by Dana Fisher
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said “In the gospels the very first step a man must take is an act which radically affects his whole existence.” What I saw from the Occupy Wall Street movement wasn’t a radical change in our existence but a desperate grab to make us all equally rich, an equality which Jesus called us out of.
When they finally cleared Dewey Square of all the tents and sleeping bags and all that was left were scraps of paper and empty footprints in the mud I couldn’t help but feel we had missed the mark. The Occupy movement felt like a hollow thud in the threads of time. It lacked direction and left me with the sense of selfishness and greed. The mud of American capitalism was hard to wash off my boots. We didn’t want equality, what we wanted is what others had.
It’s hard to disagree with many of the principles put forth by the occupy movement, the need for equality is there and it is real. But the way it was gone about was a misstep to real social change. It lacked selflessness and leadership of which both are needed to motivate and bring out the best in each of us, pushing us to love and strive for others like we never thought was possible.
If we look back on the story of Ruth we see that the law commanded those harvesting the fields to leave behind what was missed in order that the poor could pick what was left so that they might eat. The point was not to take and hoard as much as you could but to allow those who had nothing to put some food in their families bellies. I think all occupiers would agree with this, pointing to the 1% as those not leaving anything behind. Yet I wonder then, how can we account for stories like this, where many began complaining that homeless were showing up for free meals. This not only occurred in New York but around the country as those in need looked for food to sustain themselves. This is where I lose my faith in what the movement truly was about. Was it really about those in need or was it about those in want?
The last great movement of social change in America began in late 1955, The Civil Rights movement. It had leadership, rallying around Martin Luther king Jr, and from out of it bloomed other leaders who continued that fight, including men like John Perkins. That voice of leadership gave everyone a voice, rather than stripping it away. While Occupy claimed their leadership was in their masses and “everyone had a voice”, the lack of leadership ended up silencing everyone’s voice.
The Civil Rights Movement also had a clear and concise set of goals. Just like the Occupy Movement, no one person was more important than another, but unlike Occupy each person was unified around a set of goals fundamental to the movement. Each Occupier had their own reasons for being there and this caused confusion and a lack of overall direction.
We rejected the homeless and protested with thousands of individual voices. What ended up happening was a fight of the elite against the uber elite. Class segregation began happening in the encampments themselves, proving that it is so ingrained in us as Americans we will create class structures where ever we go.
If you make $10,000 this year you are in the top 13% of the worlds population. If you make $23,000 you are in the top 10%. If you make $47,500 you are the top 1% of the entire world. Moreover, the federal minimum wage for the United States is $7.25/hr. If you work full time at minimum wage you earn roughly $15,000/yr placing you in the top 12.2% of the entire world. If you are reading this you are part of just 30% of the entire world that has access to the internet, and if you are in the United States, 80% have internet access. Based on these statistics we aren’t the poor, but are in fact the elite, whether we want to embrace it or not.
The ironic thing from a Jesus perspective is He hung out with the 1%. He also hung out with the homeless and untouchables. We’ve become so elitist that we rally against the richest of us for not sharing their wealth while shoving the poor and homeless out of our encampments for wanting food. If the goal truly was equality for all we missed sight of it when we refused to help those who weren’t like us, who needed food and warmth and shelter.
Jesus came on the scene and hung out with the tax collector, even staying in Zacchaeus’s house. And everyone muttered and was angry, “look he goes and hangs out with sinners”. He befriended prostitutes and praised the samaritan for helping a man in need. He defied all logic, showing grace on both sides of the isle.
When Jesus looked upon the rich young ruler Mark says He looked upon him and loved him. The rich ruler must first sell all his possessions and give to the poor, only then can he come and follow. “Discipliship is the end, voluntary poverty the means”. We aren’t called to be as similar to the rich ruler as we can be but to reject all that this world offers to follow Him.
Bonhoeffer went on to say “If a drunkard signs the pledge, or a rich man gives all his money away, they are both of them freeing themselves from their slavery to alcohol or riches, but not from their bondage to themselves. They are still moving in their own little orbit, perhaps even more than they were before.” Occupy seemed to prove this out, that thousands of us could continue in our own little worlds while on the outside appearing to fight for something bigger than the individual.
Jesus demanded nothing, yet commanded love your neighbor. And maybe what we need is to recognize there’s a difference.