solidarumas ir ows


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  • 8/2/2019 SOLIDARUMAS ir OWS


    [PT 13.1 (2012) 5-13] Political Theology (print) ISSN 1462-317Xdoi:10.1558/poth.vl3il.5 Political Theology (online) ISSN 1473-1719

    G U E S T EDITORIALSolidarity and Occupy Wall Street: A Tale of Two Movements

    Gerald J. Beyer'Associate Professor of TheologySaint Jos eph's UniversityPhiladelphia, PA [email protected]

    Paraphrasing Galatians 6:2, the Catholic philosopher Jzef Tischner ex-plained that solidarity "means to carry the burden of another person ." H epreached these words during the Solidarity movement's First NationalConvention in Krakow, Poland on October 19, 1980.^ Tischner subse-quently described the events unfolding before his eyes in his hodkEtykasolidarnosci. A 10 million strong m ovem ent of people from diverse walksof life fought for the rights of citizens and worke rs, leading eventually toCommunism's demise. Solidarnosc accomplished this without sheddingblood.Although one can find other influences on the movement, Solidarnoscexplicitly acknowledged an intellectual and moral debt to Catholic socialteaching (C ST ). Over the last one hundred andfiftyyears, CS T developedperhaps the most robust theoretical unders tanding of solidarity and calledfor a world imbued by it.^ Even though it withered after 1989, Solidarnoschas been among the most successful social movem ents to embody the Cath-olic e thic of solidarity to date. To the participants it was an unparalleled timeof moral and spiritual unity. The victory of these downtrodden workers

    1. Gerald J. B eyer teaches at Saint Joseph ' s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.T h i s essay draws on his bo ok Recovering Solidarity: Lessons rom Poland's Unfnished R evolution

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    6 Political Theologyranks among the most inspiring "David conquers Goliath" moments inhistory.Thirty years later, we are perhaps at another historic crossroads. Ac-counts of Occupy Wall Street disclose that something newor at leastabsent for decades in the USis afoot. Having lived in Poland, I havebeen perplexed by the docility of the American public despite blatant andpersistent injustices, though some analysts have cogently explained themechanisms that have suppressed dissent."* Occupy Wall Street (OWS)has changed this landscape. The movement is still in its fledgling stages,or has begun to dissipate, depending on one's interpretation of curren t af-fairs. Nonetheless, it is interesting, and perhaps instructive, to contem-plate OWS in the light o Solidarnosc and CST on solidarity. I am noton the movement's front lines, though I am a sympathetic observer andpublic advocate of econom ic justice. Below are m y preliminary musings.

    The ContextsSome readers will carp that this comparison is foolish demagoguery. Lifein Poland in the early 1980s was abysmal, while Americans live today in afree society where all people can have a good and prosperous life. T he re'sa grain of truth to this claim, or at least the first half of it.The average hourly compensation has remained stagnant since 1977,even though worker productivity has steadily risen since 1947. Themedian wage for malesabout $45,000 in 2007is less than thirty yearsago, adjusting for inflation. The minimum wage plummeted in real value.American families worked 500 more hours than they did in 1979, butthey barely earn more than then. The average CEO now makes almost300 times the average wo rker^ Even President Obama has admitted thatthe American dream is unattainable for most, noting in a recent speechthe m assive increase of the top 1% of incomes and the 6% decline of mostAm ericans' income over the last decade.^

    More than 46 million Americans live in poverty. Among working ageadults, three quarters of the poor work but do not earn enough to stayabove the federal poverty line.'' More than 50 million people do not have4. See Michael B, Katz, "Why Aren't U.S. Cities Burning?" Dissent (Summer 2007).

    Available at'article/?article=8595. See Robert Reich, Aftershock: Tlie Next Economy and America's Future (Ne w York:

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    Cuest Editorial 1health insurance. Hunger ahounds, with 6.7 million households havingto skimp on meals in order to make ends meet." Americans may not liveunder martial law hut multitudes encounter violations of their economic,social and cultural rights on a daily basis.' In short, the gravity of the situa-tion today warrants hoth a comparison to Solidarnosc and a movement akinto its spirit and proportions.

    Unity among DifferencesSolidarity m embers overcame political, economic, philosophical and reli-gious differences in order to prom ote their common goals. Disagreementsand som etimes hostility existed within the ranks. Yet, people overwhelm-ingly descrihed "an unusually intense experience of com munity" and "thewidespread awareness of the deep hond with others."'" This communityincluded Communists, democratic socialists, and free-marketeers. Pro-fessors and poets conversed -with manual laborers. Priests and lay peoplebridged the clerical divide. Christians, Jews, atheists, and agnosticsemharked together on what Adam Michnik called "a collective return toissues of transcendence.""

