A protester wears a dollar bill over his mouth at the start of a march by demonstrators opposed to corporate profits on Wall Street on September 30, 2011 New York City. Over one thousand activists affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement marched to protest police brutality while clogging traffic in Lower Manhattan.
Why, I want to know, are so many of us persons of conscience and faith so quiet?
Yes, that does sound young. And inexperienced. And gratuitously counter-culture. But to me, at least, it sounds like the beginnings of just what’s needed in our country.
Reporter Gina Bellafante described Occupy Wall Street in The New York Times as “a noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people…; a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater…” (Italics mine.)
The italics are mine.
When I read her phrase “not easily extinguishable by street theater…,” I wanted to remind Ms. Bellafante that that’s what they (you know, them, the Establishment) once said about the Vietnam War. As a veteran of that protest movement, I’m here to say that when all else appears to be in thrall to the all-mighty dollar, street theater can actually be a pretty effective extinguisher of wars and other “nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism.”
“Zain”, a Wall Street protester from upstate New York, holds up a sign on September 30, 2011 in New York City. “I came down because of the state of the economy, society and the system. The rich stomp on the poor, I feel we are at a tipping point,” said Zain.
Ms. Bellafante goes on to point out that the “group was clamoring for nothing in particular to happen right away – not the implementation of the Buffett rule or the increased regulation of the financial industry…” Occupy Wall Street, as a movement, she wants us to understand, operates in rather an “intellectual vacuum.”
Well, so what? Protestors aren’t supposed to be wonks; they are supposed to be the morality of wonks. I wasn’t an expert on America’s Southeast Asia policy in 1966, but I still knew in my gut – through my conscience, my connection with God – that it was wrong.
Then as now, those in power in America were more interested in maintaining that power than in the welfare of humanity.
Then as (so far) not now, we acted on our consciences. We didn’t mind being thought foolish, being vilified even; we knew we didn’t understand all the intricacies of foreign policy, but we also knew our government was acting in ways that were reprehensible and that someone had to call them on it publically. We asked ourselves, if not us hippy-dippy, anti-war peaceniks, then who?
We were not very dignified, but we did speak clearly enough to get our point across.
Once again, America is off the rails. The Tea Party shouts, politicians shout; we persons of faith and conscience turn away and stand mute. We let our confusion, our innate good manners, our fatigue keep strong hold of our tongues.
To me, it’s very simple. If we persons of faith and conscience don’t stand up against the greed, corruption and dysfunction that is currently driving America, then who will? If we’re not charged with being this country’s collective conscience, then who is?
Street theater, anyone?
Martha’s note: This essay is a feature of Faith Unboxed, an ongoing, civil, respectful conversation about faith I invite you to participate by sharing your own ideas and experiences (either here or on the website), rather than by denigrating the ideas and experiences of others.