Fear, Blame & Solidarity: What Does Democracy Look Like?

#OccupyWallStreet is a serious movement. I spent some time among the people at Zuccotti Park recently, and it is truly an inspiring thing to witness and be a part of. There is a great amount of organization, mostly to ensure that the people choosing to live there are taken care of and that their safety is ensured. What some people have deemed a lack of cohesion or clarity of purpose, I see as an example of what real community looks like. There have been a lot of voices making fun of the occupation and the protesters, but after three weeks and hundreds of other #Occupy movements have sprung up across the country, the movement is now beginning to be taken more seriously.

Fear and blame dominate public discourse these days. There is more finger pointing and name-calling coming from the mouths of our nation’s leaders that could rival any middle school playground. Beyond being frustrated and angry, I’ve been disappointed at the level to which we seem so comfortable accepting blame as a credible strategy of civil discourse and the democratic process. What good is blame, really? Calling attention to a problem is one thing, but remaining in a state of blaming and accusations only leads to defensive measures to the point that we find ourselves in a complete stalemate.

Unable to then get anything done, millions of people are left to suffer while those in positions of power stand arms-crossed with their brows furrowed and whine about one another’s inaction. This is democracy? No.

And in response the people are doing something. They are not just a group of privileged white kids living off of their parent’s money, hanging out in a public park complaining about the system instead of getting a job. Zuccotti Park is filled with people from all walks of life – youth, elders, children, parents, black, brown, white, homeless, employed, queer, straight, veterans, union members (and the list could go on, I promise you) – brought together by the shared situation of a dismantled middle class, and the decision to say in righteous frustration: ‘No! This is not democracy, and we will no longer let governance be driven only by those with extreme wealth. We are what democracy looks like, and we will be heard.’

The people participating in the Occupy movement are asking for accountability. A list of demands or an outlined policy or a piece of legislation will not be the work of the movement – this is the job our elected leaders are supposed to do, something that is a response to our situation and not a reaction to it.

I happened to be there on a Sunday afternoon, when a multi-faith coalition of religious leaders from around New York City came to show their support of the movement. Had I checked my email earlier in the day I would have seen an invitation to this service, but I like that I just happened to be there and joined in spontaneously. They began their march circling the park holding a homemade rendition of the Wall Street Bull, making a direct reference to the scriptural Golden Calf and false idol worship. Various religious leaders took turns speaking to the protestors in the park, voicing their solidarity for the people there and everywhere who are suffering from the vast economic injustices of this country. Songs were sung, including “Down By the Riverside” and “We Shall Overcome.”

They promised to return every Friday and Sunday as long as people are there, and also to let people know that their synagogues, mosques and churches are open to anyone who may need another place to go for food, shelter, or a shower. They were not there to evangelize, proselytize or otherwise co-opt the movement. They were simply there to show their support to the occupiers, and to speak out against economic injustice as people of faith. It was beautiful, and I hope to join them again.

The atmosphere in Zuccotti Park is one of commitment, of striving for justice, of openness, of relationality. As a person of faith, I felt blessed to be among such people, and would venture to say that the Spirit is moving in that space and around the country. A truly remarkable thing is taking place, and just because we may not fully understand it is no reason to chide it or deride it. One of the things I hope will come out of the movement is a greater respect and openness to the possibility of doing things in a radically different way.

If we believe in a just economy and truly believe in democracy, then we must be constantly vigilant of injustice. To let injustice exist demeans the things we claim to stand for, as people of faith but even more simply as people. It is only through the work of building solidarity that we can hope to provide our selves and our children with a future more just than what we know today. It is the way of love.

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7 thoughts on “Fear, Blame & Solidarity: What Does Democracy Look Like?

      1. And by ‘Jason’ I really mean Jonathan – where’s my awareness!!

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