Charlotte’s City Council voted last night in favor of a crowd control ordinance that threatens the existence of the Occupy Wall Street’s sister group in Charlotte. It’s unfortunate that the reason for the ordinance is the upcoming Democratic National Convention and the stresses an event of this importance puts on the host city. Charlotte will be in the limelight; this is the Queen City’s opportunity to strut its stuff before the world, and that sometimes means, figuratively, shoving the day-to-day messes of life into the nearest closet when company comes. Occupy Charlotte is one of those "messes." Although they take care to rotate their tents so the ground is not worn bare, and have details to keep things clean, a campsite is inherently a little...funky...in appearance. I’m not sure the Democratic Party would like to be blamed for the eviction of Occupy Charlotte. Although city council member Michael Barnes says the people the ordinance is targeting weren’t in the council room – Occupiers were on site protesting -- the rule now means the movement has one week to leave its campsite outside 600 East Trade St. (The Occupy movement itself is non-partisan.)
Ideas cannot be evicted, or silenced, or dismissed, particularly when they contain an element of truth. The ideas behind Occupy Charlotte, and its parent, Occupy Wall Street, have endured over centuries. They are part of the message of the prophets in Scripture; they are echoed in the words that catapulted our nation to freedom: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In these days of predatory lending and mortgages calculated to fail, the words of the prophet Micah are sadly on target: “Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.” (Micah 2:1-2) Occupy protests the way money influences public policy and actions, and so did Isaiah: “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them. …The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? Says the Lord God of hosts.” (Isaiah 1:23, 3:14-15)
The Occupy movement stands for a sense of fairness in human interactions, particularly those involving finances. It does not want to take away wealth, or force everyone to receive exactly the same salary. It simply aims to lessen the gap between the higher-ups and those down in the valley. Its credo sounds very much like the message of Isaiah and John the Baptist, “A voice cries out: …make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (Isaiah 40: 3,4) Mountains don’t cease to be high, nor do valleys cease to be low – but the playing field is leveled a bit. As some of the Charlotte Occupiers told me, they agree that corporate heads or entrepreneurs should receive larger salaries for having the creativity and initiative to come up with good and profitable ideas. But what they also want is to honor the workers – the people whose labor turns initiatives into products for consumption and make corporate profits possible – and see that they receive more credit for what they contribute. One percent shouldn’t be reaping the majority of the benefits while the rest of the ninety-nine struggles. It’s only fair.
The Episcopal bishop in the Diocese of New York, which includes Wall Street, the birthplace of the movement, has said that we need a more humanized form of capitalism. “…[T]he fundamental issue is not that the laws of capitalism are flawed; the fundamental issue is that we are flawed in our attitude to them,” the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk has said. “There can be little doubt that capitalism is a productive way to order economic life. But we need to remember, as the protestors have reminded us, that that is all that it is - an economic system based on the entirely reasonable propositions that capital has value, and that supply and demand are the most efficient way to set prices. Capitalism is of no help at all in determining what is morally good - that is something that must instead be determined by the community's wider values.
“As the OWS protestors point out,” Sisk says, “wealth in our country is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, the real income of the broad middle class has not increased in more than a generation, and the ranks of the poorest among us each year become ever more solidified. These are the facts - and the reality behind them is, quite simply, morally wrong. Ultimately, left unchecked, that reality is deeply dangerous. It is at odds with our vision of ourselves, and as Americans we ignore it at the peril of our most cherished national ideals. As Christians, we ignore it at the peril of our souls.”
Occupy Charlotte may well be forced to pick up its tents seven days from now, but its message can endure. There are other ways to protest effectively if this is no longer possible. In the dinosaur days of my youth, we picketed. There is “ghosting” – walking in silence carrying message signs. We have the very efficient social media genre that didn’t even exist back then. If the camp must come down, then I hope Occupy Charlotte raises up a new way to proclaim the message. We still need prophets; we still need to be reminded that, deep in our hearts, we all know what is right. It is self evident.