Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for A New Generation (North Atlantic Books, 2013) inspires and calls for the need of embodied awareness and enlightened actions. Studying the Occupy Movement and its protestors, authors Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko converse back and forth, emphasizing ‘spiritual democracy’ as necessary if we are not only to survive as a species on this beautiful, sacred planet, but also to thrive together through our conscious, committed actions as cocreators of a planet that we all share.
Adam Bucko: Imagine a group of protestors gathering together at one of the Occupy Movement sites. Suddenly, one of them does what they call a “human microphone” check. The mic is on. The ritual of call and response is about to begin. The liturgy of hope is about to start.
Most of the people there are young, in their twenties. Looking around, one can see people from all walks of life. There are college students, young professionals, mothers with babies, artists, even former Wall Street employees who decided to join in. Many are eager to participate in this regenerating ritual. Some feel broken, worried about what kind of future their kids will have.
Many are holding signs. There is one kid holding a sign that says, “That we’re young only means we have the most to lose by standing idle.” There is someone there with a sign that reads, “Obama is not a brown-skinned antiwar socialist who gives away free healthcare . . . you’re thinking of Jesus.” There is an elderly woman who looks like she could be the grandmother of any of these kids. Her sign says, “I’m 87 and mad as hell.”
Matthew Fox: There is much to be angry about in today’s world, whether you are young or old, but certainly if you are young. Adultism reigns. The debts the young are inheriting, which include not only unheard of educational debts but the debts of foolish wars and the debts of a depleted Earth system and the loss of so much beauty and richness and variety of species, the deteriorating health of the planet, climate change, ineffective political systems and religious systems—they all cry out for grieving. And anger is the first level of grief, after all. The question is not “Who is angry and why?” but “What are we doing with our anger? What is the most effective use of it?” What Howard Thurman and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. teach us is that it is possible and necessary to steer anger into useful protest and authentic change.
Adam Bucko: There are also signs that say, “I won’t believe corporations are people until the state of Texas executes one” and “If only the war on poverty was a real war, then we would be actually putting money into it.” There is even a dog there protesting, holding a stick in his mouth with attached little flags that read, “Democracy gone . . . to dogs.” Finally, there is a sign that reads, “Sorry for the inconvenience. We are trying to change the world.”
A passerby, upset that his favorite coffee truck had to move because of this spectacle, shouts at one of the kids, “Why don’t you get a job!” He answers, “I would, but there are no jobs.”
The kid is right. There are no jobs. He is part of a “lost generation” that has been marked by “debt, joblessness, insecurity, and hopelessness” and abandoned by “its market-obsessed, turn-a-quick-profit elders.” Today this kid is gathering with many others to reclaim the promise of a word so often used in the Bible: he is here to reclaim hope.
Matthew Fox: For many young people on the economic margins, joining the military seems like the only available option. We spend a trillion dollars on war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is nothing left for schools and construction jobs and infrastructure at home. The abandonment that young people feel from churches, schools, and government is a sign of how we are in a moment of great change, and our institutions have not caught up yet by any means. But time is running out. And if despair takes over, grave danger awaits us all. The great medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas said that while injustice is the worst of sins, despair is the most dangerous, because when you are in despair, you care neither about yourself nor about others.
Adam Bucko: I recall meeting a homeless girl at a shelter some years ago. Like all of the other kids there, she too had dreams. She dreamed of a future in which she could make something of her life. She had all the odds working against her: poverty, lack of funds for college, no mentors who could help her find her way, yet she still had the courage to dream.
She desperately wanted to start her life anew. She wanted her American Dream—nothing too extreme, just a good and meaningful job that could give her a sense of self-worth, a modest apartment, perhaps a future family.
So there she was, looking for her promise and looking for her dream. But there were no jobs except for one, the US Army. This job accepted her with a smile. I don’t know what happened to that girl, but my guess is that she signed up and was shipped to Iraq on her eighteenth birthday. What a way into hope, what a way into her dream and her future. Is this all our society has to offer?
