Evicting conscience at Occupy Wall Street

Bebeto Matthews AP Police arrest an Occupy Wall Street protester at Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 in New … Continued

Bebeto Matthews

AP

Police arrest an Occupy Wall Street protester at Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 in New York.

Not in the light of day, but in the dead of night, the New York City police department moved in on the protestors at Zuccotti Park, the heart of the #OWS movement, evicting the protestors and arresting many.

There were many excuses given for this police raid, chief among them, as in Mayor Bloomberg’s statement, “guaranteeing public health and safety.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had heard those same kind of excuses before, and here is his answer applied to Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York:

“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?

Expediency asks the question – is it politic?

Vanity asks the question – is it popular?

But conscience asks the question – is it right?”

No. It is not right to evict Occupy Wall Street. It is an offense to conscience.

The protestors in Zuccotti Park and around the nation have become the conscience of our nation, bringing our descent as a nation into widening inequality among the very rich and everybody else (the 1 percent and the 99 percent) from the margins to the center of our awareness. Evicting those who are calling our nation to act on its conscience and its deepest values of political freedom and economic equality just isn’t right. This isn’t right.

Scott Eells

BLOOMBERG

Demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street movement gather at Foley Square in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.

Conscience is an important religious concept that has been held captive for too long by anti-choice activists. There are many other ways in which conscience needs to be applied our public life besides reproduction.

Conscience is a powerful religious concept. It is often depicted as residing in the heart, a way sacred texts emphasize the absolutely vital role conscience plays in human life. In Jewish thought, the heart is the ultimate witness to the worth of our moral acts, and it is that witness that ultimately determines the moral worth of our acts. It was a supreme irony, in this regard, that in their destructive haste to “clear” Zuccotti Park, the NYC police apparently destroyed a Torah belonging to Occupy Wall Street protestor Michael Glazer, who called New York City police to report the destruction of this sacred Jewish text. What witness does this give to the moral worth of this act of destroying the possessions of those who occupy?

Muslims also focus on the heart when engaging in ethical decision making. According to the Koran (57:27), God “places compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him.” In almost all religious traditions, “listening to the heart” can bring one’s own voice into harmony with the truth of God.

But the voice of conscience can be silenced by a hardened heart, as in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus preached to thousands, but they had no food. In Mark, the Gospel records that Jesus fed these thousands with loaves of bread and fish, but there were those, even among his own disciples, who just didn’t get it, “for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:52)

EDUARDO MUNOZ

REUTERS

A protestor affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement is arrested by New York City police officers while trying to returned into Zuccotti Park, in New York November 15, 2011.

It takes a “hardened heart” to evict the Occupy Wall Street protestors and then claim they can come back and occupy the Zuccotti Park, except without their tents, sleeping bags, food kitchen, library, and everything else that made their occupation livable. Mayor Bloomberg has said, “Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.”

“Expediency asks the question – is it politic?” said Dr. King. That’s expediency from the Mayor, packaged as concern for public health and safety.

It’s not right.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • naksuthin

    We need to start using some of the techniques that have been very successful in Syria, Iran and Red China to get rid of protestors.
    The US has been too lenient with mobs and unruly protestors. Look at what happened during the civil rights movement in America when police gave in to public pressure and allowed the mobs to occupy restaurant counters, universities, and public streets.
    Now compare that to the firm hand the Communist Chinese government used at Tienanmen Square to put down the “occupiers” using force.
    Had the US government used brute force to put down the sit-ins back in the 60′s , Obummer wouldn’t be president today

  • commonsense2x

    Conscience is a value largely lost by a capitalistic society where greed has won out over fairness and integrity. How many of us, offered a million dollars to perform an illegal act that we might get away with, would refuse it?
    Conscience is not a religious concept. It’s a spiritual ideal that guides our actions along the lines of right and wrong, good and bad.
    There are many pressures being applied to Bloomberg from both sides. A man of integrity and conscience might sit in silence, and determine what would be the high road decision. I suspect that’s not what happened here.
    I’ve read elsewhere that the police threw the OWS library, containing over 5,000 texts (including many sacred texts of multiple spiritual traditions), in a dumpster. Perhaps for safekeeping, but more than likely not. Men and women of conscience could never have performed such an act.
    Let us hope that OWS as a movement aids in moving our society into one more in touch with conscience and integrity.

  • commonsense2x

    Against the civil rights movement that led to a higher level of equality among men and women?

