Blase Bonpane (photo credit: R. Colby)
By Alan Minsky, Executive Director | Progressive Democrats of America
Since I first began working alongside Blase Bonpane around the beginning of this century, he has been one of the most influential people in my life. With his passing, I have made a vow to myself never to lose touch with all that Blase taught me.
I believe there are two primary reasons for Blase’s tremendous influence on me. First, Blase had an unwavering commitment to peace, social solidarity, and the best type of morals and ethics imaginable; all of which I embrace. Second, because my work as a political radical has focused heavily upon questions of macro-economic and social organization, which contrasted with Blase’s focus, his work was truly a guiding star for my broader political convictions.
This second reason is why I believe Blasé’s legacy is so important for so many people. While I don’t claim to speak for other activists, it has been my experience and observation that most progressives focus on a particular set of issues that define their activism. It is also my sense that almost all left-progressives, whatever the focus of their work, support Blase Bonpane’s ideas about US foreign policy, global peace, morality, and ethics. Therefore, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as we reflect upon Blase’s passing, to make a promise to ourselves to hold onto – in our hearts and our minds – the wisdom and teachings of Blase Bonpane.
For me, there are three main areas that I will always think of Blase when I’m in need of guidance; of course, these three overlap with almost every facet of progressive politics.
The first of these, of course, concerns matters of war and peace and US foreign policy. For those of us who want to transform America away from being a dominating, oppressive, and violent empire, it is far too easy to lose sight of this reality. Indeed, an essential component of the maintenance of the US empire is that it is kept largely invisible from the American public. Given this, no matter the level of commitment of most progressive activists to peace, the critique of US imperialism frequently ceases to be a focus of their work. Blase Bonpane never allowed this to be the case. On the one hand, he consistently foregrounded the ongoing atrocities that the US military was engaged in around the world; and secondly, he never failed to make the connection between every other social issue and the maintenance of the US military imperialist complex. Going forward, I take a vow to always remember Blase’s insistence on the foregrounding of these matters, that their true horribleness remain front and center in our political consciousness; and that we never waver from struggling for the creation of an American society truly committed to global peace.
Secondly, Blase Bonpane redeemed the teachings of Jesus Christ and, in doing so, highlighted the central importance of morality and ethics for left-progressive politics. Those of us who are agnostics or atheists tend not to engage the struggle over Christ’s legacy. However, it is a material fact of contemporary society that Christianity remains a powerful force. I’m certainly not a Christian scholar, but it seems clear as day to me that Christ has been greatly co-opted in our society by the right wing, and that this co-option is a tremendous perversion of his teachings. As such, Blase’s death is a tremendous loss, as I knew of no other person who could so powerfully expose the blatant contradictions of right-wing Christianity and reclaim Christ’s vision for a society built upon peace, love, and mutual cooperation. Of course, the lessons here extend beyond consideration of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazarath to the question of the role of morality and ethics in left politics. More than any activist I have been close to in my life, Blasé made clear, in his words and actions, that any left-politics worthy of being embraced must be fully grounded in love, caring, and consideration for all people.
Lastly, Blase Bonpane recognized the significance of the Catholic Church as a powerful institution in the world, and believed, especially since the ascendancy of Pope Francis, that it could still yet be transformed into a tremendous force for good in the world. Again, almost none of the progressive activists that I am close to, other than Blase, looked to this massive global institution as a possible source of power for political progress. However, it is undeniably true that there is a war going on for the soul of the Church, in which Francis is surrounded by deeply powerful conservative enemies, including the likes of Steve Bannon and other ultra-right-wing Americans. In contrast to these horrible reactionary forces, Blase was an unwavering champion of a liberation theology tradition; which has an ally in the new Pope, and a recent history of massive support across Latin America. (Of course, as Blasé never failed to remind us, there’s the inconvenient fact for the right-wing, that liberation theology is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.) There are hundreds of millions of Catholics across the world, and I worry that they lost one of their greatest champions in the United States in Blase Bonpane. It is incumbent upon us not to lose sight of the struggle within the Church that Blase reminded us about almost every week on World Focus. Much as Pope Francis has proven to be a source of hope and inspiration for progressives around the world, Blase understood that this largest of all global institutions, if only it returned to being in harmony with the core teachings of its founder, could become a force for peace, as well as economic and social justice across the world.
On all three of these matters, and on many more, Blase Bonpane was my Lodestar. He made such a strong impression upon me that I know whenever I reflect upon the political necessities related to any of these fronts, I will have Blase’s words and wisdom in my ears and in my soul; as his was a vision truly for peace and goodwill for all humanity, all creatures, for the planet and the heavens above.
Blase Bonpane, presente!