Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Goes Worldwide: Reflections

How far has the Occupy Wall Street movement now spread?  Everywhere.  

David Harris-Gershon presents a wonderful collection of images from the OWS protests worldwide at Daily Kos yesterday.

People keep asking where's the music of this new movement.  I'm interested to read in several news account that the protesters who were forced out of Washington Square in New York yesterday sang Woody Guthrie songs as they were ordered out of the park.  This links the current movement of worldwide social protest to similar movements of the past--in the American context, to the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protest movements, in particular.

But it links OWS as well to those deeper memories of the hard, bloody struggle through which workers had to go in the first part of the 20th century to organize and claim their human rights in the face of fierce opposition from powerful, wealthy elites.  Singing Guthrie connects OWS, too, to the painful memory of the tragic diasporas the Depression created for people who had no choice, during those years of penury and no work, except to pull up stakes and try to find some way, any way, to sustain existence someplace other than home--as Guthrie's own family had to do during the Dust Bowl.

Above all, the retrieval of Woody Guthrie for this movement of social protest provides a powerful reminder of a transformative current of thought that never quite exits the American psyche, even during the bleakest periods of social inequality in which a tiny minority of citizens control the vast majority of the nation's wealth: this is the assertion, rooted in biblical themes and enshrined in American democratic theory by Jefferson, that this land belongs to all of us.

The earth was made to sustain all of us, not simply the chosen few.  It has resources in abundance for all of us, if those resources are made available to all. 

And as I think about that, it's interesting to read that, when London police tried to disperse the protesters who have camped in front of St. Paul's, the  canon chancellor of the cathedral, Giles Fraser, defended their right to be there.  It's hard to argue with the bible, especially when we pay attention to what the Judaeo-Christian scriptures are really all about, in their core affirmations: love, justice, and mercy.

Love, justice, and mercy for all, regardless of people's ability to pay.  It's always heartening to hear people of faith, and especially faith leaders, rediscovering and reasserting those powerful, simple themes of the Judaeo-Christian bible, as I take it Rev. Dr. Fraser is doing with his defense of the occupation of his cathedral by protesters.

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