My values and my ministry are founded largely on the struggle for justice. I preach regularly as a counter-culture voice against the status quo. I have preached against corporate personhood, and have called for a radical revision of the U.S. Constitution with the goal of better protecting human rights. I am one of countless millions of victims (or is recipients a better word?) of the crumbling U.S. economy, trying with difficulty to raise a family, and wondering whether either of my two pensions will ever be sufficient to allow me to retire. And yet, I am struggling with whether I can support the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Many colleagues, parishioners, friends, and others will be angry at me for saying that I don't support mass protest of our nation's oppressive financial sector. But for now, I don't. At some level, I want to. I want to scream out, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" I agree that we have created an oppressive economic structure that will eventually crumble beneath its own weight, bringing all of us down with it if left unchecked. But that's also why I am struggling with taking to the streets in emotional outrage, righteous indignation, with a litany of demands, as being an effective means of countering the system.
First, we created this mess. Not you and I per se--but in the short span of 200+ years, a quarter of which I have witnessed, our not-so-distant ancestors erected an economy founded on occupation, conquest, and slave labor. We (you and I) have perpetuated it as consumers par excellence, even if only in allowing ourselves to be manipulated by it.
Ironically, every ideology that has sought either through rhetoric or action to destroy our noble democratic experiment of freedom, equality, and justice for all, has done so by attacking or predicting the demise of our economic system. The Soviets knew they would never defeat the west militarily. Their openly admitted goal was economic victory. Communist (or is it now capitalist?) China is now attempting the same without shame or secrecy. Those fringe ideologues who attacked us physically ten years ago, attacked Wall Street at least partially because of U.S. economic world domination and oppression. Are those the footsteps we want to follow in?
In the past year, as in years past, we have watched people in many nations courageously take to the streets to overthrow oppressive regimes with some measure of success. However, those regimes were not founded upon the primacy of the people. They were not representative democracies (or even republics) created with inherent checks and balances, of the people, by the people, for the people. Ours was and is. We are already in charge. To try to topple our own nation's economic infrastructure through an admittedly anarchic strategy of occupation is to commit social and cultural suicide. It is knocking down our own house of cards rather than building it stronger. If these efforts are successful, we will all suffer.
I am not saying that peaceful protest and even well-placed civil disobedience are not useful tactics. They are often incredibly important elements of a larger strategy. I simply think better strategies and tactics could be employed to fix a broken economic system that is the pulse of our capitalist (or is it socialist?) nation, for better or worse.
Perhaps we should just stop using the system for our own gain and comfort with such wild abandon. This isn't so hard to do if those of us with something to sacrifice would be willing to do so. I am changing my bank accounts from the well-known giant I use for convenience to my member-owned bank. I plan to start using cash almost exclusively for daily tranasctions. I have closed some credit accounts than I no longer need. I am again looking more closely at how my 401K retirement account is invested. There are many other steps that we can take as consumers to quickly get the attention of a failing economy. We own it, we feed it, we drive it. It is of the people, by the people, for the people. They (Wall Street) use OUR money, which WE choose how to spend. Wall Street couldn't care less if every citizen of the world takes to the streets, as long as we keep lining their corporate pockets. Changing our spending habits will, however, get their attention quickly.
Again, I know that this will be an unpopular position among my usual associates. I know that there are many more complexities to this critical issue. I agree that we have slowly created a system of economic apartheid under the guise of the American dream. I know that many with extreme wealth exploit the system and everyone in it. I know that many living in poverty don't have the leverage that I have. I know that the rapidly growing poverty gap must be fixed soon before this house of cards comes tumbling down on all of us. But again, this is exactly the point. Those of us with some leverage CAN make a rapid difference by rapidly changing our spending and voting habits with which we feed the system.
My bias is that I have most often effected change and countered the status quo from within the systems I have been a part of, not by tearing them down from the outside. Some will simply call me a hack, a company man, a stooge. But isn't changing a system from within the truest manifestation of revolution? Didn't Jesus ride through the gates of Jerusalem knowing full well what he was doing?
One final point. Occupation? Isn't occupation and oppression what we are trying to overcome? Aren't the people occupying Wall Street and main streets all over the nation and world the same people who oppose military and ideological occupations? How can we occupy what is already ours? We can take it back, but we can't "occupy" it like an army.
If we are truly a nation of the people, by the people, for the people. If we are truly a nation founded by people of faith who espoused the virtues of neighborly love and care, then let us move beyond the language and symbolic practice of the violence and oppression that we oppose and go deeper. Let us create a beloved community without tearing down the entire forest, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, without the militaristic language and practice of occupation.
With all that said, I want to be proven wrong. I want the "occupiers" to be successful in tearing down oppression. I just want them to be smart, careful, clever, and creatively subversive. Much like Jesus was. Jesus turned over the money changers' tables too. But that was a small part of his revolution. His was a revolution of the mind, body, and spirit. I see people taking to the streets. I want to see people occupying hearts and minds with justice, equity, and compassion.
Maybe I'm just getting old and mellow. Maybe I am too much a part of the system to any longer change it. But maybe not. Maybe changing the world one heart, or one dollar, at a time is still the best way.