The National Catholic Review
Thomas J. Massaro
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Since September, the people occupying the park near Wall Street have spoken out boldly, albeit somewhat cryptically, about economic justice. The protests spread around the country. My home state of Massachusetts alone now sports 10 Occupy sites, from Dewey Square in Boston’s financial district to encampments on town commons throughout the Commonwealth. Not even an unusually early and heavy New England snowfall deterred the motley crews of protestors.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted fervent admirers as well as fierce detractors. The sparse and fuzzy collection of grievances advanced by the protesters has been subject to criticism, ridicule and demands for clarification: What precisely do you mean to say about the abuses perpetrated by the privileged 1 percent? Why don’t you stop wallowing in the supposed indignities of being trapped in the 99 percent and do some serious bootstrap-pulling? Some of the public commentary has been quite substantive, while much of it has shed more heat than light.

Before the coverage of the Occupy movement devolves into mere name-calling or comes to be dominated by speculation about the likelihood of violent confrontations with short-tempered police forces, I would like to express one sentiment that has seldom been directed at the protestors.

Thank you!

The object of my gratitude is certainly not the aesthetics of the movement. My few trips to observe (and to support, at least in a pastoral way) the protests downtown confronted me with quite an eyesore. Cheap, ramshackle tents are never pretty, not even the funky red “spirituality space” tent where I conducted a liturgy recently on a soggy and threadbare carpet. Nor am I particularly grateful for the specific content of the messages I spotted. As an academic, I have a constitutional bias against sound-bite analysis, much less any slogans that would fit on placards. This distaste has kept bumper stickers off any car I have ever driven.

My gratitude to the Occupy movement grows directly out of my identification with Catholic social teaching and its mission to scrutinize and publicize serious social justice concerns. Anybody committed to righting injustices and addressing inequities has plenty of reason to welcome these vigorous protests in our too often apathetic nation.

Admittedly, not all the claims of the protesters are accurate or could serve as a promising basis for public policy. But many of the things they say and the ideals they stand up for are just what we need to hear in these difficult economic times. In these years of high unemployment, blocked opportunity, crushing debt, anxieties about future economic security and deep doubts about recent economic policy, the United States desperately requires greater attention to the relationship between private gain and public benefits, and to principles like the common good and social responsibility. Anybody who thinks our nation can sustain much longer such vast disparities of income, sharp concentrations of wealth and cozy relationships between money and political power is simply not paying sufficiently close attention.

It would of course be unwise to exaggerate the congruence between Occupy Wall Street and Catholic teachings on economic justice. Catholic social thought displays a predilection for the harmonious and the irenic, qualities in short supply in the rhetoric heard at Occupy sites. But it is intriguing to note the overlap between the messages of the protesters and of church documents, particularly the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” (now marking its 25th anniversary) and the Vatican document on international financial reform, released on Oct. 24. Multi-chapter documents will always be more satisfying, but Occupiers display an eloquence of their own.

Say what you will about the protestors—as resentment-driven agitators or impractical dreamers—I for one am grateful to them for spurring our consciences, sparking a sense of urgency and offering a vision of alternative economic practices that promote the countercultural principle of “people over profits.” It might just be that Occupy Wall Street has made more headway as a catalyst for change in the United States in the last 10 weeks than Catholic social teaching has accomplished in the last 12 decades.

Thomas Massaro, S.J., teaches social ethics at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Comments

CHRYS FISHER | 11/28/2011 - 4:00pm
Ahem...

If you will listen to neither our bishops nor our pope nor the cries of the poor...

If you justify hoarding and greed rather than looking objectively at the demands a society makes of you in the name of justice...

If you claim for yourself exclusively the harvest that you reaped with God's gifts to you rather than offering to Him the first portion as you should...

If you then insist upon harvesting that field a second time, via interest and dividends and capital gains, rather than using that bounty to help your brethren....

If you insist upon committing public calumny, detraction, and rash judgment against those whose politics differs from you...

If you eschew both prudence and tolerance in embracing a love of your own ideas to justify societal sins, trusting the market more than your Maker....

Sorry, I can't help you. 

But I do wonder how you sleep at night, and pray that the Holy Spirit might open your eyes to what you are saying and doing before Our Lord judges you by the same standard that you are judging them.
6466379 | 11/23/2011 - 9:01am

Sure, it’s fine for OCCUPY to occupy itself with the pursuit of justice for justice sake, but it must do so justly! Destroying public, or private property, animal-like defecating on cars, interfering with those on the way to work, terrorizing children and resisting arrest when a law is broken, does not promote justice. Indeed it adds to the burden of injustice! And if they happen to suffer from the "leech syndrome" draining entitlements while  not lifting a hand to work for a livng, that must change. St. Paul did say, "If a man will not work, neither should he eat!" 


