The Occupy Wall Street movement is melting away as the American people turn away from its pointless drum circles and vague, endless demands and grievances. Even liberal big-city mayors have had enough of the adolescent behavior and entitlement mentality of the protesters, their patience running out as many of their own constituents, even those sympathetic with the occupiers’s political positions, turn on people who seem to think that they are the center of the moral universe because they shout all the right slogans.
That means it is the perfect time for a paean of praise from a mainline church social justice agency, in this case the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. In its latest newsletter, the GBCS gives us the deep thoughts of the Rev. Sandy Gass, who spent time in one of the biggest outdoor outhouses, Occupy Oakland:
A handmade sign caught my eye at the general strike march called by Occupy Oakland on Nov. 2. Held by a middle-aged “soccer mom,” the sign said: “Sorry for the Inconvenience: We Are Trying to Change the World.”
More than 10,000 demonstrators gathered that day to express their dissatisfaction with corporate power and stark income inequality in the United States. The hand-made signs are powerful personal expressions of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to change the world.
Well, they’d like to think so, but given that the United States is still a democratic republic, where shouting the loudest does little good, that’s doubtful. OWS approval ratings among the electorate are now even lower than those for the Tea Party (though, admittedly, they are still above those of Congress), and by an almost 3-1 margin Americans think big government a greater threat than big business, so it seems unlikely that the statist schemes of the Occupy movement are going to be changing much of anything soon.
We are witnessing no less than a “Revolution of Values:” income equality, paying your fair share, reclaiming public space, open exercise of democracy, regulating corporate greed, restricting corporate takeover of the political system, advocacy for the homeless and the unemployed, forgiveness of debts, open media, health care for all, an opportunity for all to participate in change where they are.
Let’s take a look at those “values” as the Occupy movement has presented them:
•Income equality: other than the Communist elements (and they are there), there actually has been little advocacy of “income equality.” There have been lots of attacks on “the rich,” which seemingly translates better into “rich people we don’t like.” Hence the warm reception that multi-millionaire move director Michael Moore gets from Occupiers, or the total silence regarding the role of George Soros in currency and commodity manipulation and the like, while the conservative Koch brothers are treated as the devil(s) incarnate.
•Paying your fair share: Can someone please tell me what this is? I’ve been waiting for months now for someone to ask the president if he would tell us what the “fair share” is that the 1% should pay. I’ll settle for Rev. Gass. “More” is not an answer. Why would repealing the Bush tax cuts (which would return the top tax rate to 39.4%) be “fair,” as opposed to, say, the mid-1980s rate (50%), or the rate for 1954 (91%) or 1939 (75%)? Why wouldn’t it be fair for all individuals to pay the same rate? Personally, I find all of the whining about other people (it’s always other people) paying their “fair share” to be an argument on the level of the four-year-old who demands another cookie after the three he’s already had because it’s his “fair share.”
•Reclaiming public space: this means, “people of the right political opinions getting to trash both the property rights of owners [Zuccotti Park, for example] or preventing others who are not similarly enlightened from using space that belongs to all citizens.
•Open exercise of democracy: this from people who regularly shout down any opinions they don’t like.
•Regulating corporate greed: so that various levels of government can feed the greed of public unions.
•Restricting corporate takeover of the political system: limiting free speech so that only rich liberals like the aforementioned George Soros can influence the system. By the way, I wonder if anyone connected with Occupy Wall Street has ever publicly chastised the president for on the one hand dressing down the Supreme Court for its decision in Citizens United, and on the other hand becoming the first presidential candidate since the introduction of public financing to spurn the public money and the limits that came with it in favor of raking in record amounts from Wall Street?
•Advocacy for the homeless and the unemployed: the homeless were routinely run out of Occupy tent cities because they were “stealing out stuff.” As for the unemployed, further bloating the government is hardly the answer to unemployment.
•Forgiveness of debts: more four-year-old whining. The debts that OWS wants forgiven are those of people who freely accepted them in return for either a good (housing) or a service (education). I can sympathize and then some with people who got caught in the housing bubble, because a lot of them were suckered into a market they couldn’t afford to be in by a federal government run by people who no more understand market economics than they understand string theory. As for student debt, their real gripe ought to be with the colleges and universities that provided them with worthless degrees in LGBT Studies and Political Science (my own major) that they weren’t able to turn into real jobs.
•Open media: by which they actually mean, “media that parrots our political line.”
•Health care for all: paid for by Santa’s elves.
•An opportunity for all to participate in change where they are: I have no idea what she means by this, especially since so many people traveled across state lines, in some instances across the country, to take part in an Occupy tent city.
Are these really the “values” that Christians should be identified with, at least in the embodiment they receive in the Occupy movement?
Before the Occupy Movement, there was little discussion of the outsized power of financial institutions and the diminishing fortunes of the middle class.
Apparently “Occupy Wall Street” is an anagram for “solipsism.” The notion that before people started camping out and banging drums incessantly no one was talking about financial regulation or the state of the middle class suggests that Rev. Gass lived in a cave before September, or that she’s illiterate, or–the most likely explanation–that she believes that until she and other like-minded say something, it has never been said.
We have created a big tent: The 99% are people of all ages, races, occupations, political affiliations and religious beliefs. We are learning to work together with respect to address the critical challenges of our time.
The 99% whom Rev. Gass and her fellow Occupiers so arrogantly claim to represent (40% of whom would claim to be political conservatives) include everyone making under $500,000 a year. Now, I recognize that the 99%-1% figures are simply slogans meant to stir up envy against “them,” but is OWS really claiming that people who make $475,000 a year are the oppressed middle class, while those making $525,000 are the plutocratic oppressors? My point is simply that this is just mindless economic Manichaeism, rather than meaningful discussion of public policy.
I know as a United Methodist minister that these are issues we have been dealing with for a long time in our churches. The situation has become even more dire, as our members have lost homes to foreclosure, lost jobs with little prospect for finding new work and no longer can financially support the church as they used to.
She’s right about this, of course–most Americans know someone in these dire straits, including members of my own congregation over the last couple of years. The issue isn’t whether some people are in a bad way, or even whether to support and help them through it, but how to deal with prudential issues of policy in a way that actually improves conditions within a fallen world. Utopianism of any kind, including the Christian version that believes we can bring in the Kingdom of God on our own initiative by tweaking legislation and tax rates, is completely unhelpful.
There’s more, but you get the point. Sad to say, I doubt very much that Rev. Gass (who says in conclusion that when she’s involved with Occupy Oakland, she hears Jesus, John Wesley, and Gandhi say, “I’ve got your back”) is likely to.