    Solidarity in CST calls for this kind of unity among differences. Itentails the recognition of the defacto interdependence of all human heings.'^Because we share a com mon fate, we have ohligations to one another Marx,Weher, and other theorists believed solidarity could only exist among those-with the same interests, hu t C ST holds solidarity can and should transcendboundaries of class, creed, gender, race, ethnicity and nationality, " Oppres-sors and the oppressed should work together to create communities ofsolidarity, "Solidarity,. .does not need an enemy. It turns towards all and notagainst anyone."'"'Some detractors have tried to portray the O ccupy movem ent as a handof lazy and indigent leeches of society's resources. This cynical description

    8. See http://www.w orldhunger.or^articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm9. 1 refute the objections to economic rights in "Economic Rights: Past, Present andFuture," in Routledge Handbook of Huma n Rights, ed. Thomas Cushman (New York: Rout-ledge, 2011), 291-310.10. Zbigniew Stawrowski, "Doswiadczenie 'Solidarnosci'jako wsplnoty etycznej,"

    in Lekcja sierpnia: Dziedzictwo 'Solidarnosci'po dwudziestu latach, ed. Dariusz Gawin (Warsaw:Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN, 2002), 104.

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    8 Political Theologydefies reality. Unemployed, poor, and homeless people belong to OWS,but they are joined by techies, entrepreneurs , labor activists, lawyers,academics, and clergy. Maintaining unity among the movement's diversepopulation has not always been easy. For example, in my hometown ofPhiladelphia fights sometimes occurred within the recently dismantledencampment. But these have been isolated incidents. The majority ofprotesters have apparently treated each o ther v^ th respect.

    Rather than the dregs of society, these activists are the hope for democ-racy in a country that systematically marginalizes many of the 99% andwhere politicians too often favor the interests of powerful corporations."Their ambition reflects a core mystery of American democracythefact that humble people can acquire power when they convince them-selves they can," as William Greider pu t it.'^ In this way OWS resemblesSolidarnosc, which was led by Lech Waisa, an unknown electrician, andAnna Walentynowicz, an aging welder. While OWS's message has reso-nated with many Americans, its ability to mobilize even more people tostruggle actively against economic injustice wall determine if it succeeds.In an effective movement like Solidarnosc, "someone plants a treeone, asecond, a third, many trees. From these trees grow as a forest.""^Solidarnosc erected a cross outside the Gdansk Shipyard and often cel-ebrated mass by its gates. Likewise, OW S has brought together m embers ofdiverse religions and spiritual seekers in makeshift sacred spaces. Surely theyhave theological differences, but their shared task of striving for a society ofjustice, where no one languishes on the margins, bonds them together jus tlike the Poles in the 1980s. At times, however, OWS has been accused byinsiders and outsiders of anti-Semitism and racism. People of color mayjustifiably fear that white activists are not always aware of their advantages,

    regardless of their class or employment status. Although OWS has protestedagainst injustices such as racial profiling by police, it is important that whitemembers learn from minorities and stand with them against the interlock-ing social evils of racism, white privilege, and economic injustice. Theyalso need to be sensitive to the way the movem ent's tactics resonate withthe diverse experiences of minorities, as anti-racism writer Tim Wise hasdiscussed.' Whether or not OWS can sustain a movem ent of solidarity willdepend on whites' recognition of these dynamics and minorities' willing-ness to work through their difficulties wdth the m ovem ent in order to find

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    GMe5 Editorial 9com mon cause.'* Adam Michnik, an agnostic Jew in Solidarnosc, lamentedthe deep anti-Semitism he encountered among some of its members. \fet,he remained a key leader in the movement and challenged it to aspire to"moral elevation."''^ Perhaps Cornell West is emerging as one of the move-ment's intellectual voices. OWS needs people like him, just as Solidarnoscneeded historian-activists like M ichnik.

    Hope and Nonviolent ChangeIn order for dialogue and compromise to take place among people v^thmeaningful differences, a certain level of trust must be shared. Hope liesat the font of mu tual trust. At the core of the Solidarity movem ent was anethic of hope hope in the human person and her ability to choose goodover evil. The Poles were not naive about the human capacity for evil.Auschwitz, Kolyma and the entire blood-stained history of Poland haveleft an indelible mark on the Polish soul. Yet, Solidarnosc restored faith inthe human ability to "conquer evil with goodness."^"

