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Opinion: Is 'Occupy Wall Street' an opportunity for Christians?
By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 17th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Say what you will about Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Say that it's a communist movement, or that it's financed by the very same establishment it appears to criticize. Say that it's anti-American, anti-freedom, and anti-church. Say that it's filled with anarchists. Say that it's going to be short-lived. But regardless of what critics say, the movement should cause us to stop and think.
NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) - OWS may have some of the problem elements listed above. Without question, there are communists, sinister evildoers, ne'er-do-wells, anarchists, and anti-church elements within the movement. Every popular social movement must contend with these elements. However, OWS is a broad, popular social movement that is growing. Some may draw comparisons between OWS and the "Summer of Love" which inspired the flower power--hippie movement of the 60s. And they would be wrong about that too.
The movement is drawing support across social classes and across every age group. The face of the group appears to be young, and educated. It even involves some sincere Christians. While the cameras tend to focus on protesters dressed as zombies, or running the streets shirtless, and engaging in some of the antics that have become the staple of protests for decades, the majority of the protesters are educated, civil, and very intent. The question is, intent on what?
The protesters contend that the status quo is untenable. That, wealthy elites control the vast majority of the nation's wealth and resources through banks and other financial institutions which have routinely engaged in unscrupulous behavior to secure those riches. Throughout all history, there have been the unscrupulous wealthy who have taken advantage of people.
However, the problem isn't just 'the wealthy'. That very claim has an inherent danger hidden within it. Some Democrats are remaining silent on the matter of OWS, while others are using the movement to foster their own goals. Some Republicans are claiming it's a conspiracy made of misguided labor unions, Communists, socialists, anarchists, and anti-American, anti-freedom atheists. And this political melodrama is precisely what occupy Wall Street is protesting.
Despite the powerful political polarization that has gridlocked our government, and prevented meaningful social change (a movement sometimes known as the zeitgeist--a term roughly meaning the morality or spirit of the times) the OWS protestors claim that the political elites remain largely in the service of the wealthy.
Politicians, almost to a man (or woman), make their careers about getting reelected. To accomplish this, they need the support of the wealthy because political campaigns don't come cheap. When they pander to the wealthy, they can end up ignoring the needs of the middle class and poor who make up the vast majority of the American population.
Meanwhile, Americans often complain that they have no real choice in elections. All too often, we feel compelled to choose between the lesser of two evils. In other words, the people (meaning you) no longer have a voice in government, unless that voice happens to agree with some of the wealthy to whom the politicians on both sides of the aisle must swear their allegiance.
The people of OWS claim they want to see meaningful social change. Many want affordable health care, affordable education, and they don't want it to be subject to the vagaries of an unregulated market. To some, that may sound socialist, but it need not be. It's more populist than anything.
Not all Occupy Wall Street protesters are opposed to the free market. But they do believe that certain basic human necessities, such as education and healthcare, should not ruin people financially, or be the privilege of only a wealthy elite. The sad fact is, these two very basic (very human) necessities are becoming increasingly expensive, and out of reach for an increasing number of Americans.
Meanwhile, the American dream is becoming ever more elusive. Despite the fall in home prices, home ownership is becoming increasingly difficult. Unemployment remains high, preventing people from working -- something which is necessary not only for financial well-being, but for the good of the soul.
Many of the OWS participants believe that unregulated market forces have allowed banks and politicians working in collusion, to cheat middle America and the poor out of the American dream. Repeated attempts at the "reform" of one sector of industry or another, have too often simply exacerbated the problems. For example, bank reform has apparently only made the banks richer.
Health care reform, so far seems to mostly benefit the profiteers in the country where the average citizen pays more money for less healthcare than in any other industrialized nation in the world. The sense of outrage is growing with the new threats to Social Security, and pensions, and benefit packages of workers, while some of the ultra rich and the politicos live without any fear of cuts to their health care, or their wages. So, as a result, some feel we should not expect solutions from the same entities who created the problems in the first place.
Sympathetic protests are beginning to spread even to small towns in America's heartland. This is not something that has happened during any other time in recent American history. The protests may have been started by the young, but they are being joined by middle America. This is the most profound sign that the movement is larger than most observers realize.
It is important for us to understand that the movement is not going away, and it is not merely a fad. As the shape and identity of the movement develops, Christians have an amazing opportunity to weigh in and examine the populist ideals of the movement. Are there some which are consistent with Christian vision? Specifically, the dignity of the individual, equality of access to opportunity, and the viewing of people as a means for obtaining wealth rather than the viewing wealth as a means for helping people.
A great opportunity for change has arisen. If the movement focuses on authentic human and social ideals, while avoiding the seductive pitfalls of the very secularism that has created so many of our problems in the first place, then an opportunity may be at hand.
We have a solemn duty to pray, AND make ourselves heard.
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