Tonight, after the “Pro-Queer Life” Conference at Union Theological Seminary, I have spent the evening in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, participating in the Occupy Wall Street protest that is showing surprising staying power (since 17 September), and gaining increasing media coverage, especially after some 400 arrests today. The protest coordinators have a website here. A video of Prof. Cornel West speaking to the protestors recently is here.

Tonight, there were a few hundred people gathered to listen to an update on the day’s march and arrests, to hear from protestors from New York City and around the country, and to inspire those gathered with reminders about the purpose of the protest. What is that purpose? It seems to be a loosely focused but deeply felt sense of frustration at the way the U.S. economy is not serving human beings but instead corporations and Wall Street.

The protestors seem drawn from different ethnic-racial identifications, ages, and walks of life, though a significant number seem to be college students. Some of the speeches (of 3-5 minutes each) tonight were anticapitalist, some were more moderately reformist toward the economy, some were motivated by antiwar commitments, some were advocates for Native Americans, some were labor organizers, some were speaking up for teenagers and their concerns, but what they all shared, from what I could tell, was a commitment to a criticism of capitalist greed.

Critics will no doubt condemn this protest as unfocused, thematically and strategically. But what has been so interesting over the past couple of weeks is the way that Occupy Wall Street is making itself such a symbolic movement of dissatisfaction with what theologian Harvey Cox has called “the market as God.” People are chanting, marching, placarding, camping out, leafleting, and standing as witnesses for a different economy, one that serves the flourishing of all, especially those “losers” in the global economy, instead of exploiting and furthering the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Part carnival, part consciousness-raising, I like it that there seems to be fairly wide latitude for people to find their way into the economic focus from many different political (and I would presume religious) commitments. (No doubt some are serving as chaplains or spiritual advisors, formally or informally, for this movement, and if so, I would be interested to hear from you.) 

If you're in the New York City area and sympathetic to these goals, please consider adding your body and voice to the protest. Whether or not this action is immediately politically effective, such protests can have long-term spiritual and political effects, when they embody visions of a possible future that influence the larger social imagination, and when they sculpt the desires of the protestors themselves for the better. In these ways, resistance can become symbolic action, protests become like religious ritual -- and in those ways, even more important. 

UPDATE: The New York Times reports the number arrested yesterday is about 700.

 

Comments

Beth Cioffoletti | 10/3/2011 - 7:14pm
Major changes in the system, throughout history, have been brought about by people taking to the streets.  In this country, our nation started with common people taking to the streets.  Civil rights, women's rights happened because people took to the streets and demanded change.

Rebellion is very much a pattern in US history, from Bacon's and Shay's Rebellions, the Anti-Rent Movement and Dorr's Rebellion, the Flour Riot of 1837 to the United Farm Workers, Food Not Bombs, the LGBT social movements.

It seems to be an ongoing struggle.  "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Jamie Patrick | 10/7/2011 - 12:30pm
I disagree that the protest is purely against capitalism.

The political views of the protest are quite diverse, ranging from radical conseratism to  Michael Moore's socialism. As Michael Moore even said, the views are diverse. The common theme is against wall's street's greed and their influence over the Whitehouse.

As one comment above stated, one of the sponsors, ANONYMOUS is a hacker group wit libertarian views. 

In my opinion, the root problem is the corruption on wall street and in teh White House. Obama for example was funded the most by Wall street. http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00009638

The Republican/Democratic divide is a false dichotomy. Politicians will serve the interests to whomever funds them the most. Historically, wall street tends to side with the Democrats.

 
Stanley Kopacz | 10/3/2011 - 12:31pm
Neoliberals have gotten everything they wanted over the last thirty years.  If their theories are correct, we should be awash in jobs and prosperity.  Empirically, I'd say we are not and we have a crashed economy to boot, except for the 1%.  The snotty NYT and the rest of the corporate media can cherry pick their examples from the occupywallstreet demonstration, but they are not even all socialists or anarchists.  They may be a nucleation site for something much larger.  There's a lot of frustration energy out there, and this may set it aboil.

