The Catholic Agitator

Last summer when Jana and I were staying at a Benedictine monastery we were hanging out in the library. The monastery subscribed to a ton of Catholic newspapers, newsletters and periodicals, many from Catholic Worker communities. One of them--The Catholic Agitator--caught my eye.

Being the sort of person I am, the word "agitator" always grabs my attention.

The Catholic Agitator is the paper of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker (LACW) community that has been serving the poor and homeless on Skid Row for over forty years. Picking up the paper I was immediately engrossed in an article by Jeff Dietrich about the conflict between the LACW and the City of Los Angeles. The conflict had to do with shopping carts.

Apparently, the City of LA was cracking down on the homeless by confiscating the shopping carts they used to hold and transport their belongings. The City found these carts to be an eyesore so, to preserve appearances, they started taking the carts away. How could they legally do this? The City claimed that the shopping carts were stolen property, taken from local grocery stores.

Of course that wasn't the real reason for taking the carts away. The real reason had to do with the fact that the shopping carts made the homeless visible. That was the real crime of the homeless. Being seen. And taking away the carts would help vanish the poor on the streets of LA. Without shopping carts people could drive around the city and not see poor people. Shopping carts broke the illusion by making the homeless visible. 

Knowing what was going on the LACW decided to help their friends. They bought their friends their own personal shopping carts. No longer stolen property the City couldn't take the carts away. But that didn't stop them from trying. What ensued was The Shopping Cart War between the City of LA and the LA Catholic Worker.

Needless to say, reading about the War I immediately became of fan of Jeff Dietrich, the LA Catholic Worker and their newsletter The Catholic Agitator.

You can find subscription information for The Catholic Agitator here. And if you'd like to quickly catch up with Jeff Dietrich and his best writing in The Catholic Agitator collected over forty years, let me point you to the edited collection Broken and Shared. I just started Broken and Shared and so far have found it to be a wonderful, provocative, challenging and inspiring read.

This summer I'm speaking at the Pepperdine Lectureship in Malibu. I'm thinking about blowing off the Hollywood environs of Malibu ASAP to spend some time on Skid Row with the LACW...

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10 thoughts on “The Catholic Agitator”

  1. Did you see the blurbs for this book on the editor's page? How did they get all those people to write blurbs, especially the one's that aren't alive!

  2.  Hey, I fully expect Wipf & Stock to get Mother Teresa to blurb my next book. I saw that in my contract.

  3. "The real reason had to do with the fact that the shopping carts made the homeless visible. That was the real crime of the homeless. Being seen." Have you read Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere"? it is a fictional commentary on the invisible world that the homeless and poverty suffer in not being seen.  A young man slips through the crack between worlds by helping a young girl.  It is one of the best illustrations of how most of us live our lives never seeing this whole other dimension, even when it's right in front of our eyes.

  4. Sometimes, rarely, stuff that makes homeless people visible works.  In Edmonton (my home town), a few years ago, a tent city sprang up downtown.

    A local church-based charity (celebrated its 100th anniversary not long ago!) supported the tent city and let it get set up in the empty lot next to them.  In the end, the tent city did get shut down - but that was the turning point for civic attitudes towards homelessness here.

    Now we have a "housing first" initiative - get people off the streets into a secure place, THEN treat their addictions and mental/emotional problems.  It's been working fantastically. :)  And the city and charitable agencies are working to *end* homelessness, not just treat the symptoms.

    I am very sad about the situation in LA, but thought a note of hope might be good, too.

    The organization at the heart of things: the Bissell Centre.

    (also, I hope the links don't get this marked spam!)

  5. Thanks so much for the introduction to LACW. I've already read through a few issues of The Agitator and I'm excited to order the book!!

  6. You'd be more than welcome! While you're visiting LA, you should consider worshipping with us on Sunday at Dolores Mission (the Jesuit parish of Fr. Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industry acclaim). Jeff is always there with a healthy contingent from the Catholic Worker house!

  7. You know, you may believe that the only motivation for the city was the eyesore issue, but I'm certain the grocery stores would agree that the carts were stolen.  They're not cheap.  And stealing is wrong, even if you're homeless.  Homelessness is, indeed, a problem, and Christians should respond, but I do not fault the grocery stores or the city for responding to theft of property.  

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