The Occupy [Wall Street] Movement: Theological Impulses and Liberation Praxis

By Nessan, Craig L. | Currents in Theology and Mission, February 2013 | Go to article overview

The Occupy [Wall Street] Movement: Theological Impulses and Liberation Praxis


Nessan, Craig L., Currents in Theology and Mission


In the plot of the film, "Network" (1976), a TV news anchorman abandons his script and generates a populist movement, tapping into popular rage against the "way things are." At the apex of his denunciation of the injustices of the system," Howard Beale urgently appeals to the masses: "I want you to get mad! Get up right now, open your windows, stick out your heads and yell: 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" in the end, however, even this modern day Jeremiah becomes co-opted by the power of "the system," meaning the capitalist system, that transforms every phenomenon into a commodity from which to exploit a profit.

"We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" The deep sense of injustice of the "common people" which emerged not only in the United States but in numerous countries across the globe, ignited in September 2011 as the fire known as "Occupy Wall Street," or more simply, "Occupy." My analysis, theological reflections, and ethical proposals originate from the context of the United States. Some of my interpretation therefore is quite particular to the political, social, and especially economic situation of my country. At the same time, certain aspects of this interpretation may parallel more closely developments in other parts of the world. Especially, in relation to the theological impulses and implications for liberation praxis, I advocate that these themes need to unite progressive Christians across the globe.

The Face of the Occupy Movement in the U.S.: The Middle Class as Endangered Species

Why this movement and why at this particular moment in time? The stories of Occupy activists vary greatly, but share a common theme: deep discontent with and dislocation in relation to the established global economic order. While some of the Occupy movement founders include longtime leftist activists, many have joined forces due to emerging circumstances that have created the conditions for unprecedented activism in the public square. Sara is a recent graduate from a state university with a degree in the liberal arts. She finds herself encumbered with nearly $100,000 in student loans, while the only job opportunities appear to be ill the service sector of the economy at no more than $10 per hour and with little or no prospect for adequate health or retirement benefits. Robert lost his job in the banking industry in 2008 and as a consequence was forced to default on his mortgage, losing his $350,000 house to foreclosure and compelling him, his wife, and two young children to live with his in-laws. Jasmine has lived on the streets of a major city For the last three years. She has been given companionship and hope in community with the tent village among Occupy activists. Butch served in the first Persian Gulf War, suffering severe medical problems and mental health issues ever since the time of his military service. He has found the veteran services dramatically inadequate to provide him the medical care and financial support needed in light of his chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Natasha participates in Occupy as an off-duty police officer. Although her police work has obligated her involvement in the arrests of Occupy protestors breaking the law in acts of civil disobedience, her own political convictions and economic situation have led her to off-duty support of the movement. John used to work in the auto industry. As a young man he took for granted the labor contracts and benefits negotiated by his labor union, which allowed him to provide a decent life for his family. In the 1980s, however, first the labor union was dismantled through the demand for concessions by the corporation; eventually, the assembly plant itself was moved to Mexico. Ever since his unemployment benefits ran out, John has had a low-paying job at Walmart. These are but a few sketches of the characters who populate the Occupy movement in the U.S.

The "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City" pointedly names many of the grievances that unite the advocates of Occupy (1):

* They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. …

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