The European economies may be in trouble less from their social programs and more from their buying into Wall Street phony baloney shenanigans like CDO's.  Personally, I have never invested in Wall Street for the same reason I don't patronize casinos.  Wall Street always seemed like an especially slimey casino appealing to the lowest instincts. 

And whatever is that guy talking about?  Apple a monopoly?  I'm writing this on a Motorola Xoom. 
Tom Maher | 10/3/2011 - 11:54am
TV video of the Wall Street anti-capitalist protest shows numerous signs and handouts advocating socialism as well as simpistic sentimental slogans like the classic "people over profits" as if there is something inherently evil about making a necessary surplus (profit)needed from  one's efforts and  enterprise. On-going economic function requires that there be surplus or profit to be able to have funds for tommarrow's cost of providing economic goods and services and accces to capital for long term fiancing like expanding a business and employing more people for future demand.

One of the major problem with the United States economy is growing less than 2 percent per year which is not enough to employ most young people.  This is a real seerious problem that is not cured by government directed "investments" and work creation programs such as the 2009 dederal stimulus program which provided no new jobs or grqoth in the economy.   The "civilized" countries of western Europe such as Greece, Spain , Portugal, Ireland and Italy which do have very large pulbic sector that dispensese middle-class welfare consistantly expereince very high unemployment of young people.  The large public sectors deminishes the private sector growth and therefore employment.  Many young people all over Europe even in well managed and robust economies of northern Europe do not get their first job until their late twenties or later.  The elaborate government l programs of Europe severly impacts youth employment and thereby negatively impact the the future of these scoieties.  No wonder the populations of most European countries are declining sharply.  Few young people can afford to get married and settled until they are in their late thirties or later. Spain now has a whopping 40 percent youth unemployment yet hugh middle class welfare systems.  Spain mixied economic has way too much public sector whicit finances by levels of debt almost as big as its economy.  Spain is one of the five couuntries in danger of defaulting on its hugh debt as is Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and others.  

People are still pushing the tired old 1930s and 1960s wide-open government social spending and government control of the economy. But these  economies are not growing or are shrinking such that their governnment welfare programs will not be  sustainable. These  European nations are financing themselves by heavy indebtedness.  The European crisis is very real and thrreatens to bring down the European and even the world economy.   This is just more evidence of failing ways of socialism - too much of a nations economy under goevernment control and direction.   Socialism does not provide the needed economic growth to sustain an economy in the long run and also  burden a nation with heavy debt burdens as big as the size of the entire economy.

What is needed is to allow the private sector to grow and create jobs and pay the taxes needed to sustainable social programs in the long run.   But having permanent private sectors jobs for most young people in their twenties is an imperative that socialism has never been able to provide anywhere. 

Don't look to socialism for economic solutions when socialism has failed everywhere in the world.  Fix and enable capitalism to grow the economy and create new jobs needed by a new generation to sustain society by providng critically needed full employment.
Joshua DeCuir | 10/3/2011 - 10:09am
I'm sure this is just corporate bias from the NY Times, but it's account of the protest is rather humorous.  The end:


"The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like “Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today”?
One day, a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Adam Sarzen, a decade or so older than many of the protesters, came to Zuccotti Park seemingly just to shake his head. “Look at these kids, sitting here with their Apple computers,” he said. “Apple, one of the biggest monopolies in the world. It trades at $400 a share. Do they even know that?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/nyregion/protesters-are-gunning-for-wall-street-with-faulty-aim.html?_r=1

Then I read an account of the group's more famous supporters, which includes, among others, the rapist and "9/11 truther" Lupe Fiasco.  Just so we understand, she believes that the Bush administration conspired to kill thousands of its own citizens in the 9/11 "attacks" as a means of instigating a war with Iraq.  So my humor turned to anger and sorrow.