At the same time, the 1%ers like Zachaeus of Gospel fame who climed a tree to better see and hear the truth as Jesus passed by, need to willingly do what Zachaeus did, dig deep into personal resources to help struggling 99%ers! Many already do this and they should be acclaimed. But there is always room for a little more “digging” recalling the words of Jesus, “From those who have much, more will be expected!.”

Thanks, Fr. Massaro!

Eileen Gould | 11/23/2011 - 8:48am
Perhaps the Occupiers are not elucidating the reasons for their protests; but they are rendering a favor to all the 99% "others", expressing the pain of the underdog in our country by publicly protesting in very uncomfortable situations most of us would abhor.   It is the duty of all social justice educators and the clergy to take up their cause and spell it out.   Thank you, Father Massaro.  You say this more eloquently that I do.   Will others please stand up.    Eileen
Thomas Petersik | 11/21/2011 - 10:59am
I appreciate Father Massaro's views, especially highlighting the importance of being actively involved in social justice and also recognizing the ambiguity of proposals.  It is one thing to be grateful for recognizing challenges and quite another to endure the hard work of meeting them.  Rather than singling out "Wall Street" or "corporate greed," I much prefer Pogo's analysis, "I have seen the enemy and he is us."
C Walter Mattingly | 11/19/2011 - 10:56am
Although incomplete, I would agree with Fr Massaro's debt of gratitude for those who have brought a sense of urgent dissatisfaction for the difficulties that afflict our nation. Somehow, however, he missed giving thanks to those who initially provided a sense on the subject, who served as inspiration and model for the current Occupiers, the Tea Party movement. And they share more in common than you might expect. When the Occupiers, the Tea Party, and even Steve Forbes critique the House and Senate for inaction, the wide spectrum may indicate they are on to something.  Less well known and perhaps more surprising, all three of them share a deep dissatisfaction with President Obama. No surprise for the last two mentioned above, but a poll by Fordham of the most visible group, Occupy New York, indicated that although 60% had voted for President Obama in the last election, 73% now disapprove of him. Assuming that most, but not all, of the remaining 27% approve of the president's performance, then it follows that President Obama's approval rating with this group is about on par with the final approval rating of President Bush right after the finanacial crisis (22%). Why?

Maybe it was the combination of President Obama's proven insincerity in his original Reformer posture, when he reneged on his commitment to not accept the private funds and "buy" the election, only to swith as soon as he saw he, not his opponent, had that opportunity, or his failure to live up to his commitment to put the health care debate on CSPAN and not, as he finally did, ram it through from behind closed doors; perhaps it was his painstakingly crafted bipartisan committee's proposal to come up with a deficit reduction plan that might actually work, then, when the difficult task of supporting it with extremes Schumer and DeMint opposing it, he ducked out, leaving Durbin and Coburn and many in the middle without support and the nation without a viable plan.  Perhaps it was his class warfare ploy against the demonized 1%, or maybe his finger wagging against corporate power with one hand, while behind his back raking in their cash with the palm of his other hand. Or maybe it was his current delay of the Keystone Pipeline project to immediately after the election, votes trumping the good of the nation, that did it. Most likely, some combination of the above.

If Occupiers wish to bring their ideas to fruition, perhaps they could support a third party. more principled candidate, whose integrity to his word they could rely upon, perhaps someone such as Kucinich, or even Nadar or Van Jones, all articulate, consistent, and coherent spokespersons of the American left.   
Mike Evans | 11/19/2011 - 1:09am
What they are doing is calling attention to the vast and widespread injustices easily apparent in our nation. That alone is a public service to which we should be greatful. Now they are being harrassed because we cannot abide the sight of youthful exuberance straining for attention. The young folk have the energy and enthusiasm for this protest work, we older folk need to praise and support them.
Edward Ray | 11/18/2011 - 8:14pm

Are you grateful to the Tea-Party protestors are well? They also advocated change, and put their enrgy behind electing people to political office that would further that change.

What to these OWS folks do? From a San Francisco Chronicle Article:

"They paused to scream at the walls of a Citibank branch."

Acting like 2-year-olds throwing a tantrum is not a method that inspires change.
ed gleason | 11/18/2011 - 5:20pm
Critics of OWS ask for specifics. How about a stock, bond, currency position transfer tax. half penny per dollar on their micro second trades..  We all pay sales tax 9c on the dollar on everything except store bought food  No tax  buying stocks bonds and currency positions. The 1% don't want tax and want a free ride. The transfer tax could be  embedded in all brokerage house computers like all sales tax is embedded in every cash register the 99% use.
Brings in 2,5 trillion in a decade to fix the deficit. Europe is going to do it why not us?
let's hear from the tax whiners... 

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