October 7, 2011 by Ron Madson
“One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals”
–Proclamation on the Economy 1875 from The First
Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Resurrected on October 6, 2011
Today I joined the “Occupation.” I heard their voices, read their signs/handouts, asked questions, listened and took notes. There were an estimated 500 to 1,000 that marched on the downtown Salt Lake City business district before occupying Pioneer Park. I was pleasantly surprised in speaking with four of the key organizers of Occupy Wall Street/SLC (Skylar Hawk, Kora Christensen, Ryan Kane, and Gregory Lucero) that there was what I consider a genius to their protest: What appears on the surface to be a vague, rudderless, impromptu protest without concrete objectives or party affiliation is in fact a strategy that gives this movement its’ strength and even, ironically, its’ clarity.
What this Occupation/Protest is NOT defines it as much as what is IS.
—It is NOT part of any political party affiliation. It refuses to be co-opted by either the Democratic or Republican Party, or for that matter any definable political party. It IS a movement that seeks to affiliate with the entire political spectrum. Today at the march there were those that were Tea Partiers (the chant during the march was “Shame on the Fed”) that were stride for stride marching with liberals, progressives, and even Marxists.
—It is NOT beholden to any well funded special interest. It IS a movement that is truly operated and funded by those who are offering their last few dollars, spare jacket, and one person even offered me their half eaten meal. This group owes no allegiance to anything but their own conscience
—It is NOT a movement centered around an icon/personality. It IS deliberately leaderless. It seeks to be governed by “Common Consent.” Each night, like a little Swiss Canton, they engage in direct democratic vote from the little decisions such as where they will march the next day to their collectively stated agenda/goals—and they are fluid and subject to change. Their voice comes from those governed and not from any top down authoritarian straight-jacket.
–It is NOT a movement that defines itself by who it excludes. It seeks to include all humanity. It IS a movement that wants to include everyone—even the “one percent.” Bill Gates would fit in as well as the homeless. They are only excluding those who do not exist, namely, corporations and those who chose to exclude themselves from the suffering of humanity.
–It is NOT seeking to compel anyone through the force of authority, money or violence. It IS using the only force that it has—persuasion.
While they are wise in not impressing those that gather with a procrustean formula, after interviewing more than a dozen participants, it is my belief that their general common areas of concern are best captured in an article by Jason Hamlin of “Gold Stock Bull”:
1) End the Collusion Between Government and Large Corporations/Banks, So That Our Elected Leaders Are Actually Representing the Interests of the People (the 99%) and Not Just Their Rich Donors (the 1%).
2) Investigate Wall Street and Hold Senior Executives Accountable for the Destruction in Wealth that has Devastated Millions of People.
3) Return the Power of Coining Money to the U.S. Treasury and Return to Sound Money
4) Limit the Size, Scope and Power of Banks so that None are Ever Again “Too Big to Fail” and in Need of Taxpayer Bailouts
5) Eliminate “Personhood” Legal Status for Corporations
6) Repeal the Patriot Act, End the War on Drugs and Protect Civil Liberties
7) End the Imperial Wars of Aggression, Bring the Troops Home from All Countries, Cut the Military Budget and Limit The Military Role to Protection of the Homeland
Following the example of the Occupation Movement, I cannot nor will I speak for others who are part of the “Mormon Worker” collective, but I can speak for myself in saying that I enthusiastically support these seven general concerns.
So how does my Mormonism inform my support for this “Occupy Wall Street” movement?
At the root of my Mormonism is a belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the way, truth and light for all mankind. He saw the world from the bottom up. He gave voice to the least against the political, economic, and social structures of His day. He spoke for the 99% who were being oppressed by the 1%. He invited those with the most to give all they had to the poor and then come follow Him. In the Book of Mormon we learn that God is no respecter of person. He is a study in inclusiveness. In His kingdom there are no more “ites” or divisions among His people—they are of one mind and one heart, temporally as well as spiritually. Those that heard His very words and chose to follow Him “had all things in common” in both the Jerusalem and this New World—two powerful witnesses of what would naturally flow out of a loving one’s neighbor as oneself. When those that professed His name began to stray they began to believe that “man prospered according to the management of the flesh” and they built great monuments to their vanity (Rameumptons) while despising those less fortunate then themselves as being rejected of God. They built temples/ synagogues from the toil of the poor and then excluded them on account of their coarse clothes lest the temple grounds be polluted with their undesirable poverty. In the words of Isaiah, they would “grind the face of the poor” while lavishing upon themselves luxuries and excusing themselves and those in their combinations of all manner of wickedness.
