On Thursday, October 6th, John Mertz (priest-in-charge of the Greenpoint parish) went down to Zuccotti Park (Liberty Park) to see what was going on at the Occupy Wall Street protest site. John wanted to attend the second of two daily “General Assembly” meetings where organization is arrived at and announcements and decisions are made.
I was, frankly, quite impressed with what I say and experienced. Yes, of course, there are the fringe people, but for the most part these where normal young folks who for perhaps the first time where engaging in the democratic process. Being trained as a Social Studies teacher and seeing all the young people at the site, well, this whole affair is thrilling (just like the Tea Party phenomena is thrilling, but with a different perspective).
I was impressed with the organizers at the General Assembly. Their calm, reason, and organizational skills were apparent. I “spirit” of the whole thing was, in fact, respectful, even with a decided point of view expressed freely. They are very conscious of the neighbors (the babies that have to go to sleep), the businesses in the area, the sanitation issues, and of their relationship with the police (they are civil servants who are part of the 99%… they are not the enemy). These people know what they are doing.
Yet, there are those who are provocateurs. There are anarchists. There are the glommers-on who have no real interest in the cause (as undefined as it is), but only want to stir up trouble. These people are present, and they are ready. The struggle will be for the organizers how to mitigate these people so that they do not spoil the whole enterprise.
John and I both wore clericals. I was surprised at the expression of desire among many people that the clergy get involved and that the Church (whatever church) make a statement. This is a nod to whatever residual authority the Church may still hold within the younger demographic of American society. Gen Y is so very different than the Baby-Boomers, yet they can at times look very similiar. This is a problem for the Baby Boomers – they see Gen Y and think that they are like themselves. This is clearly seen who Baby-Boomer commentators write or speak about how this protest is like the 1960’s or the aging hippies in Zuccotti Park.
Here is the thing: As a Christian, I am compelled to regard both sides as having the need to redemption and in the need of reconciliation. Neither side is all evil or all virtuous!
No social, political, or economic systems will achieve what most people are seeking. All the “systems” are temporal and fallible – they look great on paper but don’t work in real life. All systems presume something about the human creature that is invalid. From the start, then, the systems that look great on paper do not work when the rubber-hits-the-road.
So, what I will say will not please anyone, frankly. Capitalism and Socialism are neutral systems – both can work or not depending on the people who lead and the people who inhabit the system. As a Christian, I focus on the people and not so much the system (even though I have my own opinions on what system seems to work best based on data as much as possible).
The Church needs to understand that we don’t simply jump on a bandwagon… we offer an alternative that begins with Jesus Christ. That, frankly, is the problem within a society that is increasingly post-Christian and demands that everything be considered and treated equally without critical evaluation and where any opinion anyone holds must be esteemed as valid. It is also a problem for those in the Church – particularity the leadership – who are so insecure that they are afraid to proclaim anything that might bring about opposition or ridicule or condescension.