Over the post-Christmas holiday I helped move my middle daughter to a suburb outside of Denver, (releasing my 28 year old to the Universe should be a blog post in-and-of-itself.) While exploring the downtown area of Denver, Em and I noticed an unusual number of strategically parked police cars with an equal number of unmarked police cars speeding past us. Between the two of us we arrived at the conclusion that 1) a bank-robbery/get-away was in progress; 2) Barack Obama was in downtown Denver or 3) a multiple murder/homicide had taken place very close to us (I might add Em and I both love T.V. shows focused around women as police/detectives). As we approached our restaurant we heard what appeared to be random chanting and yelling. As we turned the corner we discovered a group of perhaps 50+ people who were the focus of the police in 1) riot-gear and 2) police on horseback with batons at the ready. The “dangerous” peaceful gathering turned out to be the Occupy Wall Street Denver movement. My desire to watch and engage those gathered lost out to Em’s need for food. No worries I thought. I’ll have time to engage the OWS participants after our lunch, which proved to be the wrong decision. Within the hour or so it took us to eat, the peaceful gathering had vanished. But the conversation between my daughter and her activist mother proved to be the most interesting event of that day.
Between my three children, Emily is more like her physician father, except for the component of compassion. She has an abundance, but the older she gets the more she requires empirical data, (she is in nursing school) before she lends her energies to a movement or cause. “So what exactly is OWS?” “What is their agenda?” “How do they anticipate meeting those demands?” “Do they have an agreed upon manifesto?” and “How is the leadership (if any) organized?” And this is the part I found the most thoughtful, “Why the show of police force for such a peaceful gathering?” “Oh, thank God,” I thought to myself, she has at least some of her mother’s “Question Authority” remaining in her. Wow!” I responded, “All worth while questions but (here I am outing myself so be kind) to be honest, I don’t know the exact answers to all these questions.” Yes I had heard of OWS New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Oakland. I knew they stood for the 99% of Americans who have been affected by the 1% of banks and corporate greed of Wall Street, resulting in the economic collapse of the United States and other global economies. But beyond this, I knew very little of the workings of OWS, and I’m not alone. According to a recent Associated Press poll, most U.S. citizens do not know what the protestors are trying to accomplish.
So after my initial restaurant research, in-between samplings of craft beers and Japanese whiskey, I realized the OSW movement, while as diverse as each city it identifies with, is in fact very unified in enacting the common good. In our conversation, Em’s understanding of OWS stemmed from the riots & violence portrayed on T.V. & OWS Oakland. This had come to form her understanding of the OWS movement. But this is only a fraction of what went down in Oakland. In press releases, OWS Oakland attempted to clarify as well as distance themselves from the 85 who were arrested for the violence that lasted one hour compared to the 12 hours of peaceful protest displayed by peaceful rallies and sit-ins. Insisting those who set fires, shattered windows, and participated in vandalism do not speak for the majority of those who found a different method to get their point across. But that does not make for very exciting news coverage, a Gandhi-like approach verses all-out mayhem, well you know where the major media is going to land. This is unfortunate given the real work and visions of OWS members.
In an initial survey conduced by sociology professor Hector-Codero-Guzmán, PhD, CUNY, a sample demographic was constructed based on visitors to OWS movement’s website on October 5, 2011. Keep in mind this is less than one month after the first New York rally in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s financial district.
- 70% of the survey’s 1,619 respondents identified as politically independent, 27.3% Democrats and 2.4% Republicans.
- 64.2% of respondents were younger than 34 years of age
- one in three respondents is over 35
- one in five is 45 or older.
- 15.4% between $50,000 and $74,999.
- 13% over $75,000
- 2% over $150,000
- 47.5% less than $24,999 dollars a year
- 24% reported earning between $25,000 and $49,999 per year.
- 71.5% of the sample earns less than $50,000 per year
- 92.1% of the sample reported “some college, a college degree, or a graduate degree.”
- 50.4% reported full-time employment
- 20.4% were employed part-time.
So what do these numbers mean? According to Codero-Guzmán these numbers point to a post-political stance that cries out for a different solution to our economic crises. I found the age distribution of those who identify with OWS to be of particular significance. While the majority are under 35, one in three respondents were over 35, with another one in five over the age of 45. This brings me to my next discovery, the mentorship of America’s leaders within the 20th century social justice movements.
COUNCIL OF ELDERS
The Council of Elders stand in solidarity with the activism and political agenda of OWS. Beyond connecting to social media via Facebook and Youtube, these seasoned activist of the mid-twentieth century have become involved in rallies by sending a delegation to Zuccotti Park in New York City and other sites to speak with demonstrators. One problem: most of the demonstrators have no historical knowledge of figures such as James M. Lawson Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, Arthur Waskow, Joan Chittister, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Vincent Harding, Mel White, Grace Lee Boggs, or Dolores Huerta. How unfortunate. Standing in their midst is wisdom and experience personified. Perhaps with time and the willingness to take in what these figures of social activism have to offer, the OWS movement will see for themselves what Mother Theresa espoused, that “We have forgotten that we belong to one another.” The interconnection between the birth of OWS with these key social activist will advance the common good hoped for in the interworking’s of the 99% who are demanding another way to transform corruption into justice.
Cynthie Garrity-Bond: Feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion, with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past two years Cynthie has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interests includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, agency and resistance to ecclesial authority, embodiment, Mariology and transnational feminisms. Having recently returned from Southern Africa, Cynthie is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.