The important question the movement raises, one that I hope we all take a moment to consider is, "what would it take to make us take to the streets in protest?"
I've written here before about our cultural disdain for those who take direct and public action to live out their personal values, whether it's through making statements that confront some untruth or injustice, being a community organizer, or holding up a sign in the rain on a street corner.
Practicing what we preach is hard, and fear of change is sometimes paralyzing, so it's no wonder that we can become confused, resentful or even outraged when someone does stand up for what they believe in, especially if what they believe in is different from our own views and beliefs. It's vulnerable, difficult and even embarrassing to put ourselves out there in front of complete strangers, let alone to do so for hours, days, weeks and months at a time; no wonder we sometimes look at the OWS folks like they're a little crazy. "There are civilized ways one is supposed to handle these things," we say. "Standing in the street can't accomplish anything."
But whatever you think of Occupy Wall Street protesters and their demands or non-demands, whatever good or bad things you think of when you hear the word "activist," please, PLEASE ask yourself this question: "what injustice would need to occur for me to drop what I'm doing and take action against it? What would make me protest in the streets?"
Would some great harm brought upon your family members, your children, your loved ones be enough?
Or would it take someone who makes decisions about your paycheck, your pension fund, your tax dollars being caught red-handed stealing or maliciously misusing those funds?
How about an imminent threat to the land you live on, or the public spaces in your community where you gather with friends, take kids to play, the places that define your environment? What if you found out someone was poisoning your water supply or putting harmful chemicals in your food?
Sure, maybe at first you go to a co-worker, or the police, or a lawyer, or a judge...but what if they didn't see it your way? What if they didn't bother to help you? What if they actively tried to stop you?
Is there something that could happen that would feel important enough for you to take action? Today, right now? What does it look like?
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a group of people who have decided that something has happened in their lives, in their world, that merits protest and other forms of direct action. They've decided that "the civilized ways one is supposed to handle these things" aren't enough, or aren't working. Some line has been crossed, and so they've decided to cross their own lines, making themselves vulnerable and uncomfortable and maybe a little bit embarrassed. We don't have to agree with where that line is to appreciate that they've found that clarity for themselves.
And if you can't think of anything that would cause you to take action, then what do you stand for?