Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In memoriam: Dorothy Day

The Catholic social activist Dorothy Day died 31 years ago today. We usually don't celebrate the 31st anniversary of anything, but there are at least four good reasons to pay attention to her legacy today.
  1. For the impact she had during her life, Day is one of the least-remembered social activists of the 20th century, even among civic engagement professionals, and this in spite of her impact as an organizer and as a thinker.
  2. Her approach to civic engagement--which blended deep religiosity, a passion for community, clear-eyed views of human nature and the complexity of solving social problems, and skepticism of the power of government--is a good match for American culture today, where mistrust of government is rampant.
  3. Her response to poverty, racism, and inequity--the creation of houses of hospitality and the Catholic Worker movement--would be important examples to both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement if they wanted to turn their frustration into a positive program.
  4. Her political philosophy rooted in Catholic social teachings of distributism, subsidiarity, and solidarity should inspire thinkers and activists interested in local solutions to economic, community, and family challenges.
The best entree to her life and work is her autobiography The Long Loneliness  and Robert Coles' biography Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion.   A bit of my own thinking about how her legacy could influence contemporary city planning is here.

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