom had kind words to say regarding those who glorified war or used it for arousing patriotism.  He had no need to visit monuments, relive the atrocities committed in humanity's name, nor take credit for bombing and killing.  He understood war's exploitation of the young in the name of some higher purpose not achieved through intellect and understanding.  It is shame how we treat veterans, and a sham, how veterans were/are denied care after deliberate exposure to radiation from atomic bomb testing.  Between 1945 and 1963, there were 235 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and Nevada test sites.   Dorothy day opposed all of them.  Atomic Veterans Day is July 16.  Less granite monuments, more care and treatment. 

The same is true for Vietnam veterans, who to this very day are battling from the health effects of Agent Orange.  These chemical warfare agent victims continue fighting for access to adequate treatment.  The process has taken so long that many have died and will die before receiving care.  While much is made of the high price Vietnam veterans paid during Vietnam, little is said of the veterans who are homeless or those who are in need of housing and care.  While Resident Bush invokes and conjures up the ultimate sacrifice of veterans his profound ignorance of Dorothy Day exposes his hypocrisy. 

Dorothy Day not only objected to the Vietnam War, she did so in 1954 long before the anti-war movement made its impact and opposition was popular.   The Catholic Worker movement brought dissent against the Vietnam war to the American consciousness.  Charles Chatfield, writing in "Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker, and American Pacifism" writes, "In 1963, Catholic Workers Tom Cornell and Chris Kearns initiated the first public demonstration against the Diem regime's repression of Vietnamese Buddhist dissidents."  If Resident Bush wishes to emulate the lives of Catholic Workers, we can only offer encouragement.

One can see why the White House Resident might like the idea of voluntary poverty and volunteerism for others. Folks like Day, Maurin, et al, can take care of the poor that Bush and the greedy, exploitive, profit-over-people system creates which favors the rich at the expense of the poor.  Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in the June 4, 2001 issue of The New Yorker, in its section "The Talk of the Town", comments on Bush's invocation of Dorothy Day, Taxing Friendships, writes,

...the very rich get the checks, drawn on the Unites States Treasury; the less rich get homilies about the emptiness of materialism; the poor are advised to get religion...a huge upward redistribution of wealth and income...

While Resident Bush carries on an extramarital affair with Ronald Reagan's missile defense, now often referred to as "son of star wars", he invokes Dorothy Day who would have strongly opposed plunging the planet into a new technologic arms race.  Meanwhile, two days before the U.S. Senate (June 3, 2001) switched power from the Republican Corporate Party to the Democrat , Speaker of the House Trent Lott, in a hissy fit proclaimed Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords  orchestrated a "coup of one" by leaving the Republican Party in the 50-50 split chamber.   George should share with Trent his admiration for Dorothy Day, who, inspired by Ammon Hennacy's self-proclaimed "One-man revolution", protested nuclear civil defense drills as early as June 15, 1955 as penance for Hiroshima and the development and testing of the Hydrogen bomb.   Utah Phillips describes Ammon Hennacy as "the original" Catholic anarchist pacifist, vegetarian, draft refuser in two world wars, tax resister."

Bush should be ashamed of himself for taking opportunistic advantage of Notre Dame's misguided invitation by politically spinning Dorothy Day’s words and works in at attempt to shore up the facade of his "compassionate" policies.  Yes, George, our country needs more Dorothy Days. 

While she hated every kind tyranny and never ceased to be thankful for America having taken in so many people fleeing poverty and repression, she was fierce in her criticism of capitalism and consumerism. She said America had a tendency to treat people like Kleenex — use them, and throw them away.  "Our problems stem," she said, "from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."  - Jim Forest, Dorothy Day — A Saint for Our Age?

Dorothy Day was a prophet of pacifism for the Catholic Church; not a characteristic of Bush, his oilmen, and other corporate military-industrial complex cohorts. She was deeply involved in the socialist anti-war movement before World War I. She participated in demonstrations against U. S. involvement in that and subsequent wars. Police clubbed her and she spent time in jail for her ideas and her peaceful actions. Dorothy Day trusted in the direct action of the common people, like that which took place against Bush and the other North and South American leaders (save one) at the FTAA in Quebec City. Dorothy condemned all modern war and the technology of mass destruction. Contrast that with Bush’s revised Star Wars agenda.

So, here's Bush praising an amazing woman, one whom J. Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI even before World War II insisted be placed in jail in the event of a national emergency. G. W. Bush and his policies are the national emergency.  Pacifists are such dangerous people. 

We should take Bush up on his praise of Dorothy Day in living by her example. We suggest a response: anyone so moved, may send The Catholic Worker $10 or more for their work, subscribing to their newspaper "The Catholic Worker", which is mailed and costs $0.01 per issue (that's one penny per issue). Address: The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, NY, 10003. Finally, perhaps, we can convince the Resident to apply for an internship at one of the Catholic Worker locations. It might do him a world of good and lend some air of credibility to his claim of being compassionate. 

Hertzburg ends his "The New Yorker" article citing a time in the fifties where ... a high ranking official the Ford Foundation wanted to give the Catholic Worker a large grant...Dorothy turned it down on the grounds that the followers of St. Francis Assisi could not have a balance in their account.  

It is fitting to end this issue with direct words from Dorothy Day, taken from The Catholic Worker of may 1952 and April 1953.   George W. Bush often attacks those who fight class warfare.  It is an example the victimizer calling the victim the oppressor.  Since he has such a professed admiration for Dorothy, perhaps he could learn much by reading the following from her   "Essays on Poverty."  He might do well to pass along these words to his millionaire cabinet, friends and family (who make more in interest on their checking and trust accounts than the vast majority of Americans make in a year's salary).

The class structure is of our making and by our consent, not His, and we must do what we can to change it. So we are urging revolutionary change. So many sins against the poor cry out to high heaven! One of the most deadly sins is to deprive the laborer of his hire. There is another: to instill in him paltry desires so compulsive that his is willing to sell his liberty and his honor to satisfy them

We are all guilty of concupiscence, but newspapers, radios, television, and battalions of advertising men (woe to that generation!) deliberately stimulate our desires, the satisfaction of which so often means the degradation of the family.

Because of these factors of modern life, the only way we can write about poverty is in terms of ourselves, our own personal responsibility. The message we have been given is the Cross. We have seen the depths of the faithlessness and stubbornness of the human soul--we are surrounded by sin and failure--and it is a mark of our faith in Christ that we continue to hope, to write, to appeal and beg for help for our work. And we pray also for an increase in the love of poverty, which goes with love of our brothers and sisters.

2001 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, Ph.D.

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