Keeping Occupied

Saying that the Occupy Wall Street protests have been in the news lately is like saying Napoleon had a little setback at Waterloo; it’s true, but doesn’t even begin to tell the story.  Almost everyone has an opinion on this phenomenon and those opinions seem to depend on your political views.  Most of my conservative friends (the vocal ones, anyway) think the protesters are, at best, whiny crybabies who don’t want to work and, at worst, communists and anarchists intent on destroying the American Dream.  But, I don’t see it that way.  It’s no surprise to anyone that I lean just the least bit to the left; a quick scan of this web page and my Facebook status over the last year or so reveals that.  Because of that inclination, it should come as no surprise that I empathize with the protesters.  Considering that what they’re protesting (economic injustice) is something I’ve talked about a  lot, it would be strange if I didn’t.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about the protests until Thursday.  That’s when I saw a man panhandling on a street corner in my hometown of Greensboro N.C.  He was holding a sign that said “Need help.  Out of work and have 3 kids to feed.”  I’m going to tell you, seeing people begging on the streets of a place I remember as a the epitome of the American Dream hurts.

The Greensboro where I grew up didn’t have panhandlers and people certainly didn’t have to beg on a street corner to feed their families.  We played outside (after dark even), rode our bikes all the place and trick or treated without fear.  Yes, I realize the picture is nowhere near as idyllic as I tend to paint it; Greensboro was a focal point of the civil rights movement and there were riots that twice led to people being killed; once in 1969 at N.C. A&T and again in 1979 at Morningside Homes.  As a white kid who lived out in the country, I didn’t have to deal with that  kind of stuff.  I don’t have that luxury anymore.

Just over a year ago, my ex moved back to Greensboro, taking my youngest daughter with her.  Because of that, I’ve made a lot of trips back to my hometown and things are not as I remember them.  The man I saw Thursday isn’t alone; people panhandling are all over the place.  Greensboro’s always been a manufacturing town, specializing in textiles and tobacco.  The bigwigs in the textile industry have a history of going where the labor is cheapest and that’s not Greensboro anymore.  I don’t even have to mention what’s happened to the tobacco industry.  Maybe what’s happening there isn’t any worse than the situation in Raleigh or Charlotte or anywhere else, but it looks worse to me.  Seeing a man reduced to begging to provide for his family brought it home.

It’s the American way for those who work hard and achieve to be rewarded for that hard work and achievement.  I’ve got no problem with that.   However, it’s the Christian way to stand up for the equality of everyone, regardless of race, creed or income level.  If one group is taking advantage of another (as the 1% is clearly doing), then people of faith should step up and work to end this inequity.  And that’s what the protesters are doing, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof).  It’s what Jesus taught and invoking class warfare, socialism or  any other boogeyman won’t change that.