Friday, November 25, 2011

There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

Green Jean. Source.

There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

This post is part of a three part series.

Part One: The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Two: Possible Causes for The Crisis in PolonianLeadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Three: There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

This is what Polonia needs: an organization, networked internationally and with deep grassroots support, dedicated to eliminating the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. It will disseminate the truth of Polonia. Not an exclusive, airbrushed, chauvinist version, but the entire, rich, complex and vibrant story.

This organization will be staffed by committed, professional, activists. They will be consistent, courteous, reliable, humble, and rational. They will treat each other and the wider world with professionalism and respect. They will establish their leadership not by making others feel small, excluded, and not good enough, but by making others feel big, included, and essential members of the team. They will show up day after day. They will keep their eyes on the prize: telling the Polish story and supporting Polonian authors and scholars.

This organization will not attack, blame, scapegoat, or demonize Jews, liberals, television, Hollywood, the New York Times, or anybody else. Its members will take responsibility for their own actions.

This group will not be confused or unfocused. They will not think that the problem is one scholar – not Jan Tomasz Gross – one phrase "Polish Concentration camps" – or one film – "Shoah." This group will do what Saul Alinsky instructed activists to do: pick a target, freeze it, and name it: Bieganski, the brute Polak stereotype, in all its manifestations.

This organization will ensure that the Polish-American story is told in elementary schools, high schools, on and university campuses. It will work to make that story known in popular and elite media.

Classic Bohunk texts like "The Jungle" and "Out of this Furnace" and The Poetry of Anton Piotrowski will appear on syllabi. Newer authors like Christina Pacosz will appear on syllabi, as well.

Oskar Kolberg will finally be translated and his key scholarship will be rescued from oblivion.

Revisionist histories will be corrected. No, African Americans are not the only group to face racism. Yes, "white" people have faced murderous racism, as well. No, Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. Yes, Polish Catholic priests were targeted, tortured, and murdered. No, the Holocaust was not the product of primitive peasants, but of modern people and the world's best science. No, we can't make evil go away by becoming more modern.

This organization will work for the hiring of Bohunk faculty and the funding of Bohunk students.

If a world-class scholar like Norman Davies is offered a job and then rejected, and it looks like his support for Polonia is playing a role in his rejection, this organization will coordinate grassroots, watchdog activity and legal supervision of the case.

This organization will embrace Polish cleaning women as well as Kosciuszko on a white horse. This organization will celebrate Polish coal miners as well as celebrities. This organization will unite with other Bohunks – Slovak-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Lithuanian-Americans – who tell part of our own story. This organization will embrace not just pianists and the authors who write about World War Two, but will also ask, what do figures like Andy Warhol, a Rusyn-American, and David Wojnarowicz, a Polish-American, say about our experience?

This organization will honor the past and focus on the present and the future. Young people will be a big chunk of its staff and membership.

The Activist members of this organization will think globally and act locally.

Think Globally and act locally: Polish activists have always done this; their slogan was "For your freedom and ours."

Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish national poet, organized a Jewish legion, the Hussars of Israel.

Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military hero, wanted to buy the freedom of African American slaves, and worked for full inclusion of Poland's peasants and Jews.

In Poland in 1989, I joined other Poles in protesting the arrest of Vaclav Havel. Vaclav Havel was not Polish, but Czech. He had been arrested for the crime of laying flowers in Wenceslas Square in the memory of Jan Palach. Poles who "think globally and act locally" noticed, cared about, and protested this arrest.

In 1989, in Krakow, while protesting Soviet domination, we also marched in support of Chinese in Tiananmen Square.

Polonia will benefit from remembering and reinvigorating its tradition of thinking globally and acting locally.

This organization will recognize that Jews are Polonians' "older brothers in faith" and among our best allies. The work we will do to eliminate the Bieganski stereotype, we will do together.

This organization will not be merely reactive. It will not wait for assault, insult and revision only to respond with random, disorganized flurries of letters, but, rather, with commitment, coordination, and discipline.