Then just last week, while walking around my neighborhood, it dawned on me that there aren’t any youth centers in my neighborhood. No youth centers, yet two US Army recruiting centers. Why worry about our kids when we can ship them off to Iraq? Perhaps there they can learn what life is all about: death, destruction, mayhem, the “enemy.” Then they return to our country with PTSD and haunted memories for a lifetime.
A cover story of Time magazine in July 2012 reported that the suicide rate among US soldiers had reached one per day. This is unprecedented. Suicide deaths are higher than combat deaths.
Was the girl I met at the homeless shelter one of the soldiers who died today, I wonder? Or have we only done our best to set her up for a tortured life?
Matthew Fox: I like the teaching from the eco-philosopher David Orr that “hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up.” We need to get to work to provide what is real for the next generation across the board: real education, real jobs, real values, real politics, real religion.
The great Howard Thurman makes an important distinction between the “God of Religion” and the “God of Life.” They are not always, unfortunately, the same thing, and when they are not, we have to return to the God of Life to rebegin not only religion but culture itself. I think we are living in such a time. Just like the God at Penn State was a God who cared not about innocent children but about the preservation of that institution, and the same can be said of the God of the Roman Catholic Church, so we have to begin anew with the God that Thurman says “is the life within life” and the “heart of the universe” that puts love first and justice first.
So easily can the God of Religion saddle up to the Gods of Empire, of Commerce, of Greed, of Power, of Militarism. That is why we always have to criticize the idols around us and within us. Idolatry is alive and well; we have to pay attention.
Adam Bucko: Speaking of hope being a “verb with the sleeves rolled up,” while protesting outside the White House against the militarization of our country, Chris Hedges gave a beautiful speech called “Real Hope Is about Doing Something.” I want to bring some selected passages from that speech into our conversation.
“Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government. . . .
Hope does not mean we will reform Wall Street swindlers and speculators. . . .
Hope does not mean that the nation’s ministers and rabbis, who know the words of the great Hebrew prophets, will leave their houses of worship to practice the religious beliefs they preach. Most clerics like fine, abstract words about justice and full collection plates, but know little of real hope. . . .
Hope knows that unless we physically defy government control we are complicit in the violence of the state. All who resist keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become enemies of hope.
Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. Hope does not come with the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is an action. Hope is doing something. . . . Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope does not believe in force. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on us all. . . . Hope sees in our enemy our own face.
Hope is not for the practical and the sophisticated, the cynics and the complacent, the defeated and the fearful. Hope is what the corporate state, which saturates our airwaves with lies, seeks to obliterate. Hope is what our corporate overlords are determined to crush. Be afraid, they tell us. Surrender your liberties to us so we can make the world safe from terror. Don’t resist. Embrace the alienation of our cheerful conformity. Buy our products. Without them you are worthless. Become our brands. Do not look up from your electronic hallucinations to think. No. Above all do not think. . . .
The powerful do not understand hope. Hope is not part of their vocabulary. They speak in the cold, dead words of national security, global markets, electoral strategy, staying on message, image and money. . . . Those addicted to power, blinded by self-exaltation, cannot decipher the words of hope any more than most of us can decipher hieroglyphics. Hope to Wall Street bankers and politicians, to the masters of war and commerce, is not practical. It is gibberish. It means nothing.
I cannot promise you fine weather or an easy time. . . . I cannot pretend that being handcuffed is pleasant. . . . If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished. . . .
Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others. Hope affirms that which we must affirm. And every act that imparts hope is a victory in itself.”
Matthew Fox: A powerful message indeed, combined with his witness as well. I too have found hope and moral imagination, a renewal of energy therefore, in visiting Occupy sites in Boston, New York, North Carolina, Colorado, San Francisco, and Oakland.
Adam Bucko: I love it when Chris Hedges says that “any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeds to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others.” Somehow I feel that this captures what happens when kids of the Occcupy Movement come together.
Reprinted with permission from Occupy Spirituality by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox and published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2013.