RAINBOW WARRIOR: The Long Loneliness, The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist, Dorothy Day

Source – scribd.com

– “The greatest challenge of the day is, how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” – Dorothy Day: \

Dorothy Day fought for social justice throughout her life by writing as well as by protesting. When she first came of age in 1917, the women’s suffrage movement was in full force. Day joined protests in an attempt to get women the same right to vote as their male counterparts. She was arrested for “obstructing traffic” in front of the White House by joining in daily pickets. After her arrest, she went on a hunger strike to protest both not being allowed to vote and the poor treatment many of the women involved in the protest received while in jail. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Day and other hunger strikers released so that they would not die in jail and be seen as martyrs to their cause.

During this period of her life, Day also worked on a radical newspaper called The Masses. This newspaper called for an end to World War I, which it believed was caused by imperialism, and which it believed the United States should stay out of. Although Day didn’t convince the US to change its policies by writing for this paper, her writing, and that of her friends, must have gotten the government’s attention. After entering World War I, the government ordered The Masses to stop opposing its policies. When Day and the other socialists working on the paper refused to do this, the government seized back issues of the paper and rescinded its permit to mail copies out so that it could no longer distribute the paper through the U.S. Post Office. As a result of this experience, Day felt so powerless that she quit journalism and go to school to study nursing. Her experiences as a nurse, as well as some of her personal experiences during the early 1920s, led to the publication of her autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin, in 1924.

Day didn’t return to political activism until the 1930s, instead choosing to live on the edge of poverty in Mexico City. However, once the Great Depression began, she returned to the United States, where she and her lover, Peter Maurin, opened a newspaper entitled The Catholic Worker. The newspaper encouraged the Catholic Church to support pacifist and socialist causes.

In addition to running a newspaper, Day and Maurin began opening charity houses throughout the United States to help people get back on their feet. This aspect of The Catholic Worker was meant to bring the Catholic faith to the millions of poor and dispossessed people who had lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. The Catholic Worker was important not only because it gave hope to millions of Americans who needed help, but also because it was the first attempt in US history to combine Catholic faith with social activism. People who worked for The Catholic Worker continued to be active in social causes throughout the rest of Day’s life; The Catholic Worker was involved in protests against the nuclear bomb and the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

The Catholic Worker was controversial for many members of the Catholic faith. Some objected to the charity houses that The Catholic Worker ran; instead of attempting to convert poor people to Catholicism, these houses simply gave anyone who wanted it help. Opponents of this movement claimed it was against Scripture because Jesus said the poor would always be part of society, and some also claimed that those receiving charity from The Catholic Worker houses were undeserving drunkards rather than people Catholicism should truly endeavor to help. Nevertheless, the charity houses remained open and are still open today.

The Catholic Worker newspaper also came under fire in 1935 because it didn’t change its pacifist stance once the Roman Catholic Church supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Day believed that Franco was a fascist. She didn’t care about supporting other Catholics nearly as much as she did about Jews and other persecuted people. Her direct disagreement with the Catholic church lost her 66% of her readers, but she didn’t care.

The Catholic Worker newspaper supported pacifism throughout Day’s life regardless of public opinion; it didn’t support World War II, either, but did encourage readers to care for the sick and wounded. She believed passionately in compassion, and so she thought that shifting readers’ focus this way would help bring something good out of the horror of war. She also wanted readers to see Catholicism differently. She saw it as a religion of peace, carrying Jesus’ message to all who were in need, rather than merely following rites and rituals. This is why she wanted the Catholic church involved.

After World War II, Day continued to be active politically. In the 1950s, she and a small group of dissidents refused to participate in air raid drills because of lack of belief in the necessity of nuclear war. Day believed that participating in New York’s annual air raid drill constituted consent to nuclear war and refused to do so, instead sitting on the steps of City Hall and praying aloud for peace. Day was determined to make her point no matter what. In 1955, she and her followers were fined for refusal to participate; the following year, they were arrested and Day was sentenced to five days in jail for not participating. The air raid drills, and Day’s opposition to them, continued for the next several years, but as time went on, more and more people joined the protests. Day was arrested several times but was not arrested during large protests in the late 1950s that involved thousands of people. Her quiet pacifism attracted all these followers, and the authorities knew that arresting her would only make her more of a hero to them. Air raid drills ceased permanently in 1961.

Next, Day began working for the African-American Civil Rights Movement. A Catholic Worker commune in Georgia was one of the first places to practice integration and was therefore attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in 1957. As she always did, Day visited personally to see how her Catholic Worker houses were living up to her vision, and she wasn’t scared of confronting the Klan or other protesters. While she was standing guard against the KKK at the commune, a passing car shot at her.

Day continued to exhibit bravery well into her later years. At the age of 75, she protested in favor of farmers’ rights and was arrested one last time. In the meantime, she’d been active in every important social cause of the times, including protesting the Vietnam War a few years earlier.

Although Day’s activities were often controversial, she was recognized by the Catholic Church for her contributions to society. In 1967, she was one of only two Americans invited to take communion directly from the Pope, and in 1973 she was featured on the Jesuit magazine, America, as an example of an American Catholic who had done much to further Catholic causes. She also received a medal from Notre Dame for her social activism.

 

The Long Loneliness: An Autobiography - By: Dorothy Day

 

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