Did the Occupy Movement Miss the Mark?

Did the Occupy Movement Miss the Mark?

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.

  • jsunfun

    Were you part of the occupy movement?

    • Dana

      I am not part of the movement for the reasons I mentioned. I have several friends who are, some who saw it through and others who bowed out after discovering the ideas being presented were counter to the Kingdom agenda.

      Ultimately, when people are angry and want retribution their ideas of peace are contrary to what Jesus teaches about peace and retribution.

      • Jsunfun

        I just wanted to clarify since you used “we” quite a bit; e.g. “we” had missed the mark, “we” didn’t want equality, “we” rejected the homeless, etc.

        I agree with a lot of what you say, but I take issue with several parts as well. For one, many homeless people found shelter, food and companionship at the Boston occupy camp. Ask anyone who was there. But the homeless situation also presented a problem– what were the Occupy campers supposed to do when many homeless individuals came to camp intoxicated and caused trouble? Most Occupiers were incredibly sympathetic to the plight of the extremely poor, but they were not prepared to serve as an impromptu shelter and rehab clinic for people who were stealing from other campers and harassing people for hard drugs? Saying the Occupiers “rejected” the homeless is spinning what really happened. Occupiers embraced and aided the homeless where they could, and rejected those who were causing trouble. In fact, when the courts cleared the path for eviction, one of the top priorities was making sure the homeless people there had somewhere to go.

        Also, it seems like you’re spinning statistics here as well. Sure, you can say that someone making 47.5k a year is a one-percenter. But the real one-percenters, the ones that occupiers were talking about, make more than 47.5k in a day. Call them the 1% or call them the .0001%, but the issue is that a small group of super wealthy individuals have inordinate control over our political and economic system. Believe me, this was not “the elite vs the super elite.” Technically speaking, someone making 10 grand a year is in the top 13% of the world’s population, as you point out. But take a look at how someone making 10k in this country lives, and then call them “the elite.”

        And even if someone in the camp was making a fair amount of money in their job, does that mean they can’t be angry about the crimes of Wall Street? “Hey that guy has an iPhone, what business does he have complaining about massive corruption that caused an economic collapse and subsequent recession??”

        OWS could have benefited from better leadership. Yes. The myriad of causes and reasons people were participating made the overall message more confusing. True. But I think people should work harder to really research the core grievances raised by the Occupy movement instead of going out of their way to criticize the less important nuances or spin new, seemingly pointless criticisms without all of the relevant information.

        • Jsunfun

          Because ultimately, it wasn’t “we” the Occupiers who kicked out homeless people, it was “we” the public who failed to listen to the very important messages that OWS was putting out there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405829218 Cybulski

        Hi Neville, wow, did I miss your comment here it is Jan 5th 2012, but, I’m glad I chaugt it as the web admin because it is fabulous how far we’ve come as the occupy movement and the hand signals are becoming part of every day conversation .especially when attending other organizations’ meetings they are picking up on it too! It does help group conversation very much especially when it’s done so good naturedly. Thanks for your post!

  • http://www.valleyandmountain.org John

    Dana, your experience with Occupy must have been different than mine. The Occupy Seattle community was very inclusive of people without homes who were not politically motivated to be there. I have rarely seen such inclusivity in a social movement. Also, we must have had different understandings of the point of Occupy. The primary thrusts from my perspective are to seek genuine democratic government in this country by revoking the ability of the very wealthy to control politicians and secondly to alter the public discourse on huge wealth differentials in such a way that would highlight the need for systemic change (that long-term poverty is the symptom of a sick system, not a reflection of individual failings). I admire my spiritual brothers and sisters who choose poverty, but poverty, like frugality, is a virtue only for those with the privilege of determining those decisions for themselves. Finally, the global stats on money can be misleading since basic needs have different costs in different countries. The purchasing power of $10,000 in the U.S. is vastly different than in the Philippines, for example. These kinds of statistics can do damage to movements trying to build choice and pathways out of poverty for those who do not want to be experiencing it. I hope my comments can contribute to the conversation. Respectfully, John Helmiere

  • Dana

    John, great point, and one I was trying to make about unification. The movement that occurred here in Boston was vastly different that what seems to have happened in Seattle, and my belief is it was different in each city leading to an overall disconnect which caused it to stall.

