Recently, condemnatory remarks about Occupy Wall Street were made by Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) including “I am increasingly concerned by the growing mob occupying Wall Street and other cities across the country”, and by Rush Limbaugh who asserts that Occupy Wall Street people are “stupid”, and by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who said “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself”. These contemptuous and callous statements demonstrate an utter disregard of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the sufferings of common people who by their very presence are resisting systems of powerful corporate and political domination and exclusion. Rather than be present to the people of Occupy Wall Street, to empathize with, to embrace them, and commit to standing and working with them, these three men have distanced themselves by dismissing and asserting exclusion of the suffering masses. 

The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf states in his book by the same title, that Exclusion & Embrace are intentions and acts that all of humanity – including Mr. Cantor, Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Cain – may choose to take toward one’s fellow human beings. To embrace, Volf asserts, we “must cross a social boundary and move into the world of the other, to inhabit it temporarily” so that truth and trust – that is relationships – may exist between and among people and communities. Without embrace rooted in trust, there can be no community. Conversely, exclusion is both will and act that destroy community, build enmity, create an imbalance of power and can lead to abusive, unilateral domination. Grave societal and economic degradation follows the denigration and exclusion of suffering people; casting them as a mob, stupid and asserting that their poverty is their own fault. Is empathy no longer a quality of leaders? Importantly, there is a distinction to be drawn between the powers of exclusion and embrace.  

In ancient Palestine, Jesus (and vicariously his followers) was on trial in which neither his accusers nor judge cared for the truth. In the judge’s question, “what is truth”, it becomes clear that, as Volf states, the Empire and its powerful elite were interested only in the “truth of power” (power over another). Reciprocally, Jesus peacefully argues for the “power of truth” (relational power among) that transcends and universally trumps the powers of Empire. Over two thousand years later, the story continues. Jesus offers embrace; however, his accusers prefer to ostracize and unsuccessfully exclude the power of his truth.

 

The communities of commoners (the 99%) represented by Occupy Wall Street and related gatherings, those who are being factored out of austerity budgets and impoverished by the insatiable affluence of a controlling moneyed elite (and their well-lobbied politicians and public policies), are expressing their pain and peacefully resisting further exclusion.

Interestingly, the Occupy groups resemble those of civil rights activists of the 1960’s who were also maligned as a mob, stupid, incapable and unworthy. Much like the activists of the past, Occupy Wall Street and Rebuild the American Dream stand with and for the common good of all Americans: speaking the power of truth in search of equity and embrace.