Even while Occupy Wall Street and the worldwide movement it has helped ignite captured the public’s attention this fall, some observers claimed not to understand what the protests were all about. They wanted a clear list of demands, or a detailed plan for fixing what ails our economy and our society in general.
Many of the attacks on the Occupy protests seemed a bit disingenuous. After all, it’s pretty much impossible to deny the destructive role played by an under-regulated financial sector—that would be the “Wall Street” that’s being occupied—in sparking the Great Recession. But the transgressions of Wall Street itself are really only the tip of the filthy-lucre iceberg, as the gap between the super-wealthy and the rest has grown to titanic proportions. The statistics, which should serve as icons for our reflection and enlightenment—they’re that crucial—tell a heartbreaking story. What does it mean when the country’s top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent? It means that many, many people are suffering, while (and because) a very few thrive.
In his open letter to the Occupiers, Jim Wallis encourages the protesters to deepen their understanding of, and their commitment to, nonviolence, and he points to the fundamental importance of spiritual resources for such a movement. And in our CultureWatch section, Robert Hirschfield visits the New York demonstrations and sees connections with nonviolent efforts across the globe, particularly the Arab Spring actions in the Middle East. Hirschfield reports that those gathered understand that their actions are intricately connected with efforts to end the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with other anti-corruption and anti-poverty efforts at home and abroad. And that work—such as the efforts for affordable housing outlined by Jill Shook in our lead feature—are indeed part of the same phenomena, a movement for justice that faith-based people have engaged in for thousands of years. We’ve known it as “occupying” the Kingdom of God.