I’ve been fascinated by the spate of “Occupy” protests lately. Occupy Wall Street, Occupy DC, even Occupy Austin. From what I’ve read and can tell, the protesters have a loose agenda based around a few hot topics: tax reform, corporate greed, and environmental issues among others.
My master’s thesis at seminary was on the antiwar movement within the Episcopal Church during the Vietnam War. So of course, I read a lot of articles, columns, and newspapers from the 1960s and 70s about protests. I even interviewed some Episcopalians who had been involved in protests against the Vietnam War. From all of that research, I came away with one simple observation: people don’t like protesters. Whatever the cause, whatever the stimulus, the majority distrusts people who have the energy to stand in the streets and chant slogans.
Perhaps this occurs only because it is so easy to caricature protesters. Take Tea Party protesters – “Oh, they’re just a bunch of white people who only care about money.” Or Occupy protesters – “Oh, they’re just a bunch of whiny college kids who have nothing else better to do.”
Again, I’m not offering my views on the Occupy agenda (I’ll save that for another post). But I am lamenting the fact that there is a sense of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Take the Vietnam War again – early in the war, before the Tet Offensive, many protesters were mocked and ridiculed for their actions even though they were convinced the war was immoral. However, if those protesters had not done anything, then the issues may not have been raised.
Personally, as a Christian, I know that there are awful atrocities and injustices being committed around the world. Among the guilty are surely governments, corporations, and sadly, even churches. So what do I do? I want to make my voice heard by those in authority, but I fear that is just kicking against the goads. I want to make my supplications know to God, but that requires little risk on my part. I am torn down the middle. Do I protest by dropping to my knees in prayer or do I protest by taking to my feet and grabbing a sign?
Well, probably both. Because really, both of these actions cut against the grain of society and upset the majority.