    The lack of one solid direction and point(or list of points) led many outside the movement to question what it really meant.

    As someone inside the movement you know what you want, but if each person wants something different, you lose your audience. The Occupy movement had a captive audience, one who began to rally around it. But as time went on and demands became more muddled people on the outside lost interest in trying to figure out what was actually happening.

    For example, I have a friend who is a pastor who was trying to understand what the movement was about somewhere around 6-8 weeks in. We had a discussion with several people who were actively participating and no one could articulate the overall objective.

    This is what I meant when I said that when everyone is a leader, ultimately no one is a leading. My belief is there need be a voice who can speak for the group to convey the overall objective to an outside audience that isn’t in tune with the movement but is willing to listen.

    I disagree with your comment on poverty being only for those who can make those decisions for themselves. I agree with(and understand) your premise, but didn’t Christ call us to it? To forsake possessions for the sake of others and Him?

    You are right about the different costs of goods in different countries. My point in laying out the finances was to point out the disparity between the United States and other countries. Occupy was largely a US movement and as such it should be noted that even our poor are richer than most of the world. We still sit in elite status(world-wise) when we make minimum wage. Overall we should do less complaining about what we don’t have and instead be thankful for all we do have.

    Great discussion!

    Grade and Peace, Dana

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405825401 Jacqueline

      Bill,I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you never saw Tea Party pterosters bound and dragged at their gatherings, despite the fact that they were armed and held signs referring to our president as a Nazi or indicating the Tree of Liberty might need to be refreshed. This is because nobody in the establishment found them to be a threat. In fact, they are an asset. It should be telling that when people gather for a true cause, the suppression of coverage, of information and of the ability to gather itself begins. Sadly, it is spun as an angry mob or a bunch of disenfranchised hippies trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. The same dismissive tone that brushes off the needs of the people for the sake of the needs of the almighty corporations, who we would be unable to live without.Thanks, as always, for reading, for responding, and for fighting the good fight.

  • http://parkslopeumc.org Herb Miller

    Dana, I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I have a mixed response.

    I was/am involved in the OWS movement in New York. When OWS was evicted from the park, my church opened its doors to house 30-35 Occupiers for two and half months. It was a very challenging yet extremely fruitful time together. I have to say that I was overwhelmed at the extent to which the group would go to make sure everyone was housed and fed. When we opened our doors, I assumed I would have to take care of a few logistical matters and touch base once in a while to offer hospitality. In reality, almost my entire ministry was turned over to housing the group. The challenge came from the group’s deep commitment to leaving no one behind. That meant that people with severe emotional and psychological challenges slept on the floor alongside those who functioned a bit better. Those who had been homeless for years shared space with those who left their second homes in Florida to join the movement.

    In the past, I’ve been the one nudging my congregations in the direction of drawing our circles bigger, taking greater risks and offering a wider welcome. In this circumstance i actually found myself in the odd position of suggesting that we needed to draw a few boundaries to keep the entire effort from collapsing in on itself. While a community can often stretch more than they think they can, it is possible to stretch so far as to become unsustainable. We wrestled with the tipping point. If anything people were far more willing to er on the side of a wide welcome.

    I do agree, however, with your point about leadership. My experience was that due to the commitment to be being a “leaderless movement” actually meant that there were behind the scene leaders with no accountability or transparency. Simple tasks, like cleaning all of the blankets, that should have taken a day at most, happened only once in almost 3 months. On the bigger screen, everyone seemed to want to squeeze their own pet project or interest under and umbrella so wide that nothing of consequence was accomplished. I believe the Benedictine sentiment of doing one thing and doing it well, would have served the movement better.

    All that being said, I still support the movement. I have not seen the issue poverty and disparity of wealth dealt with on this level in many years. While I will continue to work through the church, I feel like I’d be missing a real opportunity if I didn’t interact with those outside our walls when the time is so ripe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405837413 Judith

    Incredible ..I can’t just seat here everyday and just watch it I’ve lost my job, I’ve lost my condo beuscae I couldn’t afford the outrageous terms and conditions which only made the bank richer. I was lied to. I was mislead. But ever since I’ve educated myself and the money didn’t just evaporated into thin air. It got consolidated into the hands of the 1%. It was done by design. We got robbed, period. I’m buying a ticket to NY and I’m gonna join my sisters and brothers.

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