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The Power of Polycentric Movements – Occupy Wall Street Goes Global – 80+ Countries, 1,500+ Cities

Occupy Madrid

“At bottom, riots are always the language of the unheard” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Having spent 24 straight hours at Occupy Wall Street in NYC on October 5th – 6th, I wanted to write up a series of blog posts on the movement, this being my first.  I desire to do this for a few reasons.  First, for the longest time, there was a media blackout on the movement.  It was only covered by alternative new sources like Democracy Now.  It wasn’t until 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn bridge has the movement got much attention from mainstream news, and coverage for the most part has been quite shallow.

Occupy Berlin

But it has become hard for the mainstream news to ignore this movement now, as today there were rallies in over 1,500 cities across the world, including every state in the United States, and in over 80 different countries.  Tens of thousands rallied all around the world from large cities to small towns in protest against the greed and growing political power of multinationals as well as the growing disparity between the supper rich (top 1 percent), and everyone else (the other 99 percent).  “We are the 99 percent” is one of the common cries of the protesters.

The Fat and the Furious

Second, I stand in solidarity with many of the protesters, especially in regard to the growing “wealth gap” in the United States.  One of the reasons that underdeveloped countries remain underdeveloped is because the wealth of the country resides in the top 1 percent and everyone else is dirt poor.  When a country has a growing middle class, like Brazil, we consider this healthy.  But over the last 25 years in America, the rich are getting richer, and the 2010 census showed that we have the largest number of Americans (46.2 million) living under the poverty level in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.  An important article entitled Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,  written by Joseph Stiglitz an American economist, professor at Columbia University and recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences breaks it down for us.  He says,  “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year.  In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.  Their lot in life has improved considerably.  Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.” This ought to concern us as Christ followers.  Jesus had much to say about wealth inequality, just check out the not so popular Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6.

Occupy Seoul

Third, as I’ve been actively observing this movement, I have been awakened freshly to the power of polycentric movements.  Occupy Wall Street practices direct democracy.  It is not a hierarchical organization.  While polycentric might sound a bit eccentric as a term, it is an important concept for us to understand.  Polycentric implies a broadening circle of leadership which is neither centralized nor decentralized.  Polycentric means that there are many centers of leadership that interrelate with one another. In this series of post, I will share with you some videos which I took of a public assembly in NYC, demonstrating some ways in which this has fleshed its way out in this movement, which has gone global.

Occupy London

Finally, as one who spent some time in NYC, talking with many protesters and protesting myself, I feel that the group has some concrete goals and hopes which are not talked about much in mainstream media, so I hope to bring that to your attention. Hugo Assman in his book Theology for a Nomad Church insists that awareness of oppression must be the foundation of any contemporary theology. He says, “If the state of domination and dependence, in which two-thirds of humanity live, with an annual toll of thirty million dead from starvation and malnutrition, does not become the starting point for any Christian theology today, even in affluent and powerful countries, then theology cannot begin to relate meaningfully to the real situation. It’s questions will lack reality and not relate to real men and women.”


16 Responses to The Power of Polycentric Movements – Occupy Wall Street Goes Global – 80+ Countries, 1,500+ Cities

  1. Pingback: Dream Awakener » Praying with Occupy Wall Street (Against Greed)

  2. Hi JR,

    I am interested to hear about your conversations with the protesters and find out what they are protesting and what they want. If it is income inequality, do they want the government to step in and decide how much people should make? Or are they looking for a more benevolent CEO/Corporation? If it is the Wall Street bailouts, then maybe it would make more sense to protest in DC where the government bailed out the financial institutions with tax money?

    I have not heard a coherent message from the media. Unfortunately this article from the NY Post does not speak well of the protests. But maybe it is biased?

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/new_york_marxist_epicenter_gVrMJIKezP82E3Gkki2IvO

  3. John Teeling says:

    Kevin,

    Good questions. The reason the focus is not in Washington is because the Government of the United States is controlled by powerful lobbyists, especially Wall Street Lobbyists who are the most powerful. The Government cannot hold Wall Street accountable for their corruption (not everyone on Wall Street is corrupt). The Government whether Democrat or Republican represents Lobbyist Donors. We The People have not had a voice on Wall Street. Well, now we do. Whether or not our voice makes a difference remains to be seen. The media is clueless for the most part regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy Wall Street is in its infancy. Occupy Wall Street do not have a clear voice because there are a wide variety of citizens: conservatives, liberals, anarchists. You may not agree with their personal philosophies. However, I think that there needs to be one common agenda: Hold Wall Street accountable. If we can do this, it will affect the confidence level of the whole world in the financial system of the United States.

    Here’s a link which stirred me:

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/2011/10/13/some-thoughts-about-conservativechristianity-and-occupy-wall-street/#.Tpm3t6VLmUw.facebook

  4. John Teeling says:

    JR,

    I like it! We live in a great democracy. Democracy is great because it attempts to level the playing field whereby autocratic controlling people are put in check. That is why a women has a right to vote, and why a black is not a slave in a democratic country (although he and she was for quite some time). I believe in democracy and so did Martin Luther King. Let freedom reign in America.

