Peron’s Argentina or Ancient Rome: How Should We Respond to Time’s of Great Unrest?

WallStreetProtest4_4_09-JW The more I watch the young idealists (yes, some of them are my age for sure) who occupy Wall Street in protest the more I “listen” to their cobbled together assumptions about life and modern society. This supposedly spontaneous movement, now four-weeks old, continues to grow in other major cities around the world.

One of the striking facts about this movement was recently heralded through its occasionally published newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. (The irony here is delicious I know.) The paper said, “In the great cathedral of capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army.” Who are they kidding?

Gordon Crovitz, writing in the Monday (October 16) Wall Street Journal, seriously asks, “How did protestors manage to take over Zuccotti Park, a half-acre plot a few blocks from Wall Street?” (This is where they camp and live.) It seems that this land-use by the protestors came about through old fashioned crony capitalism, not the social media. The occupiers selected a park site that is not New York City land but rather privately owned property. Since Zuccotti is not a city park, with city restrictions on overnight sleeping, protestors remain there. There are about 500 privately owned public spaces in New York that were created by the city as part of zoning deals made with real estate developers. This is why Crovitz says “crony capitalism” provided the space for the protestors. These are, simply put, quasi-public spaces. It remains unclear who is responsible for what. Mayor Bloomberg said, “Kids have come from all over the country for a big party in our park.” Not so fast Mr. Mayor. This park belongs to a private corporation, Bloomfield Properties. Concludes Crovitz, who lives near this park, “Political extortion created Zucotti Park and it [now] allows protestors to remain despite the noise, filth and stink.” I wonder who will clean up when the protest ends? City officials paid by tax-payer money sounds likely to me.

Occupy Wall Street promises an Arab Spring of regime change. What on earth does this mean? The Arab Spring looks less and less promising every day if you follow what is really happening!

protest_wall_street Behind the young idealism of the core leaders of this protest movement is a series of assumptions (some were mentioned by my friend Monte Wilson last week) about society and its long-term direction. This movement, which some have taken to calling an “American Autumn,” seems for the life of me to believe that its demands (which are still not entirely clear) are reasonable for one reason—those who protest were born in America. One leader, Sonia Silbert, herself a longtime political activist, said in Washington, DC, “We are not going to make demands. We are not going to become a political party. The second we start making demands, we start splintering and we are no longer the 99%.” Wow, that will create change! There are, in spite of what  the media has told us, considerable differences between this movement and the tea-party movement. The tea-party began with a clear, though not well defined, view of reducing government spending. It then found its big issue in President Obama’s health-care plan. It then organized and actually helped to elect members of Congress.

Marshall Ganz, a longtime civil rights and union organizer, says “we’re sort of in a period here where we’re searching for what the focal point is going to be. Just because it’s not being articulated now doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be one down the road.” Ganz argues that Occupy Wall Street has already shifted the debate to a focus on how to rein in government. He says we have heard from the right on this issue and now the other side is speaking loudly. Really?

What is quite clear to me is that this one month-old movement is rooted in a vague and ill-defined discontent with our present economic situation. And it is more specifically focused at wealthy corporations and Wall Street banks. Can this protest become an influence upon politics? Some Democrats hope so as they slowly test the waters to see if they should embrace this movement. They had best be careful since the potential here is to grab a live wire that could alienate the middle-of-the-road vote that they need to win again.

But even without clear focus this movement still spreads, now starting new protests over the weekend in Europe, parts of Canada and even Asia. (In Rome violence broke out.) In America 175 protestors were arrested in Chicago. It was the first mass arrest in the U.S. In Tucson 53 were arrested overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning.

Woman on WS Lee Forsythe, a 26-year old protestor in New York, said he was distressed that the middle class is “just gone” and that corporations wield too much political power. Forsythe left the Air Force a year ago and hasn’t been able to land a steady job, working three irregular ones: pizza delivery, cable installation and disc jockey. (That doesn’t sound incredibly awful to me, except for the “steady” part!) Forsythe said, “I will feel personally successful when you see a global change in the mindset of corruption. Policy will definitely have to be part of it, but it has to be cultural change.”

This last statement is what intrigues me most. Who can’t agree with it? But I suggest that behind Forsythe’s frustration is a deep expectation that our birthright is to live in the middle class if we were born in America. We want to create a society where all you have to do to survive and get good money is to be born in this affluent land.

This being said middle-class America is dying if you are paying any attention to the numbers. The job-market is flat or in decline. College fees are rising and the property market is in the tank. And the new health care legislation has already raised my own monthly costs by nearly 50%. The policies we now have are more restrictive and invasive than we’ve ever known. And more and more of us middle-Americans are noticing what is happening. My grandparents, who ran a family farm, faced a less precarious future than do my grandchildren who will likely get a college education but find out by 2025 that it was worthless.

But poorer Americans have it much, much worse. Their prospects are truly bleak. Consider the statistics for obesity, childhood diabetes and much more. Says columnist Mark Steyn, “Potentially, this is not decline, but a swift devastating downward slide, far beyond what post-war Britain and Europe saw and closer to Peronist Argentina on a Roman scale.”

Ironically, Mark Steyn, a strong political and social conservative, sees the overall problem more clearly than those who are protesting on Wall Street. This led him to write, “There is a strange lack of boldness in most of their proposals.” He concludes that they are stuck in their own sense of entitlement and believe they are owed something because they were born in America.

Is this a Peronist moment? Are we actually on the verge of a social (and economic) collapse that could bring even deeper challenges for all of us, personally and collectively? I have no idea how to answer that question (Steyn is quite sure this is the case) definitively. But there surely is growing evidence of such a culture-wide slide. While I do not read this moment in terms of some kind of biblical apocalypse I do see this time in history as tragic evidence that we are mindlessly falling into a social milieu in which few seem to understand the significance of what is really going on. And most of the solutions are shallow and thoughtless.

As a result of thinking about this growing protest movement I was drawn again to Paul’s counsel to the church in Rome. Please read the whole of this text and pay careful attention to verses 11-14 at the end. Remember, the context of Paul’s counsel was not a modern democracy or some kind of socialist state. He was living in the time when imperial Rome controlled the world around him. This is why I believe this is clearly God’s word to us for this unusual time of social and political upheaval.

Romans 13:1-14 NIV

Submission to Governing Authorities

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Love Fulfills the Law

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The Day Is Near

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.