This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Occupy movement in Downtown Portland with some friends. It wasn’t a planned visit, but I had a camera and more than a little bit of interest as we were passing by. We ended up staying for several hours taking pictures and talking with different people; essentially finding out what people wanted. I want to start by saying this: regardless of how I feel about the ‘message’ that the Occupy movement is trying to promote, I support their right as Americans to gather and express that message in any peaceful way that they desire, as long as they feel necessary. Free speech is not predicated on a specific ideology being expressed, though this can at times be inconvenient (and costly).
The camp itself spanned two parks and had a ‘tent city’ (literally, it was a city of tents) feel to it. Many of the people I talked to were very kind. One gentleman read poetry to us, another discussed his ideas about how a workable communist government could be enacted, and one woman talked about how making ends meet was becoming increasingly difficult. I ran into a few Christians who felt that they were aligned with causes that Christ would be aligned with. The feeling of community was strong, people understood that there is a certain amount of power that comes with being members of a larger group. This is a varied group that defies a lot of stereotypes, their passion is to be admired. Many of their ideas about making sure corporations deal fairly with individuals and governments providing basic services to those who need them most rang true with me. Having done a fair share of work with the homeless and marginalized, I have begun to see some of the ways that poverty can ensnare generations, offering little escape to those caught in its claws. I genuinely believe nobody should be homeless and that it is the responsibility of the government to do as much as it can to mitigate these larger social problems that perpetuate injustices against our less fortunate friends.
That being said, I didn’t feel like there was a clear message that the Occupy movement was trying to get across; this may be a product of the diversity of the people there. It generally felt like people were rallying against any injustice that they saw in their (or others) lives. While I believe that injustice should be fought against, I don’t think a general protest is the most effective way to solve the pressing problems that face our nation and our world. Instead, we must be intentional about targeting our energy towards exact causes (such as homelessness), one at a time, in order to effect quality change. Again, I support the Occupy movements right to meet and protest, I just don’t believe that their method is going to bring about the most effectual change; their energy is directed in too many different places.
Furthermore, we must be sensitive when we use sweeping generalizations such as 99% and 1%. Yes, there is a huge inequality of wealth in our nation. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing daily. This isn’t right. However, why stop at our nation when pointing out wealth inequality? While some nations and communities don’t have access to safe drinking water, we drink “purified” water out of plastic bottles. If that isn’t injustice, I don’t know what is. Everybody in America sits in the metaphorical 1% from a global perspective. Does this mean that we shouldn’t seek to fight injustice on local and national levels? Of course not. We just need to be sensitive about the terms that we use and always be seeking to solve injustices on a global scale alongside the local.
These are complex issues; they aren’t going to be solved by a single protest, or a blog post, or even a single political ideology. In fact, from a Christian perspective, these issues may not be solved until the Kingdom of God arrives. This, however, doesn’t mean that we should sit by in an idle fashion and tolerate inequality. Protests matter, they draw attention to things that have gone terribly wrong when done in a targeted and effective manner. Ideologies matter, they provide frameworks in which to solve global problems. Our response to inequality should include both of these things; backed up, of course, by intentional action.
Generalizations such as 99% and 1% are really good at getting people riled up. They help us feel like we are apart of something, like our voice truly does matter. Yet these huge problems that we have in our world belong to all of us. They stem from our selfish nature (whether you believe that this nature stems from an evolutionary heritage, a ‘fall of man’ or both; I think that this should ring true), which is our least common denominator. We are the 100% and together we need to fight against injustice in ourselves, the local community, and the world. This will bring about the change that people in the occupy movement hunger for.