    Against the sit-ins that led to the end of the Vietnam War, which killed hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and served the interests of no one but the American military industrial complex?

    Approving of the brutality, violence and repression exercised by the Chinese at Tiananmen Square?

    You, sir, demonstrate precisely the point of this article.

  • lopence

    Zuccotti Park is privately owned land, accessible to the public, with clear rules for use of the park. OWS has been disobeying the rules since the very beginning. Yes, it was time for Brookfield Properties to ask the city to enforce the rules and time for Bloomberg to step up to the plate and enforce them. Brookfield has said that the protesters are welcome to continue to gather in Zuccotti, just not camp out there. A very reasonable compromise in my opinion.

    I would hazard a guess that Ms. Thistlewaite would object if 200 people suddenly showed up on her front lawn and pitched tents without her permission. Why would her property rights be any more important than the rights of Brookfield Property? Just to clue her in, they are not.

    If Mrs. Thistlewaite is so supportive of OWS, perhaps she can invite them to camp out on property she owns, thereby salving her conscience.

  • alanmd

    Empire don’t need no stinking conscious.

    Krystallnachts all over America:

    With the attacks on Portland, Oakland, and now the New York Occupy Wall Street locations in the middle of the night by paramilitary forces of the EMPIRE, we are seeing the precise equivalent of Krystallnacht in America —- and this is no surprise because the corporate state, like the fascist Nazi Empire in Germany in the 1930′s is precisely the same!

    Krystallnacht in America is happening right now all over America — from coast to coast — and will probably happen in the capital of the new global Fourth Reich Empire in Washington DC.

    Yes, the 21st century, post-nation-state global corporate/financial/militarist Empire has taken off the gloves, bared its fangs, and is now forcefully and brutally cementing the take over of our former country, which the disguised Empire had previously done over the past three decades by hiding behind the facade of its modernized TWO-Party Nazi-like “Vichy” sham of faux-democracy and totally illegitimate government —- just as the Nazi Empire’s physical attack, capture, and occupation of France employed a phony ‘Vichy’ government for Frenchmen who behaved, but used the tow-trucks with wire rope nooses for those who dared to confront the EMPIRE.

    Occupy, you have caused embarrassment and threat to the new global Empire that controls America, and now you will be dealt with by stronger and stronger means, just as the Nazi Empire in France dealt with uncooperative and resistant Frenchmen with the wire rope noose.

    This is the Krystallnacht of America, which future historians (if there are any) will record as the overt and violent take-over of a country that had already been reduced by Empire to a quiet ‘walking dead image’ of our promising democracy.

    Best luck and love to Occupy

    Liberty, democracy, justice, and equality
    over
    violent/Vichy
    empire,

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

  • noved

    “But conscience asks the question – is it right?”

    This action by Bloomberg exemplifies exactly what OWS is about – raising the consciousness of the American people and showing how this 1%’er can at any time exert unconscionable force upon the 99%. This was shown previously when Bloomberg bought the New York Council and made them vote him in for an “illegal” third term. Bloomberg’s disconnect with the American people comes through loud and clear!!

  • thomasmc1957

    So much for the myth of freedom in America.

  • tateofpa

    If you have daughter thinking about joining these OWS groups, I want to let you all know that young women are being rape and murder is on the rise at these encampments. Unlike the national media, who will not report the lawlessness in these encampments. It’s time the media starts doing what is moral and tell people of the dangers at these encampments.

  • cecilg

    I am a part of the imposed on 99% and I sincerely think the great disparity in wealth in this country (and the world) is both dangerous and disgraceful. Wealth itself is not disgraceful, rather it is often disgraceful in the the way it was acquired and how it is used. But Occupy Wall Street is not the proper way to correct the situation. That group had no real leadership, no clear and unified purpose, and not all of the participants were high minded and upright people. They were illegally occupying a privately owned property, and many of them were doing things less honorable than reading from their alleged 5000 book library

    Mayor Bloomberg may have used the wrong tactics, but his goal and the outcome was right. This mob did not speak for my conscience, which of course clearly means I have a defective conscience. So be it.

  • thebump

    What laughable claptrap.

    The authoress makes an absolute mockery of the word conscience: On the one hand, she champions the abortion industry that slaughters innocent human beings by the millions. Then she praises this hippie filth — strung-out slackers and assorted rapists, arsonists, hooligans and anti-Semites. Unbelievable.

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