A Message and Strategy for “Occupy Wall Street”

This past weekend, Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were held in over 951 cities in 82 countries as people around the globe joined in an international day of solidarity against the greed and corruption of the 1%.

The media, trying to discredit all the demonstrators, say we don’t know what we are for, only what we are against. In the NY Times on Tuesday, Oct. 18, a story about Occupy Wall Street claimed that the only thing the demonstrators agreed upon was that they were angry, but not about what much less what they actually wanted.  So I believe there is much to be gained were we to embrace the following 20 second sound bite for “what we are for.”

  • We want to replace a society based on selfishness and materialism with a society based on caring for each other and caring for the planet.
  • We want a new bottom line so that institutions, corporations, government policies, and even personal behavior are judged rational or productive or efficient not only by how much money or power gets generated, but also by how much love and kindness, generosity and caring, environmental and ethical behavior, and how much we are able to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement the grandeur and mystery of all Being.
  • To take the first steps, we want to ban all money from elections except that supplied by government on an equal basis to all major candidates, require free and equal time for the candidates and prohibit buying other time or space, and require corporations to get a new corporate charter once every five years which they can only get if they can prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens. We call this the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution (ESRA).
  • We want to replace the mistaken notion that homeland security can be achieve through a strategy of world domination by our corporations suppoted by the US military and intelligence services with a strategy of generosity and caring for others in the world that will start by launching a Global Marshall Plan that dedicates 1-2% of our GMP ever year for the next twenty to once and for all eliminate global poverty homelessnes, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care — knowing that this, not an expanded militarr, is what will give us security.
  • And we want a NEW New Deal that provides a job for everyone who wants to work, jobs that rebuild our environment and our infrastructre, and jobs that allow us to take better care of educating our youth and caring for the aged. That’s what we are for! And you can read more about them atwww.spiritualprogressives.org

Ok, it was two minutes instead of 20 seconds, but we deserve that amount of time.


For direct action, we need to begin non-violent sit-ins aimed at disrupting the normal operations of those corporations that have acted illegally and immorally, but gotten away with it because their friends control the Democratic Party as well as the Republican. We can’t just occupy parks, we need to escalate our activity in a totally non-violent way.

For a longer term strategy, we need to run a candidate or a series of candidates (different ones in different states) to challenge Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries, else the power-brokers will continue to ignore the progressive sentiments of the American majority, telling themselves that since we have no electoral alternative, we’ll always be there for the Democratic power brokers no mater how badly they ignore the needs of the 99%. Unless we have a presence in the electoral arena in 2012, our voices will be totally marginalized and the already-far-to-the-right discourse in American politics will shift even more in that reactionary direction. But we have an amazing opportunity: we can use a challenge to Obama in the Democratic primaries (NOT the general elections, where many of us will end up supporting Obama and not making the mistake of 2000 in claiming that there is no difference at all between Dems and Republicans), to do in the Democratic Party what the Tea Party did inside of the Republican Party: push for a worldview that is coherent and clear, and policies that embody Our New Bottom Line.

The big problem facing us is how to take the millions of Americans who are ready to move in this new direction to work together coherently. Yet we can rejoice the first step has been taken: Americans coming out of the closet of despair and calling for a world of justice, peace and caring for each other and for the planet.

I’m particularly proud that young Jews participating in these demonstrations have created Sukkot, the temporary huts that Jews are supposed to live in for 7 days (the holiday started Wednesday night October 12) to symbolize detachment from the material security provided by our homes, to re-identify ourselves as a people that has mostly been homeless for most of our history, and to remind ourselves that all the accomplishments of material security are meaningless unless shared with everyone else. Tikkunista Jews (tikkun means healing and transforming the world) are challenging the establishment Jews, some of whom run the very institutions that all of us supporting Occupy Wall Street hope to see replaced by a more just order. Though right-wingers have followed David Brooks’ attempt to smear the demonstrators as anti-Semitic, the truth is that the Jewish world can be proud that a high percentage of these demonstrators are Jewish — and challenging the establishment Jews who have a disproportionate presence in the community of bankers and investment brokers.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine and Chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Author of the New York Times best-seller, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right (Harper, 2006), his next book forthcoming in November is Embracing Israel/Palestine: A strategy for Middle East Peace. RabbiLerner@Tikkun.org


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