[Marxism] Before Bernie Sanders, There Was Zeidler, a Religious Socialist

Erik Toren ectoren at gmail.com
Sat Apr 2 08:08:12 MDT 2016

And was a long time member and organizer for the Socialist Party USA.

Erik Carlos Torén

On Sat, Apr 2, 2016, 8:25 AM Louis Proyect via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> NY Times, Apr. 2 2016
> Before Bernie Sanders, There Was Zeidler, a Religious Socialist
> On Religion
> MILWAUKEE — One night in April 1948, when Bernie Sanders was a
> 6-year-old boy in Brooklyn, Frank Zeidler was elected mayor of Milwaukee
> on the Socialist Party line. He would hold the office for a dozen years.
> Until Mr. Sanders undertook his presidential campaign, Mr. Zeidler had
> been the last prominent and successful Socialist politician in America.
> While Mr. Sanders is a secular Jew, though, Mayor Zeidler was a devoted
> Christian, who remained active in the Redeemer Lutheran Church here
> until his death in 2006 at age 93. As Mr. Sanders brings his quest for a
> “political revolution” into the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, Mr.
> Zeidler’s legacy, both religious and ideological, lives on in a series
> of public conversations held by his lifelong church.
> Perhaps it did not qualify as revolutionary, but on a balmy evening last
> month, the line of attendees for a discussion on the topic “Interrupting
> Racism” stretched out the back door of the Redeemer church. Hobbling on
> canes, hoisting backpacks and bike helmets, clad in hoodies, kente cloth
> and down vests, they represented a convergence of races, ages and
> political beliefs that is unusual in one of the nation’s most segregated
> metropolitan areas.
> Eventually, more than 150 people formed discussion circles of five or
> six throughout the church’s rooms. For 90 minutes, they spoke, but they
> mostly listened about one another’s encounters with racial hate. In one
> group, a middle-aged white man admitted his lasting shame at not
> confronting a boss who made a racial slur about a black employee.
> Across the scuffed parquet of the social hall, a white woman in another
> circle spoke of her shopping trips to the affluent suburb of Shorewood,
> where she noticed that the police routinely pulled over black drivers.
> Such things, she said, left her able only to pray, and then feeling
> inadequate in her prayers.
> Such discussions were surely in the Zeidler spirit. As a mayor, he
> presided over a city begrudgingly accepting African-Americans who had
> moved northward in the Great Migration. His home state was so
> politically schizophrenic that during Mr. Zeidler’s Socialist heyday,
> one of Wisconsin’s senators was the Red-baiting Joseph R. McCarthy.
> Even as socialism provided Mr. Zeidler with an ideological lens, the
> church supplied the moral teachings that he considered the essential
> complement. Far from resisting religion’s voice in the public square, he
> welcomed it, as does the program of topical discussions that bears his
> name.
> Continue reading the main story
> “My father always said, ‘You do nothing alone,’” said the mayor’s
> daughter Anita Zeidler, a senior lecturer in educational psychology at
> the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. “And when I need people to
> work together with and to make social change, I look to the religious.
> Because these are people of good will, who will put effort into doing
> what needs to be done.’”
> Her father, the son of a barber, graduated from high school just before
> the stock market crash in 1929, which set off the Depression and cast
> global doubt on the capitalist order. After enlisting in the Army, a
> reliable way of getting a paycheck, he washed out of boot camp with
> rheumatic fever, often a fatal disease in the era before antibiotics.
> During a yearlong convalescence, Mr. Zeidler methodically read books of
> political philosophy in search of a belief system. “Essentially, what he
> said is that he was drawn to socialism because they believed in
> brotherhood and equality and getting things done through democratic
> cooperation,” Dr. Zeidler recalled. “It was all about fairness.”
> Mr. Zeidler’s decision placed him within a long tradition of socialism
> in Milwaukee, tracing back to the liberals and intellectuals who
> immigrated here after the failed revolutions in the mid-1850s in Germany
> and Austria. They and their descendants proudly and puckishly called
> their American version “sewer socialism,” for its practical approach to
> solving urban problems.
> He eschewed the secular vein in socialism, struggling to reconcile it
> with his Lutheran faith. At one point in his young adulthood, while
> teaching Sunday school to teenage boys, he was fired by Redeemer’s
> pastor for having brought up Darwin and evolution. Decades later, after
> the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a congregant placed an American
> flag in the sanctuary. Mr. Zeidler responded by installing the United
> Nations flag next to it.
> In his post-mayoral life, Mr. Zeidler worked as a mediator, even toting
> his oxygen tank with him to hear cases in his 90s. Sensing his coming
> death, Mr. Zeidler confided to friends at Redeemer that he wanted to be
> remembered through “a place where people could gather for civil dialogue
> on the topics of the day.”
> One problem was that Mr. Zeidler was not wealthy enough to endow such a
> place himself. Another was that Redeemer Lutheran had seen its
> membership dwindle to about 100. The newly founded Frank Zeidler Center
> for Public Discussion held only a handful of events from 2006 to 2010.
> But one of Mr. Zeidler’s lifelong friends, a professor named Mildred
> Templin, bequeathed about $70,000 to the Zeidler Center. Some of the
> money went toward hiring a part-time director, the Rev. Lisa
> Bates-Froiland, who became Redeemer’s part-time pastor in 2011. On Ms.
> Bates-Froiland’s first day in the two jobs, she held a public
> conversation with 200 people, a sign of her intent to resuscitate the
> Zeidler Center along with the congregation.
> Ms. Bates-Froiland has handed over the center’s leadership to Katherine
> Wilson, a scholar who wrote her doctoral dissertation on survivor
> testimonies about genocide.
> The center has trained 250 facilitators and holds public events monthly
> on issues ranging from immigration to gun violence to interfaith relations.
> It also conducts private meetings between residents of Milwaukee’s
> nonwhite neighborhoods and its mostly white police force.
> Most recently, the center has worked in partnership with the Milwaukee
> Repertory Theater to convene discussion after performances of its show
> “American Song,” which concerns a mass shooting and its aftermath.
> Nothing might have pleased Frank Zeidler more than the involvement of
> someone like Allan Knepper.
> Mr. Knepper, 70, is a self-described “conservative right-wing gun-owner
> white guy from the suburbs.” He was active for several years in the Tea
> Party movement and said he expected to vote for Ted Cruz in the
> Wisconsin primary.
> Even so, he had always enjoyed political conversation that crossed
> partisan and ideological divides. It was just increasingly hard to find.
> So when he spotted an article in The Milwaukee Journal -Sentinel about
> Redeemer’s program, he joined a discussion on Wisconsin’s
> concealed-carry law.
> With Ms. Bates-Froiland coaxing along the conversation, Mr. Knepper
> talked about having grown up on an Iowa farm, where hunting was part of
> life. Nobody in his family, he said, had ever harmed anyone with a gun.
> Under the rules of the Zeidler Center conversations, the other people in
> the circle had to listen in silence as he spoke, and pause for a
> moment’s reflection before saying anything in response.
> And Mr. Knepper had to do the same thing as other people spoke of losing
> children to gun violence.
> “What I have gotten out of it is the ability to listen to others,” said
> Mr. Knepper, a veteran of about 10 Zeidler Center events over four
> years. “I have gotten better at explaining what my background and
> experience is, and thinking about whether it’s a positive or a negative
> in my life. What does someone get from me? I’m a distinct outlier among
> all the do-gooders, but I like that role. Because if we are going to
> accomplish some of the things we say, if we’re going to talk diversity,
> we better be ready for some.”
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