    This hopeful anthropology undergirded the Solidarity movement's com-mitment to nonviolence. Hope allows us to believe that even those whohave perpetrated great evil can change. Hope awaits, provokes, and some-times demands conversion. It rejects violence because it trusts that althoughit is often difficult, people can change, if only they see themselves as theytruly are. Solidarity aims to "hold up a mirror for the oppressor," as Tisch-ner maintained. This may involve conversation, shaming, or when thesemethods fail, strikes.^' Extending solidarity toward oppressors always entailsthe possibility for forgiveness, but never without the insistence on truth.^^

    The Catholic ethic of solidarity has sometimes been accused of beingtoo iren ic, too willing to appease rather than accept confiict in the strugglefor justice. However, Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) argued inThe Acting Person that political opposition can be an expression of solidaritywhen it is "a form of participation in the common good." In other words,it must be "aimed at attaining that which is true and just."^ His friendTischner and Solidarnosc embodied this approach. Roman Catholicism18. An insightful essay on this topic can be found at http://www.peopleofcolororganize.

    com/featured/general/seven-occupy-wall-street-racial-justice-roadblocks/19. Michnik, "The Moral and Spiritual Origins of Solidarity," 243.20 . This paraphrase of Romans 12:20-21 was often repeated by So/idarnoii: leaders such

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    10 Politieal Theologyshares the Solidarity movem ent's hopeful view of the hum an person andher ability to achieve goodness. However, it is also realistic. It permits theuse of force against life-threatening physical attacks. Moreover, it allowsfor the use of nonviolent resistance such as strikes and civil protest amidsta much broader array of rights violations. In his encyclical on workersolidarity, John Paul II wrote: "One method used by unions in pursuingthe jus t rights of their m embers is the strike or work stoppage, as a kind ofultimatum to the competent bodies, especially the employers...workersshould be assured the right to strike. ..".^'^

    Atfirstglance, OW S may not appear to espouse a hopeful anthropology.The movement denounces the widespread greed and selfishness of "the1%," the financial elites and the politicians who collude with them. DoesOW S call for their conversion or their dem ise? Would the protesters seekcompromise at Roundtable Talks with bankers and traders as Solidarnoscdid with the C om munists in 1989? W hether the public shaming of pow -erful elites, marches, street theater and the civil disobedience that Occupyhas utilized is born e of solidarity depends on the in tention of the protest-ers. If they wish, as Marx and Engels did, to eviscerate the capitalist class,then we cannot speak of solidarity, at least not the Catholic understandingof it. If, how ever, OWS's activities aim to raise consciousness of economicinjustice in order to promote the com mon good, it is a movement of soli-darity. Solidarnosc didn't force the oppressor to face a firing squad, but itdid not shy away from speaking truth to power. The goal was to get theCo mmunists to envision a better Poland together with them .

    The majority in OWS appears to prefer the path of solidarity. CornellWest has spoken trenchantly to this issue: "the Occupy Movement is alove movem ent. It's a love of poor people. It's a love of working pe op le...if it's tied to hate, it's a hatred of injustice, a hatred ofth at which hurts anddehumanizes people. It doesn't hate people at all." Wall Street employ-ees are not evil, but they are ensnared by the "odious vice" of corporategreed.^^ One can criticize the decadence of the 1% and still love them.Pope John Paul II seems to have done so. *The media has reported sporadic skirmishes with police, but OWS haslargely remained committed to nonviolence, as evidenced by principlesof the N ew York General Assembly of OW S and the nonviolent com m u-

    24 . Joh n Paul II, Laborem Exercens, no. 19. Available at

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    Cuest Editorial 11nication trainings held.^' The images of peaceful protestors such as thoseat UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by police recall the crackdown againstSolidarnosc in 1981. It is easy to imagine Watsa telling those w ho harmedthem that they have lost and the protesters have won, jus t as he told thepolice who beat and arrested him. In fact, the Polish hero has expressedhis support for

    Bread, Freedom, and Participation in the C o m m o n Go o dSolidarnosc fought for the rights to jus t wages, to unionize, to better livingconditions and the rights to political participation and freedom of expres-sion. The 21 Demands of the Gdansk shipyard workers and the officialSolidarity Program spelled out their desire for "bread and freedom."Solidarnosc also adopted a participatory approach. Anyone could speak onthe floor of the national convention at any time.^' The Solidarity move-ment demanded the right to participation in the creation and enjoymentof the comm on good, a right the Communist regime had usurped. Thus,So//jmoic exemplified the "personalist communitarianism" of CST, whichsees solidarity as empowering the marginalized to protect their individualdignity and so that they can in turn "carry othe rs' burdens." According tothe 1971 World Synod of Catholic Bishops, all persons have the right andduty to become "principal architects of their own economic and socialdevelopment."-"' This requires moving beyorid temporary assistance toembodying solidarity in policies, institutions , and social structures thateliminate the causes of the suffering of the oppressed.-"

