By Wendy Cooper
Divinity School student Wendy Cooper writes from outside the Capitol Building in Madison, WI.
Walking through the dense crowd of protesters inside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin on day 3 of what is now being called the “Cheddar Revolution,” I was struck by the identification of the crowd with the people of Egypt, despite the stark differences between their circumstances.
The demonstrators in Madison, WI don’t look much like the demonstrators in Egypt. They come from the heart of conventional middle class America gathered by the thousands, with a strong sense of elementary school classroom etiquette at work. After all, public school teachers were a major group present. When quiet was needed among the thousands of protesters, fingers went up in the air – and magically the classroom technique of bringing quiet worked throughout the vast rotunda of Capitol building.
But what has reminded me, as a Protestant religious leader, of Tahrir Square is the looks on the people’s faces. People here are extremely determined and somewhat awestruck as well by their numbers and their determination. There is the same sense of revelation among the protesters. While comparisons between Governor Scott Walker and Hosni Mubarak were humorous, the mood among protesters was deadly serious. And the connection with the Egyptian people went deeper than simply sharing the act of protest.
For many people around the world it might be hard to imagine the American middle class needing revolution or liberation. Yet, a veil has been pulled back from before the eyes of many middle class Americans in Madison, who suddenly seem to understand their vulnerability in a new way.
The American middle class reminds me of the figure of the tax collector in the Gospels. They are often despised by people living in poverty below them because the tax collectors are enriched by their impoverishment. But they are not the system, they are not Rome. They are small cogs in a vast system of wealth and power of which they can claim little. And Jesus welcomes them to the liberation of discipleship.
Revolution is not a term commonly found in the middle class lexicon. But the “Cheddar Revolution” will live up to its name if the revelation takes hold that the middle class is closer in significant ways to the people of Egypt who took to the street than to the “Romans” in our midst whose wealth and power we are only beginning to fully understand.
Wendy Cooper is a student in the Masters of Divinity program at Chicago Theological Seminary. She is a member of the United Church of Christ and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.