‘Occupy Wall Street,’ save the world?

Mario Tama GETTY IMAGES A protester wears a dollar bill over his mouth at the start of a march by … Continued

Mario Tama


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?

Last Sunday, I took a web trip to occupywallst.org, where I was greeted with the news that “the resistance continues at Liberty Square, with free pizza ;)”

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.”

Spencer Platt


“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.

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  • badboymoviestar

    Guy Fawkes will always stand, and represent the ‘everyman’ in all of us.
    Members of Anonymous have been systematically hunted down, and arrested in several different countries since their attacks on corporate websites.
    Officials have been able to track down and arrest these ‘hacktivists’ for allegedly committing crimes, but we haven’t been able to prosecute ONE banker for driving the economy off a cliff?

    Long live Guy Fawkes!!!

  • JimC45

    Careful, there. “We persons of faith and conscience”? It is false to imply, however gently, that these two things go together. Certainly, there are people of faith who also exhibit the qualities of conscience, self-awareness and the awareness of our obligation to treat one another as we would be treated. But there are plenty of “religiosos” who do not exhibit this quality. Likewise, there are plenty who see religion as a childish unwillingness to let go of comfortable fairy tales, who are themselves highly evolved in their practice of the Golden Rule.

    Please, nice article, but be more careful about conjoining those terms as though they were two sides of the same personality trait.

  • Martha7

    This seems to be my Sunday to converse — Jim, thanks for the comment.

    The whole bent of my writing at Faith Unboxed — is to separate faith (my working partnership with God, the great Whatever) from religion, with which I’ve never felt comfortable.

    I describe myself as a person of faith who is not religious. To me, God IS my conscience, that still small voice that tells me the next right and kind thing to do.

    I would posit that you CANNOT be a person of faith and NOT follow the demands of your conscience.

    Make any sense?

  • badboymoviestar

    Jim, you exhibit the same behaviors as every other person claiming to act on behalf of faith. It’s one thing to talk with God, and walk with him, but it should be private.
    If you’d read a little closer, you’d see it’s a blog about religion AND politics. It’s not a mixture of the two.

    It’s sort of like mixing Wall Street, and LSD. It might work for a minute, but nothing good can come from it.

  • melbaker1

    I’m a big supporter of the Occupy Wall Street efforts. However as someone who was involved in the Anti-Nuke and Gay Civil Rights movement in a big way I have NO respect for Anonymous. You have no, zero, zip moral force when you hide behind a mask. You have none, negative ability to create sympathy and connection. The anarchist fringe on the left is deadly to our movement toward greater social equality. It evokes in police and the public the image of rioters and gangsters. You Anonymous do NOT speak for me. Please brothers and sisters Take the Masks Off and show your face in the light of day. It is the only way to change the world.

  • Observer001

    Although I am not a Christian I have long wondered at the silence of people of faith with regard to the plight of the poor and near poor in this country. It often seems like the voice of American Christianity is the voice of pure unadulterated capitalism, which is what has gotten into this mess to begin with. Free markets sure. Greed, political corruption and robber barons not so much.

  • adambair

    No there isn’t a single clear soundbite coming out of Zuccotti Park, but that is because the corrupting influence of overly concentrated money and power has made many many problems to address.

    If you would like a talking point to discuss, here is one of many:
    If Corporations are people, can we put them in prison when they break the law? Why not divide the prison for a crime among the shareholders of that corporation? If they can personally profit from the actions of the corporation, then so should they need to be personally accountable for the transgressions of that corporation.

  • dem4evr

    now this is a person of faith.

  • dem4evr

    compare Martha”s view to this and tell me who has a more christ-like view.
    In fact, if you keep your ears open, you can hear the praises of the rich ringing out almost everywhere. Evangelical Christianity, for example, once harbored an ancient biblical bias in favor of the poor, but now, at least in its high-profile megachurch manifestations, it has abandoned the book of Matthew for a “prosperity gospel” that counts wealth as a mark of God’s favor. (other editorial today)

  • JordanKevinKanter

    As a former finance profession­al and lawyer, I tell you YES, the system is predatory, rigged against the middle and working classes, and the time is now to collapse it.

    Wide-scale DEBTORS’ REVOLT — DEFAULT-EN­-MASSE is the answer, or at least part of it.

    I am helping lead this effort, and our momentum grows. Join us. Walk away from your debt ‘obligatio­ns’, and help speed up the desirable collapse of the predatory banking system. Rebuild from there, under fair rules – responsible capitalism that recognizes the need for a economically strong workforce and middle class.

    DEBTORS’ REVOLT – DEFAULT EN MASSE. The critical mass is closer than you think.

  • bryanread

    I’m glad that Hope and Change has worked out so well for everyone.

  • Spiritof761

    Christianity, as expressed in the prophetic Social Gospel movement, is all but dead within ecclesiastical bodies. In the critical choice between worshipping God or Mammon, most American businesses masquerading as religious bodies have clearly chosen the latter. Consequently The Spirit has left the pews and pulpits and decided to take to the streets. Time to revive the Social Gospel and liberate Christianity from its hijackers.

  • dnaden33

    Horray for the protesters!!! Please don’t give up. Our idiot politicians will do nothing on this front –it’s in your hands. Even Obama, nice guy that he is, can’t or won’t do anything. We are 100% behind you, take heart! You are so right it’s insane. Thank you for what you are doing–you actually give a s*t about this country, about the other 99% of us.

  • renfieldc

    WOW! Now there’s a few people showing some real audacity of hope.
    Washington DC’s obsequious, gutless and simple-minded politicians may finally awake to what may turn out to be the USA’s own people awakening from the Wall Street shenanigans.

  • sander1

    If these educated, spoiled children of privilege who are being funded by left wing anarchy groups so they don’t even have to attempt to get a job are the conscience of our country…God help us all.

  • cosmicwonderful

    All your premises are wrong, or at minimum, require citation. There is no left-wing equivalent of the Koch brothers surreptitiously funding the movement to advance their own goals. “Funded by left wing anarchy groups”? Are you kidding? Let me be thorough:
    1. “Left-wing.” The protesters probably lean left, but a plurality of them are wholly rejecting traditional characterizations of the political spectrum.
    2. “Left wing anarchy.” the left wing, and the protesters, generally want *more* government, not less. That’s the opposite of anarchy.
    3. “Anarchy groups.” Was the irony intentional? Anarchists generally eschew groups.
    4. “Funded by left wing anarchy groups.” Neither the left wing nor anarchists are known to have a lot of money, and they’re especially not known to funnel it efficiently to particular groups.
    5. “God help us all.” Agreed.

  • MotherLodeBeth

    The Tea Party started out as a grass roots, anti corruption, anti Wall Street bail outs, idea, and then former Texas Congressman Dick Armey with the help of the Koch brothers, and Wall Street types hijacked the idea.

    So the fact that Occupy wall Street doesnt have some leader and is actually grass roots, should be applauded!! And I cannot help but think if these Wall Street CEO’s who have wrecked havoc on our economy were corrupt Chinese CEO’s they would be in some town square facing a firing squad!