When all the people of the world love,
Then the strong will not overpower the weak.
The many will not oppress the few.
The wealthy will not mock the poor.
The honored will not disdain the humble.
The cunning will not deceive the simple.
This morning before church, my husband and I were discussing the Occupy movement.
We both agreed that we feel disturbed by the fact that such a huge proportion of the nation’s wealth is held by 1% of the population, and that major changes need to happen in government and in corporations to bring more sense to the distribution of wealth in the US. I just couldn’t see how hanging out at the park for weeks at a time was going to effect change.
“Well, at least they’re doing something,” my husband said. “They might not have formed a cohesive movement yet, but they’re providing a visual for the media and the politicians to see how many people are upset about this.”
I reminded him of all of the demonstrating I used to do in college and soon after. Take Back the Night rallies and the day of silence in support of homosexuals who can’t speak up about their sexual orientation, demonstrations outside of Wal-Mart in support of the right of their employees to organize and outside of grocery stores in support of the Mt Olive pickle boycott to support improved working conditions for migrant farm workers. We marched against the war in Iraq and wrote letters for Amnesty International. We organized postcard drives against the US War on Drugs and a symposium against the Patriot Act.
“I just don’t feel like this stuff does anything,” I lamented.
He gently reminded me that things take time.
“Some demonstrations clearly seem to make a difference while others don’t seem to do anything. The important thing,” he maintained, “is doing something.”
And then we went to church.
The service was about immigration.
Members of the congregation shared stories of immigrants across the country, both documented and undocumented, and the hardships they’ve faced trying to fulfill basic human rights, like being paid for work they perform and not having their families threatened if they speak up for themselves. They also talked about crises right here in central Massachusetts, where whole populations of immigrants are being physically threatened, denied wages for work they’ve already done, and targeted for restrictive and unconstitutional legislation. They talked about the efforts members of our church and others in the community are making to help connect with these immigrant communities, find out what they need, and act to provide these things.
People are making these connections, and they are acting.
I spent most of the service crying. I spent a good while after the service crying, too. I’m acutely aware of the immigrants in my life, from my own grandfather, to close friends, to people I have employed to watch my children and clean my house. Being reminded of the ill treatment people not native to this country face just caught me.
I’ve spent a number of years focussing on trying to change inhumane policies and feeling frustrated that things change so quickly for the worse and take so very long to change for the better. The things the members of our congregation are doing speak to me. While they’d clearly like to see policy change, the reward of their actions is in the connections they’re forming and the love they’re sharing. Their actions reflect the belief that, regardless of your opinion about US immigration policy, these are human beings who possess inherent worth and dignity but who are not being treated as such. They are being treated as a faceless mass of “Them.”
There are ample examples just in the past 100 years of just how dangerous it is to forget the humanity of those around us.
I support the Occupy movement and the awareness they’re trying to raise. I’m glad that they’re exercising their rights and turning the national conversation to the disparity between rich and poor (or even the rich and middle class), the tremendous power wealth carries within our government, and the relative powerlessness of the rest of the 99%.
But at this time in my life, that’s not the kind of action I want to take. I want the small-scale assistance that might not get the attention of the media but that helps a handful of individuals know that they are being seen and loved as fellow humans.