This organization will be proactive. It will create a powerful, synergistic, cooperative and strategic network of those disseminating art and writing and film and speakers about Poland and Polonia and its rich, loving, vibrant, full voice will not be overcome – because we are an essential part of the wider human story.

Getting Polonians to unite, support each other, and act in a committed, disciplined, coordinated fashion will be the A-1 priority of this organization. It will organize activist retreats and workshops, where average Polonians overcome their atomization and learn to work together.

Rosa Parks was a product of this kind of workshop for early Civil Rights activists. As Paul Loeb describes in "The Real Rosa Parks," Parks didn't just one day decide not to sit in the back of the bus. Parks trained for twelve long years to be an activist.

Similarly, KOR РKomitet Obrony Robotników or the Workers' Defense Committee Рorganized a Flying University that trained people on attitudes and techniques that helped to bring about the Solidarity Revolution.

Poles – including Polish Jews like Konstanty Gebert and Adam Michnik – were able to bring about these activist workshops even while living under Communism's constant surveillance and deadly threat. African Americans could do the same under Jim Crow. There is no reason for today's Polonians, living in comfort and ease in the West, to think that they cannot do the same.

Prominent and wealthy Polonians will be proud funders and sponsors of this organization. This organization will reach out to them and honor them.

The staff and membership of this organization will be diverse. Some will be Catholics, some atheists. Some Democrat, some Republican. Some gay, some straight. Some will support this or that war or invasion or candidate, others will oppose.

They won't talk about abortion or war or gay marriage or other issues, though, because bringing up what divides them will distract them from their goal. They will keep the group united and focused. They will keep their eyes on the prize. They will get things done.

This organization does not yet exist.

This organization does not yet exist because Polonia does not yet want it.

When Polonia wants it, this organization will come into existence. And it will be great.

Ann75. "Colours in the Snow." Source.

Meanwhile, what can you do?

If you want to change things for the better, you can.


Make that decision. "I have decided to do this. I will not complain. I will not blame. I will not look back. I will not quit. With the higher power of my understanding as my rock, I will do this."

That's it, really.

The pyramids? The result of human will.

The Great Wall of China? The result of human will.

The Civil Rights Movement? The result of human will.

Solidarnosc? The result of human will.

People more articulate than I have made this point.

"For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." - Mark, 11:23

"Give me where to stand and I will move the world." - Archimedes.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." - Henry David Thoreau

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative and creation. The moment one definitely commits oneself, Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Children, if you are tired, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going." - Attributed to Harriet Tubman.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson

Are you going to build a pyramid or move a mountain?

How much more important is a human being than a pile of stones?

If you can develop your own mind, body, and soul enough that you stop being a complainer and a blamer and start being an activist – hey. Moving a human soul and a human life is as impressive as moving a mountain.

The longest journey really does begin with a single step, and it really is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

"We can do no great things. Only small things with great love." - Attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.


Where do you start?

Do the work that is right in front of you.

If you have to confess your ignorance on Polonian matters, start buying, reading, and reviewing books on Amazon.

Do read about the heroes on white horses: Kosciuszko, Curie, Karski, Copernicus. And learn about and honor your peasant ancestry, as well. And – if you are Polish – no matter how white your collar is now – you have peasant ancestry.

Read Jan Slomka's priceless depiction of the Polish peasant experience, "From Serfdom to Self Government."

Read Olga Narkiewicz's "Green Flag: Polish Populist Politics" about life for peasants in 20th century Poland.

If you really want to strip the wool from your eyes and get rid, once and for all, of any romantic notions you may have about what it was like to be a Polish peasant, read "Four Russian Serf Narratives" edited by John MacKay.

Read about Bohunks in the US: "The Jungle," of course, and "Out of this Furnace."


If you want to be an activist but you've never marched or petitioned or organized, inform yourself.

Google "how to be an activist" or "activism 101."

Read "Rules for Radicals" by Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky got his start organizing Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians, and other Bohunks in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood in Chicago. Their group was the "Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council." When Alinsky arrived, Polish-Americans had a higher infant mortality rate than African-Americans. Alinsky wanted to help Polish-American babies to survive. He eventually became the world's most famous organizer.

Read Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience."

Read my own "Political Paralysis."

Watch "Man of Marble," about an indomitable Polish woman, and "Man of Iron" about an indomitable Polish man. Watch this video clip.

Read and watch movies about Gandhi, one of the most brilliant and successful organizers in history, about Mother Teresa. Watch "Eyes on the Prize."


And act.

Be the change you want to see.

Don't mourn. Organize.

The winter is yours. The spring is ours. Source.


  1. An excellent blog! Poles can find heart, and POLAK POTRAFI (The Pole can do it) example, in the 19th century Poles under Prussian rule. The Poles organized themselves, and beat the Prussians in their own game.

    Please click-on, or paste-in:

  2. Thanks again Danusha, for part 3. I believe even more of us are looking in the mirror now.

    Here is a link to a fresh English language translation regarding the 11 Nov. Independence March events in Poland. The sides are pitted there too, looking very much like the old stratification. Yes, they have Pilsudski pictures up on high, but sometimes sincerity is self evident too. It makes it all the harder to keep one's eye on the prize.

  3. MB, I would love to read a longer post from you offering your detailed understanding of what transpired on November 11.


  4. Hello, Danusha.

    Thanks again for bringing your posts to my attention.

    I'll be back soon with some thoughts regarding what you wrote.

    --Liron Rubin

  5. Thought I'd save someone else the frustration of trying to locate a copy of the out-of-print book recommended above.
    The link shows an extraction from the book "Serfdom to Self-Government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor, 1842-1927" written by Jan Slomka in 1900c. The author offers some insight of the life conditions and experience confronting Poles who lived during this period. The text has not been altered. However, paragraph titles have been added for the sake of highlighting content. Source information is at bottom of page

    Jan Peczkis is a prolific reviewer whose 'cliff notes' on the book made me want for more...

  6. I was forced to post as anon. as an error code repeatly came back re illegal characters in the url I supplied....

    Thought I'd save someone else the frustration of trying to locate a copy of the out-of-print book recommended above.
    The link shows an extraction from the book "Serfdom to Self-Government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor, 1842-1927" written by Jan Slomka in 1900c. The author offers some insight of the life conditions and experience confronting Poles who lived during this period. The text has not been altered. However, paragraph titles have been added for the sake of highlighting content. Source information is at bottom of page

    Jan Peczkis is a prolific reviewer whose 'cliff notes' on the book made me want for more...

  7. Danusha! Polonia is LUCKY to have you as a smart, perceptive, articulate beacon of light. Keep going, keep writing, keep inspiring!

    Polonia - follow this woman's lead!

  8. Robin, you have been an amazingly and actively supportive friend to me.

    When "Bieganski" first came out, you immediately bought it -- when it still cost $65. I didn't tell you to buy it. You made that decision on your own.

    You reviewed it on Amazon. You didn't need me to nag you or cajole you.

    You invited me to your house to speak, and you invited others as well, including people with relatives who are concentration camp survivors.

    You encourage me and read my writing.

    My question is, why does this come so easily, so naturally to you, and why do so many Polonians find these actions really hard to take?

    This is not a value judgment. It's an anthropological inquiry. We need to look at ourselves and figure out why Polonia is so resistant to even the smallest features of activism.

  9. Hello, Dr. Goska. I just wanted to let you know that I haven't forgotten about your posts. I'll be back with my own thoughts as soon as I recover from a rather nasty flu. One cannot think clearly about such hefty matters when one has the flu. It's simply impossible.

    Liron Rubin

  10. Thank you for this series!

  11. alison, thank you for reading and commenting


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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