I've seen these protests frequently in New Orleans; they chained themselves to the projects to keep them open in protest of the City's plan to build mixed income developments.  Of course, the middle class white kids and aging hippies didn't bother to ask the residents of the Projects who were clamoring for a better life.  Fortunately those protests failed.  There is no moral basis or coherence to these "street theatre" protests, as the reports make clear.
Vince Killoran | 10/3/2011 - 8:16am
It's not a "mob"-that's a loaded term meant to marginalize these protestors (there would be yelps of protests if someone labeled the Tea Party as a "mob").


That's fine Brett but in #8 you don't make that distinction.  It's a diverse group (I know some Catholic Workers who are part of the protests).


I'm heartened by what's going on in NYC and elsewhere.  Something is happening. . .
Vince Killoran | 10/3/2011 - 2:28am
Brett's characterization of the protests as "destruction and nihilism" is inaccurate. Please see http://nycga.cc/2011/09/24/principles-of-solidarity-working-draft/ for a sense of objectives with calls for participatory democracry and individual and collective responsibility for building a better society.
Vince Killoran | 10/2/2011 - 6:14pm
Tom asks, "Do the protester have any inherent intellectual basis for their protest of capitalism?" and the answer is "Yes!"

As I read their website and talk to people involved in protesting globalization I find them quite articulate in their analysis of neo-liberalism.  Their political and ideological beliefs range from social anarchism to the democratic socialism popular in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. I see a strong strain of old-fashioned American republicanism in which they are protesting that fact that extreme inequality and oligarchy is preventing the practice of participatory citizenship.

Just as Tea Party adherents demanded to be heard so too do these protesters, and they're doing it without the sponsorship of Big Media! 
Stanley Kopacz | 10/2/2011 - 5:19pm
Most civilized countries seem to be a hybrid of socialism and capitalism, even our own.  I think we're talking about democracy versus oligarchy/plutocracy here.  And a return to regulation and oversight would be nice.  And a little consumer protection in the credit department, please.
Tom Maher | 10/2/2011 - 4:29pm
Twenty years ago the mighty Soviet Union (Union of the Soviet Sociatlist Republics or U.S.S.R.) collapsed.  Most amazingly after more than seventy years of total government control of the economy this ultimate anti-capitalist state with the total agreement of all  citizens and leaders abandoned it socialist and communistic system in favor of capitialism.  The massive anti-capitalistic experiment had failed massively.  Socialism does not work. 

One has to wonder what kind of solid intellectual basis do these anti-captialist protesters on Wall Street have to indict capitalism?  Capitalism has been extremely beneficial force in the United States.  All other countires in the world with the exception of Cuba and North Korea after the collapse of the Soviet Union have turned away from socialism and have embraced captialism.  Cuba and North Korea are economic ruin and are chronically not even able to feed their own citizens. But former socialist countries such as as China, India, Russia, and scores of others  have conspicuously benefited enormously by deliberately turning to capitalism.

Do the protester have any inherent intellectual basis for their protest of capitalism?  Given the recent world history of anti-capitalism do the protesters have any real alternative economic system that works on a worldwide scale as capitalism does? 
Beth Cioffoletti | 10/2/2011 - 9:30am
Lower Manhattan might seem like an alternative universe to middle age Americans in the middle of American, but so did Haight-Ashbury during the 60s.

When young people take to the streeets about a matter that directly affects their immediate lives and futures, whether it be the Vietnam War or the capitalist greed, I think the power that they wield is significant. 

I am encouraged.
Brandt Hardin | 10/2/2011 - 1:41am
Every time you lock up a peaceful protester, you exemplify the police state we live in.  Hold strong in your Occupations popping up ALL OVER the WORLD now!  The movement is viral and Anonymous has sounded it's cannon.  See my painting for the cause and a slew of videos of #OccupyWallStreet at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/occupywallstreet.html Drop by, get informed, collaborate through solidarity! Hold Corporate America accountable for their corruption of the government and endangering our Middle Class.