Seeking to “be more wise” as counseled by the ancient editor of the Book of Mormon, the Lord has bound His latter-day people in a covenant to become one: “That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (Doctrine & Covenants 78: 5,6). And to provide for his Saints the Lord counsels us to do His ways: “Behold, this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted , in that the rich are made low.” Such principles, teachings and covenants lie at the heart of pure Mormonism.
So while driving to Occupy Wall Street/ SLC, I listened to those talk shows whose religion requires that they speak for Wall Street. They defined those protesters at Occupy Wall Street as filthy hippies, indolent welfare recipients, uneducated, the dregs of society who were determined to covet others’ wealth. I first met with some of the aforementioned organizers in Salt Lake City and found them to be intelligent, sincere, generous and courageous. Perhaps they were the exception, so I wandered around and spoke with a long-haired hippie looking young man who from his appearance typified the stereotype that the critics of this movement were portraying. This young man, unemployed, coarse on the outside but very sensitive on the inside, told me that he had been waiting for such a day as today. He expressed his love for all humanity, including the 1%, and his desire that somehow we could find a way to provide work, health insurance, and general basic needs for everyone. He went further. He felt he was part of something bigger then himself and that being there was a spiritual experience. I shared with him my personal faith and then it became for both of us a shared spiritual experience.
For some, or perhaps most Mormons, this protest and the protestors represent the very antithesis of what we have sought to cultivate—a bargain with the corridors of power and what William James called “the bitch goddess success, and a squalid interpretation of success.” We like to see ourselves as being more of a friend to Wall Street then those who we see on the margins of society. But I believe there is something deep within our better natures that yearns to join with the oppressed, the hungry, the sick, the afflicted, those on the margins of society. Well-known French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once declared that “Until you have marched to the barricades with the workers of the world, life has no meaning.”
I find meaning in marching with and supporting these protestors. Just before I left this afternoon, one young man approached me and said he was a BYU student. He told me that he really wanted to be there in support of the cause. He said that he could not get any other fellow Mormons/BYU students to join him—and he asked many. I told him that I was a practicing Mormon and BYU alumni and that I was with two other alumni so he was not alone, and that it was because of our Mormonism that we were there and not in spite of it.
“And the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart, and one mind, and there were no poor among them”
Ron Madson 10/6/2011
|Proclamation on the Economy, 1875The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Under such a system, carefully maintained, there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both state and national, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.Years ago, it was perceived that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us, which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a few at the expense of many. A wealthy class was being rapidly formed in our midst whose interests in the course of time, were likely to be diverse from those of the rest of the community. The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union; and, of all people, we stand most in need of union and to have our interests identical. Then it was that the Saints were counseled to enter into co-operation. In the absence of the necessary faith to enter upon a more perfect order revealed by the Lord unto the Church, this was felt to be the best means of drawing us together and making us one.
A union of interests was sought to be attained. At the time cooperation was entered upon, the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being consecrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions to which the possession and lack of wealth give rise were becoming painfully apparent. When the proposition to organize Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution was broached, it was hoped that the community at large would become stockholders; for if a few individuals were to own its stock, the advantages to the community would be limited. The people, therefore, were urged to take shares, and large numbers responded to the appeal. As we have shown, the business proved to be as successful as its most sanguine friends anticipated. But the distribution of profits among the community was not the only benefit conferred by the organization of cooperation among us.
Cooperation has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But now it is time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain cooperation and to do all in our power to make it a success. The local cooperative stores should have the cordial support of the Latter-day Saints. Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is in not our doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs.
Excerpted from the Apostolic Circular of July 1875. The complete text can be found in Edward Jones Allen, The Second United Order Among the Mormons (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936).