    I like the idea of jesus occupying our hearts and we occupy our neighborhoods, our workplaces with His love. May we Occupy Wall Street with His love.

    I am looking forward to future posts!

  5. JR Woodward says:

    Kevin,

    Good questions. I will share what I experienced while there and some of their own collective writings. While there are certainly people from many different philosophical and economic leanings, including socialist, it doesn’t represent the whole group. One of the reasons they haven’t collectively given a set of “demands”, in my opinion, is because they don’t have full agreement on solutions. One of the primary reasons they are out there, is to raise the social conscious of what is happening, so that it might spur on people to think creatively about the solutions. I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post.

  6. JR Woodward says:

    John,

    Thanks for your thoughts and I look forward to you participating in future entries.

  7. Rachel says:

    What are these protestors doing to improve their situations? Has not God chosen to bless some and not others with wealth? While there are some who have flourishing businesses and integrity, others may not have this quality. But let the striving cease and prayers begin! Imagine if all these people were praying? If all the Tea Partiers were praying? In reference to media blackouts, the unborn have a media blackout, their cries are not heard even when those of us with physical voices cry outloud for them. Even on “conservative” FOX news, abortion take a back seat unless the financing is spoken of, otherwise the topic is altogether ignored. Where is the “Occupy Planned Parenthood”? Or “Occupy Victoria’s Secret and MTV”? We need a cultural blackout! 🙂 They have been given carte blanche, given Kudos by former Speaker Pelosi and winks by many on the Hill. Far from media blackout. As Americans we blackout the Christian voice, but then there are those around the world who face greater persecution. Blessed are the poor… You will always have the poor… Jesus knew their need was not money.

  8. Rachel says:

    There are frequent pictures of these protestors with various name brand items in their possession, from clothes to electronics. We thrive as a country because of these big companies. The more successful these companies are the more jobs they create for the average person. Capitalism works, if they work. 🙂

  9. JR Woodward says:

    Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing your lively thoughts as well as your passion for the unborn. Maybe you should start an “occupy planned parenthood” if God is calling you to do that.

    Prayer would certainly be a great thing. While the media is not ignoring the movement now, I mentioned that they had ignored it till 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn bridge, and that the coverage now is shallow. I think this is in part because the 1% “own” the mainstream media,and in the case of Fox, literally.

    Jesus never condoned greed and unjust gain, he condemned it, and Jesus words for the rich are both loving and revealing. To the “rich young ruler” it says “Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

    As you will see as I go through this series, Jesus had great compassion on the poor through his actions and words, and the poor will always be with us, not because he was justifying poverty, but because the poor understand that the people of God, Christ followers work for justice on their behalf, so the poor will always be with us, and also because we as followers of Christ are called to be with the poor. For when we serve the poor, we serve Christ.

  10. John Teeling says:

    Rachael,

    I love your passion for God and for all things good. Do you know that we, capitalists, are on the verge of another financial collapse? We patched up the last “near collapse” in 2008. I don’t think that we will be able to do patch it up next time, which might be very soon, unless, we can renew trust in our financial system. Whatever happens, God is in control. However, there will be a lot more financially poor people. Blessed are the poor in Spirit for we know how desperately we need God.

  11. Rachel says:

    JR and John,

    As Christians we are to be with the poor, there is no question about that. Our financial system is broken, all Americans can agree with that. “Spreading the wealth” is not the solution, however. The parable of the talents gives us a picture of good work ethic. I am not saying there is no corruption, nor am I saying the solution is only in capitalism. I have seen corruption first hand working part time with the local government the last 5 years.

    God is definitely in control John, we can “bank” on that. Being with the poor does not mean blanket handouts (no pun intended) it means teaching them “how to fish.” KP Yohanan of Gospel for Asia said that he did not want to create “rice Christians” dependent on food with a shallow faith. I think that applies to our situation here.

    As far as the unborn are concerned, I have been working with an organization since 2009, where we pray in front of clinics, encourage women to choose life. We also have a church outreach “Cherish Life” challenging churches to go beyond the baby bottle campaigns and train church members to speak up for the unborn, whether at an abortion mill or Congress and most importantly to create opportunities to share Christ. Francis Schaeffer said, ” On every clinic door there is an invisible sign that says, ” Open by permission of the Christian churches in this area.” They are the most vulnerable and weakest of us all.

  12. Jonathan says:

    I cannot support your position on the OWS demonstrators. While I agree with your compassion towards people, I do not believe the answer is to tear down capitalism. Capitalism has benefited the world far more than any other form of socio-economic organization.

    Money is not evil, people are – and not just the wealthy. Jesus calls ALL men to sacrifice so why should we just demonize the wealthy?

    I would propose that the better solution is not to attack poverty by making the rich poorer through political means (taxes and confiscation), but rather to focus on giving them Jesus who is the only one who can change hearts. Charity is not charity when coerced, neither does God prefer a compelled giver.

  13. JR Woodward says:

    Rachel and Jonathan,

    As I continue the series, I think you will better understand my personal position in regard to a solution to the growing disparity of wealth, and where the rich set up laws to benefit themselves.

