A Small Light Bulb: Artists, activists, spiritual people convene

Monthly salon where progressives can meet and talk begins this Sunday

You call yourself a "progressive." You've been down to the Capitol or on the Congress Bridge a time or two, protesting yet another egregious abuse of power by your elected officials. You're familiar with the pro-choice buttons, the UT kids hawking the Socialist Worker, the honking car bearing an impeachment sticker, and the same six people chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!" You know this is a good thing that everyone is doing, but you can't help but wonder: Is this really the only way to do it?

Jim Rigby, Robert Jensen, and Eliza Gilkyson hope to offer Austin's progressive community an alternative to the traditional political response with Last Sunday, a monthly salon where progressives can meet and talk at Saengerrunde Hall, and maybe share a beer next door at Scholz Garten. You know, just get to know each other, exchange ideas, and see what happens.

"One of the things that I think is a hallmark of contemporary America is that everyone is very isolated, very fragmented," says Jensen, a University of Texas professor of journalism who's been involved in Austin activist politics for more than a decade. "There's very little public space for people to just get together to talk. For all the blather about politics on cable news, it's my experience that most ordinary people don't feel that they have places where they can really, honestly engage in political dialogue that goes beyond arguing over the next election."

Neither Rigby nor Jensen nor Gilkyson can agree on who came up with idea for Last Sunday; each credits the other two as the true masterminds. But they do all agree on the fact that the current political structure isn't working and that something has to be done. "Not to make it sound apocalyptic, but I think we're all just sort of stuck in this machine," says Rigby, the Presbyterian minister who has come to (symbolic) blows with his church for welcoming homosexuals and atheists into his congregation. "And it's the hierarchical models of power, I think, that are ultimately the problem. It's very difficult for us as Americans to realize that we're participating in the hierarchy."

"It's pretty scary, the system that we live with: You know, corporate capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy, an imperial foreign policy, and what appears to be, for the past 60 years, a permanent warfare state in the U.S.," agrees Jensen, who most recently authored The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege. "Add all that up, and a lot of people who would not necessarily consider themselves leftist, progressive, liberal – or anything in particular – find that very scary."

Rigby, however, says, "It's a matter of reminding people what they want. You can't be so scared of bin Laden that you'll let your children be poisoned by environmental toxins. That's just crazy."

"I think people are so overwhelmed by this sense that we can't do anything about what's going on right now politically, that we just shut down and placate ourselves and buy into the American soma," adds Gilkyson, an Austin Chronicle Music Poll Hall of Fame inductee who has taken on our born-again president in Paradise Hotel's "Man of God," as well as the dangerous goals of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in Land of Milk and Honey's "Hiway 9." "I deal with this myself," she continues. "I mean, I live comfortably, and I jet around all the time to sing my songs about how we shouldn't be jetting around. I don't know how to stop. But it's a small light bulb that we can turn into a revolution. It's like, OK – I'm not going to run the water while I brush my teeth; I'm going to let my lawn die. It's terrible to think that this is the 'suburban edge' that we're pushing, but it's where we are as a community right now. We need to take responsibility for how our lives and how our behavior manifests out in the world."

So, according to Rigby, the idea is this: "Musicians and artists who care about the planet, political activists who care about the planet, and spiritual people who care about the planet all coming together and listening to each other and being able to express themselves outside of the stereotypical forms that are available in the culture, that the kind of power that communities have, that groups of people have, could somehow be reanimated."

Well, it certainly doesn't hurt to try. Something has to be done. Who knows? You might meet someone.


The Details

Last Sunday gatherings are planned for Nov. 26, Dec. 29, Jan. 28, Feb. 18, March 25, and April 29, from 6-8pm. (Due to holidays and scheduling conflicts, some dates are not precisely on the last Sunday of the month.) The special guest for the first gathering will be the San Antonio-based poet Naomi Shihab Nye, whose most recent collection, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, was a finalist for the National Book Award. There is no entrance fee, and child care will be available. For more info, check out www.thirdcoastactivist.org/lastsunday.html.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Naomi Shihab Nye, Jim Rigby, Robert Jensen, Eliza Gilkyson, Last Sunday

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