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Taking Stock of 2011: Occupy Seattle, Part 4

During their brief existence, the Occupy movement has already yielded some benefits on the economic front.  As Fr. Thomas Massaro of Boston College puts it:

My gratitude to the Occupy movement grows directly out of my identification with Catholic social teaching…. In these years of high unemployment, blocked opportunity, crushing debt, anxieties about future economic security and deep doubts about recent economic policy, the United States desperately requires greater attention to the relationship between private gain and public benefits, and to principles like the common good and social responsibility.*

In addition to awakening the nation to what Fr. Massaro calls “the countercultural principle of ‘people over profits,’” Occupy Wall Street achieved some economically measurable results on Bank Transfer Day, 11/5/2011.  In the Puget Sound region, credit unions stayed open for several weekends to handle the huge volume of accounts being transferred to them, and away from the likes of Chase, Wells-Fargo, and Bank of America.  Nationwide, credit unions enjoyed 70 times the usual volume of business.

In taking stock of OWS as we move into a new year, there is considerable uncertainty in Church circles about the Occupy movement.  But at this point, I would argue that we have no good reason to boycott the movement, nor to oppose it.  A lot about what I’ve seen in Occupy Seattle is indeed encouraging to me as a Christian and as a practicing Catholic.

During the decades since Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum (1891), the Church has eschewed rugged individualism, and has stood in solidarity with mainstream labor movements.  Catholicism has been steadfast against unbridled capitalism.  In the United States during the labor struggles of the 20th century, the Church sponsored priests to serve as labor chaplains, most notably Msgr. John A. Ryan, and Msgr. George Higgins.

In the Pacific Northwest, Catholicism has long been an ally of labor.  Prior to Word War II, Seattle and Portland gave warm receptions to Dorothy Day, who was traveling to promote her Catholic Worker movement.  In her journal, she noted in 1940 that Seattle Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy “takes an active interest in the affairs of the unions in his city.”

Shoehorning Catholicism into the Occupy movement should be all the easier in Seattle insofar as labor is the foremost ally of OS.  Labor enjoys a relatively strong presence here, and most local unions marched in support or in some way lent assistance to Occupy Seattle.  That Catholicism prioritizes labor over capitol has obvious Occupational as well as labor movement implications.

Therefore, I submit that it would be appropriate to seize the opportunity now, while Occupy is in its nascency, and bring the Archdiocese of Seattle openly into solidarity with the 99%.  On average, each of the 194 Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States encompasses four or five local Occupy movements.  How the various Bishops respond could have significant repercussions, both for the Church in America and for the Occupy movement itself.

Principles we hold in common, like our “preferential option for the poor,” draw credibility from the Church by virtue of her steadiness and balance, which rank among the noble qualities of Catholicism in practice.  Our record against class warfare rejects both extremes of the spectrum – from liberation theology and Marxism on the left, to right wing forms of exploitation, such as slavery and utilization of child labor by free market capitalism.  In short, OWS needs balance and therefore needs us.

As Catholics we often recite the Magnificat: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away” (Luke 1: 52-53.)  But anyone who applies this ethic should keep to the Lord’s timetable, as best we mortals can discern it.  And we should pray for the rich and the powerful, even as we work to oust them from positions of disproportionate and oppressive influence.  In this way believers can contribute stability and spiritual solidity to the mix of ideas circulating in the Occupy movement.

The Catholic approach exhibits constancy and steadiness in defense of the common good, but imperatively not class warfare.  Neither, in my observation, is Occupy Seattle pursuing class warfare, nor advocating a liquidation of the 1%.  What is transpiring here and nationally is, rather, an uprising in self-defense.  If anyone is guilty of waging class warfare, it is the 1% themselves.

Occupiers look to the Constitution’s first three words.  “We the People” are authorized by the Constitution, and by basic principles of democracy, to defend ourselves against the plutocrats, with their armies of lobbyists to purchase legislation.  One Seattle protestor carried a sign that said simply, “I’m here because I can’t afford a politician.”

Big money manipulating democracy to death is political repression of the postmodern kind.  Like despotism in any form, it violates Catholic social doctrine.  Speaking to the German Parliament in September, Pope Benedict noted:

Politics must above all be a striving for justice, or as with the Nazis, the state risks becoming a highly organized band of robbers capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.

