Newsletter Archive

Losing Causes

I devoted big portions of my youth to lost causes, some of them wrong-headed in the light of history (and middle age).  In the 80's, I organized support for the anti-apartheid movement - a losing cause for decades, until one day it wasn't.   I was one of many college students who marched in support of Nicaraguan revolutionaries, before their years in power proved them incompetents and crooks.   (A losing cause that won, then was lost again by the victors.)   Today I lend support to marriage equality, til now a losing cause, but which I believe is on the right side of common sense, constitutionality, and simple justice.

I have a soft spot for losing causes.  They are poignant, for they haunt the dreams of men and women everywhere who want to improve their world (as they see it).  

I perform two Civil War-themed songs with Confederate narrators, Rich Deans' "Don't Dig My Grave Too Deep," and Minna Irving's poem I set to music, "Marching Still."  What's that about?  Some listeners of mine wonder.

The Civil War embodied and exposed the violent tensions in our social fabric.  The same nation that produced the democratic and inclusive principles of our constitution was also built on slavery, permitted Jim Crow for another 90 years, and still struggles to live up to those principles.  Our union was, and remains, messy and imperfect from birth.

There are stories of immense power and humanity in our Civil War and its aftermath.  Minna Irving and Rich Deans tell two of them.  Some of our most brilliant songwriters, like Pierce Pettis, Kate Campbell, and Tom Kimmel bear eloquent witness to the beauty, pain, and contradictions of the South and its history.   That history speaks to all of us, in its complexity and poignancy, and asks humility of all of us.  In important ways, ALL Americans both lost and won the Civil War.  Even with the election of Barack Obama, it's a conflict that reverberates in our life today.  

What are some losing causes that are, or have been, close to your heart?

Rich Deans:
Minna Irving:  Her poem was from "The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry:  From Whitman to Walcott."
Pierce Pettis:
Kate Campbell:
Tom Kimmel:


Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to and Reading:
    Eric Bibb, "An Evening with Eric Bibb."  Buy the CD:
   Wayne Shorter, "Adam's Apple."  Buy the CD:
    Isaac Asimov, "Robot Visions."    Buy the book:  
    Valerie Worth, "All the Small Poems." Buy the book: