I have visited Occupy Boston, Oakland, New York, Ashville, San Francisco. There is much to like about the people I have met there ranging from 20-somethings to sixty-somethings. A 58 year old in Boston told me he was camping out because he had been unemployed for over two years; a 30 something in New York told me he was there “because of Jesus who teaches him that the poor get to heaven, not the rich.” On Wall Street this past weekend I watched two lines of exuberant young adults playing “Rover, red rover” literally in the middle of Wall Street while police cordoned off the entrance to the street. Nice to see some fun enacted in the name of social change. I very much appreciated two very large canvases on a side of a building at Occupy Boston: One was entitled, “What is Good about America” and the second was entitled: “What is bad about America.” Everyone was invited to write on the pages. I read all the entries and they were moving and thoughtful. I liked the balance that was invited forth to everyone to express their opinions. In Oakland one day of protests brought out about 7000 people of all ages and ethnicities, mothers with babies in strollers, a flash mob dance of about 80 people well appreciated by hundreds of observers, a band playing as we marched through the city center streets. My favorite sign? “I will believe corporations are people when the state of Texas executes one.”
Results have already been significant. The language of the economic debate in America has shifted from “the deficit is everything” to the matter of justice and injustice—rare words to enter American political discourse the past two decades (though Obama shies away from the words and prefers “fairness”). A New York Occupy person told me “already Governor Cuomo has learned something and is seeking $2 billion in new taxes from the richest among us.”
More important than immediate “results” and even a change of language and perception is the bearing of witness that is going on. The bearing of witness against Wall Street’s greed and arrogance, its willingness to borrow trillions of dollars from Main Street but offer nothing in return but more foreclosures, more bankruptcies, more excess, more CEO privileges and more greed. I have written about greed quite extensively in my book on evil, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons for Transforming Soul and Society. Returning to that book recently, I have to say I was pleased with the teachings that are there. Greed corresponds to the fifth or throat chakra (“gluttony” comes from the Latin word for “throat”). Greed interferes with self-expression, stuffing excess things down the throat instead of eliciting wisdom from the inside with the throat as the birth canal. The fact that 70% of the American economy runs on consumerism is proof positive that consuming is the newest form of gluttony and such gluttony feeds greed and vice versa. As Aquinas warned, “avarice tends to infinity”—there is no end to a consciousness of greed or its ally, consumerism. Henry Ford was once asked: “When do you have enough money?” His response: “When you always have a little bit more.” So with consumerism. It never ends. It is infinite. Ask Donald Trump.
If Occupy accomplished this alone it would be revolutionary: To educate Americans and others that an economy that runs 70% on consumption and on greed has to reinvent itself. It is not spiritually or materially sustainable. We can do better than consumer capitalism.
In the matter of reinventing economics, I never tire of recommending David Korten who I feel is the most profound and most relevant teacher of an “economics that works for everyone”—not just for 1% of the people but for all the earth’s people including the more than two legged ones. Korten has done his homework about ecology and cosmology as well as about economics and ethics. He knows of what he speaks when he shows the way to our reinventing economics so that it serves the earth and all her creatures and therefore future generations as well. Go to Yes magazine web site to see his many articles on the current economic crisis as well as to his books.
Another aspect of the Occupy movement that moves me is its bearing witness to moral bankruptcy. The banks are very willing to condemn plenty of us to financial bankruptcy at this time of high unemployment and intransigence in refinancing home loans and business loans, for example. But they are the carriers of a Moral Bankruptcy that needs calling out. Speaking truth to power (the economic power elites who brought the economy crashing down on us all) is what prophets do. Occupy is prophetic. They are daring to interfere with the economic status quo.
There is courage involved in Occupy as there is in all those movements in the Middle East that we attribute to the Arab Spring. It takes courage and endurance to sleep in the parks and even on the concrete as so many Occupiers have done (including the 68 year old woman I met in Boston!) and to face police harassment. Courage is, in my opinion, the number one sign of Spirit. Without courage there is no Spirit. There is Spirit afoot in Occupy.
There is hope also because of Occupy. David Orr says, “hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up” and those in Occupy are doing something. How important is that? Doing something, bearing witness, instead of just getting depressed or angry and sitting on it while addicting oneself to more TV or eating or whatever. Putting one’s moral outrage to action, tapping into anger as an energy source. All good. Tea partiers great success has derived from the anger they tapped into. While I find their solutions short sighted, their energy has made a difference and Occupy’s can do the same—with much sounder solutions.
Part of Occupy’s success has been its appeal to television. In this post-modern time television is the primary medium for reaching peoples’ heart and minds and the very act of sleeping outdoors has attracted the cameras that have in turned allowed fresh stories to be passed around. Stories about values. Social media is part of this post-modern political movement obviously also. And the effort to reinvent community through democratic means of listening to all and not just the powerful and ego-driven ones.
Now of course Occupiers are not allowed to encamp or sleep out in most cities but that only means that the means of expression are morphing. More and more Occupy is focusing on foreclosed houses and trying to raise consciousness about that. In New York I was told that $400,000 still remains in the kitty they have raised and that all of that is going toward housing for the poor and bringing attention to the plight of the unemployed. The movement is evolving and morphing as anything living does. In Oakland evicted persons are occupying boarded up and foreclosed homes putting them to use.
Occupy is raising consciousness about the big banks, the “too big to fail” profiteers. Many are the people moving their money to credit unions (I am one of them and I am happy I did that).
When I preached recently in a Unity church in New York City a woman came up afterwards and started to cry. She said: “I have been supporting Occupy in every way I can bringing food and warm clothes and more but so few of my friends get the point. They are just living their lives as if this doesn’t matter. And where are the clergy? I hardly see them at all. But to me this movement is about everything Jesus taught us about loving our neighbor. There are so many people suffering today. Your talk inspired me to keep going.”
Recently I wrote a book on The Pope’s War which lays bare much of the sickness within the Roman Catholic Church at this time in history, a sickness that panders to sexual abusers as well as to dictators like Pinochet who tortured and murdered thousands and to fascist movements like Opus Dei, Legion of Christ and Communion and Liberation, a sickness that has silenced or expelled over 100 theologians while supporting the movements just mentioned that between them produce armies of canon lawyers and not a single theologian. The emasculation of Liberation Theology and base communities was a program enacted by the present and previous popes.
Of course not all priests who work in the Roman Catholic church are child molesters nor are all hierarchy busy hiding and protecting them. So too not all bankers and all financiers who work with Wall Street are crooks. But both systems are practicing moral nothingness and condoning it so staying in the system and not critiquing carries with it the risk of being an accomplice, however distant, to the system. Leaving it makes more obvious moral sense but if one chooses to stay you must stay as a critic and with one’s conscience in tact and operating to change the system. One stays not as a cheerleader to the system and not to profit from it while taking no moral position. There is no room in a moral crisis whether of economics or of sexual predation for putting one’s conscience on a shelf and hiding either in the pew or in the boardroom. It is time to stand up and be counted and support those who are so doing. It is a time for moral courage. Thank God for Occupy!