What I Learned at CCS and Why Our News Reading Habits Matter
The October issue of Common Threads included a diagram of upcoming Theme Learning Circles. While titles like “Ministry as Storytelling,” “Spiritual Practice” and “Relationships” might find their way into any number of mainstream theological colleges, fewer would feature so prominently topics like “Oppression & Resistance” or “Power & Privilege.”
As a CCS grad from 1980, the headings maintain a thread of continuity from my student days. Among the courses I was advised to prepare for as a prospective student in 1978 was one on “Feminist & Marxist Dialogue.” Even grocery shopping was edgy. I remember a field trip to a health food store near the old CCS building on Charles St. W. in Toronto. (At the time, health food stores were very alternative and uncommon; my student cohort noticed the softer lighting, the lower height of the shelves, the folk music posters and something called “gluten-free carrot muffins”.) We were encouraged to shop consciously and look at the ingredients on the package.
CCS also pushed us to be critical about what we read in the newspaper or watched on TV. I continue that to this day.
A couple of weeks ago I read a CBC story – “Head of Bolivian Senate Assumes Leadership in Morales’ Absence” – which reported that Boliivan President Evo Morales, after 14 years in power been marked by stability and high economic growth, had fled Bolivia and was living in exile in Mexico. The Bolivian Supreme Court had overturned restrictions on term limits, allowing Morales to run again for President, but his election was contested by the opposition and the Organization of American States (OAS). Morales stepped aside after the military chief called on him to quit. The CBC newscaster cited Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian political scientist based at the Florida International University, who said, “This might be the only time in Bolivian military history that the military is on the right side,” and that Evo Morales’ departure in no way mirrors a traditional military coup. The new interim president of Bolivia was Jeanine Áñez, from the tiny Democratic Social Movement Party, which took 4.2% of the popular vote in Bolivia’s October 2019 elections
When I was a student, CCS instructor Helen Castel encouraged me to read my news from a wide range of sources. So I was curious when I saw the headline of an article by Jacob Sugarman in the Southern California website Truthdig – “Bernie Sanders’ Stance on Bolivia Matters.”
Bernie Sanders is the only person running in the Democratic Primary who has spoken out against what is happening in Bolivia. Sanders stated in response to a question from the press, “I think Morales did a very good job in alleviating poverty and giving indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before. Now we can argue about his going for a fourth term, whether that was a wise thing to do… But at the end of the day, it was the military who intervened in that process and asked him to leave. When the military intervenes… in my view, that’s called a ‘coup.’” Sanders added that the coup was aided by the United States government.
While the current OAS leadership alleges irregularities in the Bolivian election, former OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has stated that what has happened in Bolivia is a coup (“un golpe”). Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy & Research, agrees, tweeting, “This is still a military coup. Nobody voted for Williams Kaliman, the Commander of the Bolivian Armed Forces. Some in the major media are already burying the fact it was he who pushed Evo out of the Presidency.” In an interview with the BBC Wiesbrot referred viewers to his own center’s statistical analysis of the Bolivian elections and reminded them that in 2009 the right-wing opposition to Evo Morales tried to overthrow the government with street protests.
Truthdig’s Jacob Sugarman pointed out that since assuming office Jeanine Áñez has issued several edicts. The first edict is to exempt the Bolivian military from prosecution in its efforts to suppress protests from Evo Morales supporters, which members of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) describe as “a license to kill.” Áñez has also created a special government apparatus of the public prosecutor (“aparato especial de la Fiscalía”) to detain and arrest any of the MAS members of the Bolivian parliament who make up two-thirds of the legislature.
Taking up her mantle of leadership, the new president declared “the Bible has returned to the presidential palace” (“La Biblia Vuelve al palacio”). Jeanine Áñez has characterized the upcoming indigenous New Year’s celebrations by the Aymara people as “satanic,” and though indigenous people represent 75% of the population, the new cabinet didn’t include any indigenous persons. Meanwhile, Argentinian journalists have been driven from Bolivia after receiving threats for their news stories critical of the new government.
I give credit to CCS years ago for helping me develop a critical eye and asking questions about what I am being told in the media. My additional lens into what is unfolding in Bolivia impact the prayers I can offer in worship. And I am glad to see the new learning circles in 2020 include the titles “Oppression & Resistance” and “Power & Privilege.”
May the learning continue.
Ray McGinnis is a CCS grad from 1980. He chairs the Communications & Promotions Committee.