    There is a huge assumption that you are both bringing to the table, which I have not stated. You seem to assume by your answers that all the Occupy Wall Street protesters are against capitalism. I know some protesters who are not. Most are against unbridled capitalism, and while there are certainly a number who are socialist, not all are. No where in my post do I condemn capitalism properly practiced with checks and balances. In fact, I think most of us know, through the Soviet Union and others who have tried, that socialism is bankrupt. I learned this in my travels to East Germany after the wall came tumbling down.

    But the form of unbridled capitalism that is arising in America is certainly not “Christian” or Christ like, and it is unjust as it stands. If you go to the passage that I provided in Luke, you will find that it is Jesus who gives the Woe’s to the rich, and who consistently speaks against hoarding, while at the same time blesses the poor. So you will have to fight with him on that one.

    As Christ followers, we are called to be both prophet and priests to our society, which if you have read my quote from Henri Nouwen, means we must at times confront oppressors.

    I stand with ows in that they are raising the social conscious of our nation to realize the growing disparity in our country, and seek to join God in bringing renewal in this area, not through socialism, but through conversion. For as Shane Claiborne has quoted, “When we truly discover how to love our neighbor as our self, Capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.”

    I look forward to some more lively discussion in the future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. John Teeling says:

    Rachael,

    I checked out the link you posted above. I do not like Star’s behavioralistic approach – mostly because so many people are not trained for the system. I am not against the capitalistic system as long as there is a fair and just playing field. I am not against Wall Streel bankers as long as there are accountable systems in place and as long as those corrupt bankers end up in the judicial system.

    In a communist countries there is a forced redistribution of wealth and not all comrades are equal. I prefer our democratic system whereby people have equal rights. I don’t agree with forced redistribution of wealth. However, I do believe in a fair tax system and in the privilege that God gives us to share our wealth – I don’t define wealth purely in economic term. True wealth is spiritual but it’s also emotional, mental and physical.

    I am interested in your statement, “As Christians we are to be with the poor…” I agree with you and it rings true scripturally because Jesus said, “As you treat the least of these, you treat me..” What would Jesus say? There’s a great book I read called, When Helping Hurts. This book outlines how well meaning people, even churches, enable poverty.

    I am for any group who would want to hold Wall Street accountable -Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street. There are extremists in every group. Don’t you think that there are a wide variety of philosophical differences within our armed forces?

    Being with the poor is messy. Jesus came and lived among us and our mess. Very few Christians want to step into the mess of their neighbors next door or down the street who are poor and become their friends so that they can share their wealth with us. We want people to be like us, to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The reality is God provides the boots, the straps and everything else. Anything we have is by the grace of God, not by my doing whatsoever.

    I have read KP’s book. I understand the idea of “rice christians”, however, it is my belief that God says we should feed the poor, rice if need be. It is a lot easier to speak with a person who is not starving because of rice in her belly that share the message of Christ with someone who is starving. It seems dehumanizing to reward a person for accepting Christ by giving them rice and witholding rice if they refuse Christ. I believe if I love a person because they are a creation of God, I will befriend them, feed them if need be, to earn the right to share Christ. I am for the spreading of wealth therefore I am for spreading the gospel of Jesus.

    I believe that Jesus will occupy any heart who will receive him. If we are occupied by Jesus, we can occupy any space for Him even Wall Street. We can occupy our homes with loving relationships empowered by Christ. We can occupy our neighborhoods, our places of work, our church institutions for goodness, for righteousness by the power of Christ. We are God’s occupation on earth. Our occupation does not give us value. Jesus Christ gives us supreme value. Our occupation allows us to do works of love while we live. I am for Occupy Wall Street for my reason, to hold corrupt bankers accountable. Thanks for the dialogue, Rachel.

  15. John Teeling says:

    Jonathan,
    I hear your position and I respect your position. We may not be as far apart in our thinking – I don’t know for sure. I am for capitalism – there is no better system but any system can be abused with money and power. I am for democracy and I believe that our government is supposed to represent the people. Unfortunately, our government represents autocratic corporations more than the people. You may trust the benovalence of corporations, I don’t. Many corporations are not out for the good of the United States and its people, they are only for themselves. There are many, many more Enrons out there.

    We may be on the verge of a complete and total economic collapse. The government saved the day in 2008 but now those tools of rescue are gone. The same systems which caused the meltdown in 2008 are still in place. Right now, I have no faith in our economic system. If we have a run on the banks, we’re up the creek – the whole world will be, even worse. The motley crew of 1773 who occupied three ships in Boston Harbor may have been liberal or conservative or both. Regardless, of their political affiliations, they aligned in their idea of justice and against unfair taxation. I am aligned with the motley crew of citizens for Occupy Wall Street to hold corrupt bankers (not all bankers are corrupt) accountable for their misdeeds and for safeguarding the economic system of the United States which affects the world. Occupy Wall Street has just begun. It begs the question…Do We The People have a right to dissent to “unconform” to this world? Each of us will answer to God.

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