Occupy Wall Street and its sister occupying groups like Occupy Portland have been portrayed as disorganized and unfocused but a closer look reveals a highly organized and evolving structure that operates outside the familiar world of old-time organizers and their critics. Absent is single issue organizing with clear goals that are both winnable and easily defined by leaders who are visible and ready to speak for the cause. But that does not mean that the Occupy movement is without merit. Occupy is a different kind of organizing for a new generation of socially aware people and they have something to share. Their “mic check” system of delivering messages allows for greater participation and demands succinctness. Their committees with open membership and facilitators who refuse to speak for everyone until everyone has agreed on what is to be said are a model of participatory democracy for people who have lost faith in the ability of elected leaders to represent them. The variety of issues reflects whole-system thinking — for certainly the issues are related.
Young people have mobilized through Occupying in a way that has not been seen for some time. Increasingly the next generation is realizing how few opportunities they have for employment and the middle class lives of their parents. Young families who bought homes at the height of the market a few years ago are now experiencing foreclosure or underwater mortgages. Children, along with public employees, are challenged with furlough days that mean fewer hours of instruction and less pay. There is a sense of betrayal by the system and a growing desire for change that the Occupy protestors have brought into focus.
It is no wonder that the Occupy encampments attracted the street poor who have long been denied public places to sleep. And it is no surprise that the Occupiers were unable to address the issues the street population brought with them. The social service system is overwhelmed as well. Rather than dismissing the Occupy campers, their experience should have revealed again the great need in our state. Catholic social teachings would seem to support the work that this new way of protest has highlighted.
The preface of a report from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Towards Reforming The International Financial And Monetary Systems In The Context Of Global Public Authority” states: “The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence. What is more, the crisis engages private actors and competent public authorities on the national, regional and international level in serious reflection on both causes and solutions of a political, economic and technical nature.”
In this perspective, as Benedict teaches, the crisis “obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”
Something new is happening. Perhaps the churches should lend support.