Furthermore, OWS is fighting in self-defense against the architects of an elaborate stagecraft, paid for by the 1%, who nullify the principle of the consent of the governed.  The few and the very few have transformed elections into extravaganzas so prohibitively expensive that 99% of the citizens are political ciphers.  We the people have been reduced to the role of crowning winners in brawls between two gargantuan political machines beholden to mega-corporations.  Stockholders in these corporations may well include a significant proportion of foreign nationals.

OWS reserves a particular angst against the Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that further enhanced corporations’ political clout. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, America’s black robed politburo empowered corporations to exercise the same political rights in contributing to election campaigns as U.S. citizens.  Consequently, great wealth from overseas now carries a political potential to outweigh citizen constituents, insofar as the latter exert less of the clout that goes with high finance.

OWS also claims an economic right to self-defense against corporate job-stealers.  Many Americans, including activists in Occupy, see outsourcing as a crime perpetrated in the name of the idol of globalist free-trade.

Furthermore, it would be quite consistent with Catholic teaching on social justice if an uprising were to cast down from their thrones the greedy financiers and fraudulent bankers who play fast and loose with the economy.  As Pope John Paul used to say, “the economy is for people, not people for the economy.”

During my time at Occupy Seattle, I’ve encountered – a little surprisingly – quite a few protestors who have not entirely lost faith in the political system demarcated by the written Constitution.  But they do see the system in its practical operation as having been corrupted and warped far in contrast to its original contours.  For example, Justin, a 27 year old college student feels that the current crop of political officials have shown an incapacity to administer the most basic systems of governance.  He hopes people will unite in order to fix the system both locally, nationally and globally.

However some protestors disagree and oppose repair jobs.  “The whole damn system, tear it down,” went one of the chants in NYC during a massive march on Nov. 17th.

Despite the wide variation in worldviews and political outlooks, I think an almost universal expression of what Occupy Seattle wants was articulated on the East Coast by Occupy Boston:  “We have occupied Dewey Square because Wall Street has occupied our government, broken our economic system, divided our country, and negatively impacted our lives for far too long.”

In a somewhat similar vein, without mentioning OWS, Mark Shea, a devout and orthodox columnist for the National Catholic Register, composed a fine piece on December 9th entitled “Ben Franklin’s Warning is our Present Danger.”

I think the issue facing our country is not primarily left vs. right or GOP vs. Dem. It is, rather, an elite on both sides of the aisle that is increasingly stronger and more tyrannical vs. a populace that is increasingly weaker and more vulnerable to the depredations of the strong.

Right on, Mark, and power to the people!  Vivat Jesus.

_____

*Thomas Massaro, S.J., “Occupation Therapy,” America, 11/28-12/5/2011, p. 10.  Fr. Massaro, teaches social ethics at Boston College.

Part three is here.

 


Bob Struble is a retired history teacher, and a writer of books, articles and poems. He is Lecturer for the Knights of Columbus in Bremerton WA, and is an associate editor at Catholic Lane.
  • GuitarGramma

    I continue to be impressed that you, Mr. Struble, are bringing Catholicism to Occupy Seattle. God bless you for this.

    I also continue to be confused as to what the Occupy movements wish to accomplish. Do they just want to be angry that some people earn a lot of money? Do they want to tax away any income above, say, $250,000? What will make them satisfied?

    But if the poster which serves as a graphic for this article is an authentic Occupy poster, then I begin to be frightened. From bad grammar (“If your [sic] not outraged your [sic] not paying attention”) to bad economics (“99% of Americas [sic] income is held by 1% of the population”), the Occupy movement has some scary problems.

    If the Occupy movement leaders can’t spell or punctuate, why should anyone hire them for corporate jobs?

    As for the (mis-)statement that “99% of Americas [sic] income is held by 1% of the population”, where to begin? First of all, no one holds income; they earn it. Second, if we look at 100 different people, the one guy earning the most is the “top 1%” even if he only earns a penny more than the next guy down the list. Third, if we look at wealth — which is what can be “held” economically — then the top 1% own about a third of the total wealth of this nation. And that has held fairly steady since the 1920’s!

    So I ask, what economic model will make the Occupiers happy?

  • Guitar Grandma: Good eye in proofreading the poster. Nonetheless it might not make sense to put too much stock in the grammar and research behind a single placard.

    You’re right about the statistical error. But it’s still horrendous, with the 1% holding more than a third of national wealth, and the bottom 80% holding only 15% of national wealth.

  • GuitarGramma

    Thank you so much for responding. You’re certainly right about not reading too much into a single placard, but the bad spelling has been replicated on T-shirts and bumper stickers — even a quasi-Christmas stocking! Again, I have to ask, if the leaders of the Occupy movement can’t spell, what value do they bring to the corporate world? As Christ said in a parable, if you do well in small matters, you can be trusted with larger ones.

