There has been a lot of anger levied at the very wealthy since the Occupy movement began back in September. There is no doubt that much of this anger is justified – righteous indignation, if you will.
The ways that people have become extremely wealthy have often been corrupt or immoral, whether or not they are technically "legal." Part of the reason that the Occupy movement sprang up was because people felt that there were different rules for "us and them." People who lost millions of dollars in what was effectively high-stakes gambling were pardoned with little more than a slap on the wrist, while regular families lost everything in a crisis they had no hand in.
As I say, there has been, and still is, much anger. But out of that anger must come something new, something tangible and real.
There have been harsh critiques from sections of the media and political system of the "Occupiers," that they have no specific demands — that they are simply protesting without offering an alternative.
How then do we, as members of the 99 percent, go about demanding something new and tangible? As Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis said in a recent interview, “don’t be afraid to get practical and specific about how we can and must do things better than we have in recent years.”
One way of harnessing this energy and bringing about real change in policy has been offered by Interfaith Worker Justice last week, in their “Open Letter to the One Percent." In the letter, the board members of IWJ (made up, as you can imagine, of an eclectic mix of people from different faith and social backgrounds and political persuasions) urge the ‘One Percent’ to
- Support tax policies and legislation that require more from you so our nation can create good jobs in America; and
- Call for an extension of unemployment benefits for those unable to find work.
IWJ’s call to the ‘One Percent’, which no doubt includes our politicians as well as our business leaders, is a cry for greater justice, but a justice that can be realized in very practical ways – through reform of the laws that govern all of us, and through protection of those for whom life is the most difficult.
What is so significant about these particular demands are that they urge the ‘One Percent’ to view themselves as a part of the 100 percent, to work for the benefit of the common good, which will, in turn, benefit them (although perhaps in different ways to which they are currently used to). This is not a case of "you did this, so we want this," but rather a call to recognize that at this most polarizing of moments, we all have a responsibility to each other.
Dr. Edith Rasell, Vice President of IWJ’s Board of Directors, believes that this is what the One Percent need to hear right now. “They need to look into the eyes of the 99 Percent and see the face of God and recognize their responsibility to each other. We need to call folks to their right, just vocation as common members of society.”
The letter, which was released in the same week that IWJ held two concurrent prayer vigils – one in Washington, D.C. for the 99 percent and an online vigil for the One Percent - is another reminder that people of faith, whether they find themselves in the One or 99 Percent, should be on the side of the poor and vulnerable in society. Speaking of her own faith, Dr. Rasell is clear in her belief that “the church is obligated to speak into these issues, for the sake of the marginalized and the one percent.”
With further resources being developed by IWJ to help people of faith grapple with the issues raised by the economic crisis and the Occupy movement, this letter is not a short-term or isolated occurrence. Interestingly, among the resources are guides specifically tailored to members of the One Percent who are grappling with what the Occupy movement means for them.
There is a real desire in the work that IWJ are doing for deep and meaningful dialogue between all of us, the 100 percent I hope everyone is willing to listen and learn.
Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.