    OWS clearly attempts to practice this kind of approach and calls forbroad participation in the economic, political, and cultural spheres ofAmerican society. Among the New York General Assembly's "Principlesof Solidarity" are: (1) "Engaging in direct and transparent participatorydemocracy"; (2) "Exercising personal and collective responsibility" and(3) "Empowering one another against all forms of oppression."-'^ Like the

    27. See . See "AP Interview: Walesa Backs Wall Street Protesters," The Wall Street Journal,

    October 13, 2011 . Available at http://online, Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 3rd edn (New Haven, CN: Yale

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    12 Political TheologySolidarnosc conventions, which were sometimes inefficient, the highlydemocratic meetings and assemblies of Occupy need to carefully halanceinclusivity with structure and leadership. However, emphasizing partici-pation is a risk worth taking in order to create a community of solidaritythat welcomes all people into this crucial conversation. OWS has effec-tively sensitized m ore Am ericans to the status quo and its causes. It has castlight on crushing student debt, widespread foreclosures, unfair bankingpractices, and more. However, Tischner aptly stated, "In struggling forjust bread, I propose, I propose how to sew, so more will grow; how todivide, so all will share equally; who should divide, that the hread does notstick to the hands. The ethics of solidarity are the ethics of proposition."^^OWS might take cues from Poland's "self-limiting revolution," whichcodified demands but also acknowledged the need for concessions.^'' The"Principles of Solidarity" move in the right direction, but more focus,specificity, and national consensus are needed in order to translate generalprinciples into policies.^^ Does OWS want revolution or reform? Doesit attack US or global economic inequality, or both? Hopefully, we standonly at the heginning of a long process of dialogue and renewal that OWSjumpstarted. The 99% from around the world must now unite to imple-ment sustainable solutions for a hetter future on our imperiled planet.

    BiBLOIGRAPHYAsh, Timothy Garton. Tlie Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 3rd edn. New Haven, CN: Yale Uni-

    versity Press, 2002.Beyer, Gera ld J. Recovering Solidarity: Lessonsfrom Poland's Unfinished Revolution. N o t r e D a m e ,

    IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010."Economic Rights: Past, Present and Future." In Routledge Handbook of Human Rights, ed.

    Thomas Cusbman, 291-310. New York: Routledge, 2011.Blow, Charles M. "For Jobs, It's War." The New York Times, September 16, 2011. Available

    at Paul II. Laborem Exercens. Available at

    encyclicals/documents/hfjp-ii_enc_l 4091981_laborem-exercens_en.htmlRedemptor Hominis.Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.Katz, Michael B. "Why Aren't US Cities Burning?" Dissent (Summer 2007). Available at, Adam. "The Moral and Spiritual Origins of Solidarity." In Without Force or Lies:Voices from the Revolution of Central Europe in 1989-90: Essays, Speeches, and Eyewitness

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    Guest Editorial 13Accounts, ed . Wil l iam M . Br in ton and Alan Rinzler . San Francisco: M ercu ry H ou se ,1990.

    Quinn, Sally. "Cornell West Keeps the Faith for Occupy Wall Street." Vie Washington Post.Available at ht tp: / /ww w.w ashington post .com /blogs/on-fai th/pos t/cornel-w est-keep s-the-fai th-for-occupy-wal l -s t reet /2011/ l l /10/gIQAZxhk8M_blog .h tml .

    Re ich, Robert./l/ieri/iocfe; Vie Next Economy and America's Future. N e w York: Vintage Books,2011.

    Stawrow ski, Zbigniew. "Dos wiadc zenie 'Solidarnosci ' jak o ws plnoty etycz nej ." In Leckjasierpnia: Dziedzictwo 'Sotidarnosci' po dwudziestu tatach, ed. Dariusz Gawin. Warsaw:Wydaw nictwo IFiS PAN , 2002.

    Stjern0, Steinar. Sotidarity in Europe: The History of an Idea. Cambr idge : Cambr idge Un iver -sity P ress, 2005.

    Tischner , Jze f The Spirit of Solidarity, trans. Marek B. Zaieski and Benjamin Fiore, SJ. SanFrancisco: Harper & Row, 1984 [Polish Etyka solidarnosci. Krakow: Zna k, 1981] .

    Wojtyta, Karol. Osoba i czyn oraz inne studia antropotogiczne, 3rd edn. Lublin: TowarzystwoNaukowe KUL, 2000 [E T Wojtyla, The Acting Person, t rans. Andrzej Potocki. Boston:D . Reidel , 1979].

    World Synod of Catholic Bishops, Justitia in Mundo. Available at http://catholicsocialser-v ices .org .au /Cathol ic_Social_Teaching/Just it ia_ in_Mundo

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