    You and I will have to agree to disagree about whether 1% of Americans holding 1/3 of the wealth of this nation is horrendous. The very fact that this statistic has held since the 1920’s indicates that the situation is practically a constant. We can choose to be resentful of that constant, or we can choose to be happy with what we have.

    Let’s look at just two alternatives to the American economic system.

    In Soviet Russia, no one owned anything; the state owned everything. But members of the ruling class had access to all the wealth owned by the state; the working man had access to nothing. Is this somehow more fair than the American economic system?

    Let’s compare ourselves to our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Here in the US, about 15% of the population meets our definition of poverty, roughly $22,000 per year for a family of four. In Mexico, roughly 35% of the population lives in poverty, often defined by how much food a person has. I’ve been to Mexico; their poverty is far worse than ours. I’ve seen shacks built out of garbage, literally. I’d far rather live in poverty in the US with food stamps, section 8 housing, and Medicaid than in Mexico with little to no social support.

    So I ask again, what economic model will make the Occupy movement happy?

  • Full-employment would address a host of problems. A structural solution to chronic unemployment and underemployment is developed in chapter 8 of my book. http://www.tell-usa.org/totl/08-Bolstering%20Workers.htm

  • GuitarGramma

    Mr. Struble, you continue to impress me.

    If the Occupy movement would state its purpose so succinctly, it would gain much respect out here in suburbia.

    Your chapter 8 alluded to an idea close to my own heart. My personal belief is that we desperately need a “Buy American” movement. A concerted effort by Americans to buy American would be a huge boost to the American economy.

    Can you use your influence with Occupy Seattle to help plant such an idea?

  • littleroundtop

    One thing I see is parts of the OWS being hijacked . For one, Social Justice in the Biblical sense is somewhat different then the current kids of the baby boomers belief of entitlement . The Opportunity lost to the poor and middle class is the social justice of the unfair special interest deals in place today, not the fact that someone who is rich needs to give it to someone who is poor . Unless its voluntary , that is called theft . Also I have noticed locally individual OWS groups starting up in the local districts , with the democratic party state reps being included in their list of friends supporting them on Face Book or web pages . Its like any good political upheaval these days , the politicians come in and ruin it .

  • fishman

    “Shoehorning Catholicism ” — I can’t escape the feeling this is EXACTLY what you are trying to do.

    and Catholicism does not fit.

    First of all , besides always have strong support for labor, the catholic church has always has strong support for personal property.

    Second, as near as i can tell, the occupy movement suffers from a horribly level of liberalism. ( the idea that people should be able to decide for themselves what is right and wrong and do what they choose). This is another condemned heresy, if the occupy movement was supporting laws the protected labor AND marriage AND opposed to the oppression of the unborn. I’d have sympathy for them.

    As it stands, their support of ‘labor’ is a fallacy as well.

    What we really need to make increase employment in this country is to remove the artificial incentives the ‘labor’ moment created that has caused off shoring producing to make so much economic sense.

    There are really only 2 ways to accomplish that.
    1) require that all products imported into the united states be produced in factories that meet similar environmental and safety standards as their counterparts in the united states. ( and make the subject to inspections by U.S officials if they want import licenses).

    or

    2) Remove those regulations (including the minimum wage) from U.S Companies.

    The reality is that the reason that 90% of american jobs are in service industries is because if they were not most of the goods we purchase in the U.S.A would be considerably more costly. The cost of production in the united states is considerably higher then the cost of off-shore production including the trans Atlantic shipping of the product.

    What kind of effect would it have on the poor and labor market to shut down the flow of products from Asia? I guarantee it would neither be good for labor or the poor unless that production could be brought back into the united states and provide employment.

    The occupy movement , from what i can tell, is little more the disguised class warfare.

  • Well, I thought I’d give it a try, anyway. My outreach to the left in 2011. However, as of 1/24/2012 I severed all connections with Occupy Seattle. No longer will I associate myself with a movement so unfriendly to sacramental and traditional marriage.

    So called same sex marriage became law here in WA state on Feb. 13, 2012, and the political black hole of Seattle was a major contributor, financially and culturally. It was one thing to rub elbows with those people when SSM was a political abstraction. But now it’s about to become a hellish reality, unless we can overturn this abominable law via the referendum or initiative process. I’ll be working to do precisely that, and the last thing I need is to be back-stabbed in the process by my “comrades” in OS.