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People Beyond Reason: The Organizing Imperative

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Sep 10, 2009

It was at a meeting of U.S. and Canadian farmers and church leaders in the ‘80s that I first heard the story. After meeting all day to discuss and develop responses to the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, participants gathered informally to wind down. I was engaged in a friendly and cordial conversation with one of the farmers when he lifted his can of Coca Cola and, pointing the to bar code, explained to me how the code signified which Jewish synagogue would get the profit from the sale of the product—part and parcel of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy to control everything. He was quite serious and quite earnest.

Though seldom at a loss for words, I was speechless: how does one possibly begin to deconstruct such a tale, or have a rational conversation with people who have drifted so far beyond reason. Over the years I have learned that such conversation is futile. The only way to deal effectively with the Alice-in-Wonderland canards of bigots, racists, and white nationalists is to organize—to expose and counter them publicly, and hoist them on their own petards. No amount of reason will sway them.

People beyond reason is a national growth industry these days. Just when the Birthers quiet down, the Obama-is-a-socialist/Nazi crowd gets fired up. Just as the town hall shouting matches end, the keep-my-kid-from-the- President’s-school-speech crowd goes ballistic, or a Tennessee mayor blames Obama for a U.S. Postal Service stamp marking Muslim festivals that was first issued in 2001. Fed daily by internet and radiohead conspiracies, the list grows endlessly. There is no reasoning here, only examples for the organizing imperative.

People beyond reason are the farcical, public face of the more dangerous and insidious white nationalist movement rising in our midst. In the 1980s, concurrent with the intensity of farm and rural organizing to counter the economic policies that devastated rural America, it was imperative to organize against the white supremacist movement that attempted to take advantage of the farm crisis. Armed and dangerous, and driven by racism and anti-Semitism, that movement spread rapidly across the countryside, slowed on the ground by organized response mounted by farm, rural, labor, and religious groups organizing—publicly, vocally, and effectively—to counter it.

So must it be today. The organizing imperative must drive all efforts to counter the contemporary white nationalist movement. Expose. Educate. Agitate. Organize. All four poles of the overall organizing strategy must be engaged on the ground if that movement is to be slowed and effectively countered. Those organizations that espouse bigotry, racism, and white nationalism can be stopped; the question that remains open is whether there is a nationwide, grassroots commitment to do so.

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