Taking It to the Streets

October 21, 2011
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For those of us who are not able to travel to New York City because we are fortunate enough to have jobs and must attend them, the manifestations on Wall Street are among the most remarkable developments in our recent history. The fact that the occupation as an idea has spread to cities in Europe and Asia powerfully attests to the notion that as citizens of the world we are indeed as connected as the fingers on the hands. Consequently, we are worldlings, and as such nothing that touches the life of any individual, however distant and remote from my own location, is alien to me. It is a bracing idea, though by no means new, that plays out in the everyday world with the precision of clockwork, all the more decisive now, given the speed of communications, but having to make its way around the barriers of national and nationalistic interests, the brotherhood of humanity is a fragile idea at best. Now is the time for us to seek its affirmation by supporting the goals of the occupiers who have taken to the streets of the world.

In truth, all roads lead to Rome once again, and that is to say that the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, the movements in sexual orientation, the movements in the behalf of the poor, the aged, the children and the young, the labor force, and the variously handicapped were all implicitly and at last devoted to the fair and equable distribution of human resources, even though their most characteristic gestures signaled that they were inspired by what we now call the identitarian motive.  A more just distribution of goods and resources mandates respect for that 99 percent of the world’s populations that not only pursue the right to life, but also ought to have it in abundance. And the principle of such rights is inherent in all the founding documents and doctrines of our sociality from Holy Writ to the Constitution.

To all the disparagers and naysayers, to those who have called the occupation out of its name by referring to it as a “mob,” to all the hired asses who bellow that the occupation will lead to the gas chamber, we say that if they really want to know what animates the demonstrators, let them not only read the Preamble to the American Declaration of Independence—“. . .We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—but also John 10:10; citing the words of Christ, the Apostle John writes: “‘The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’” The one-percent apparently wants theirs and mine, too, and the big idea of taking it to the streets is to declare such ambition unacceptable. Not only that. It must end. If that is not a “demand,” then we have no idea what a demand is.

The Wall Street occupation has had at least one heroic moment; on the past Monday night, Keith Olberman (now broadcasting on Al Gore’s Current TV) interviewed U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Shamar Thomas, who completed two military tours of duty in Iraq. The son and great grandson of U.S. veterans and a citizen of New York City, Thomas confronted the strong blue line with his massive body in uniform. He wanted to know from the police why they were slapping women in the face with sticks, why they were assuming a bellicose posture toward peaceful and unarmed citizens. These were, after all, “our people,” who didn’t have guns, were not threatening the police, and by right, had gathered together under the constitutionally sanctioned idea of the right to peaceable assembly in seeking redress from the government.

Shouting above the din of the crowd, arms spread out laterally as though in defense of the demonstrators behind him, Thomas spoke directly to the cops poised that moment to charge; he pointed out that as a soldier he had put his body on the line for precisely these people and ones like them so vulnerable to the abuses of police power. And for several miraculous seconds, the police appeared frozen in place. Even a jittery, hand-held camera, panning swiftly over the scene, could not distort what the viewer believed she saw and that was the shock of recognition on the part of the police that the sergeant’s words were just. The clip that I initially saw lasted all of sixty seconds, perhaps, but in that brief span of time the breach between citizen and cop appeared to heal momentarily in the moral and civic witness of a young American veteran.  I suppose it could be said that Sgt. Thomas over the course of his military career must have done the U.S. Marine Corps proud on several occasions, but none more memorable than that day in Manhattan.

From my own perspective, it’s been a long time coming, but a change has arrived: wherever this movement might eventually lead is not our privilege or pain to know, but it is certain that this time will test the location of our moral compass.

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