In the past several years, multinational corporations' unstoppable dominance over our media and our political process has led me to cynicism and despair. It is hard to watch our government's increasing disregard for our poorest people, the systematic annihilation of the blue collar middle class, and what seems like endless warfare to protect and promote our addiction to petroleum.
All that seems to matter to most of our politicians is gaining and holding onto power. For that you need money, the backing of multinational corporations and those who hold wealth. Politicians who want to be re-elected cannot promote any real reforms. And so despite high-flown rhetoric that periodically raise my hopes for the country I love, no real change happens and my hopes are dashed, again and again.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying that we have the finest Congress money can buy, and it still seems true to me. It no longer feels to me like we have a democracy, but a plutocracy, a government of, by, and for the wealthy. Using the language of democracy to promote corporate interests is as bad using religious language to justify terrorism, violence, and intolerance. It goes so far beyond hypocrisy in my eyes that I just want to close them.
After so many body blows, my idealism decided to stay on the mat and let the bell ring. I stopped listening to news that crowed the triumphs of greed and violence over common people and sovereign nations. I elected to stop my ears, go about my daily work, and withdraw from a political process that seems rigged not only against me but against democracy. I believe in democracy, its underlying principles and the promise it could hold. I wish we still had it in our country. It seemed like that nothing I could do would turn the political tide.
Then there was the economic downturn of 2008. I have seen the effects of long-term unemployment (loss of self-esteem, depression and despair) not only in members of my congregation but also among my family and friends. It surprised me to hear recently that we're in a new economic slump. I had not realized we were out of the last one. In fact, I had thought it was slowly worsening. I feared for my son and all our children. What would this mean for them?
The only thing that seemed to "recover" was Wall Street. It is cold comfort for those who are jobless, who have lost their homes,who have no access to health care, to hear that things have improved for the richest people, enormous corporations. It is cold comfort to know that the people whose greed and graft led to a supposed need for a bailout are becoming richer because of it, when conditions for so many of us slowly worsen. What sort of marker is the Dow Industrial Average for real, person-centered economic recovery?
Then a couple weeks ago I started hearing of a movement to Occupy Wall Street. I did not hear about it from the national media, but through the same sorts of social networks that supported the Arab Spring. (Funny, that. Is this the United States Fall?) The more I read and heard about it, the more heartened I have become.
I do not know if it will make any difference, this real populist movement for tax reform and accountability. To the extent that we truly have democracy, perhaps it will. Whether or not it succeeds in promoting reform, it is heartening to see some people rise from the mat and assume a stance, any stance, against the giants. Images of David and Goliath come to me.
The demonstrators' courage heartens me. Their insistence that they have a right to be heard, and to use the rights guaranteed by our constitution in gaining that hearing gives me some hope. They remind me of something Ghandi said, that satisfaction lies in the effort, not the attainment - that full effort is full victory. Some of my colleagues have joined and supported the demonstrators. Me, too. I may not be the idealist of my younger days, but I want to make an effort. I am rising off the mat.
How many Davids will it take to have any effect on this Goliath that we're told is "too large to fail?" Perhaps it is really to large and influential not to prevail? I don't know. Perhaps we will never have the numbers to gain any ground, but at least I will do what I can to hold what little we have.