Occupy Faith NYC is a coalition of over 100 religious leaders from around New York that support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Last night they held a press conference at Judson Memorial Church near Washington Square to announce that five churches will open their doors for dislocated occupiers following the police raid at Zuccotti Park.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada Buddhist monk and member of Occupy Faith, delivered an eloquent endorsement of the Occupy movement. Here’s a short clip of his speech, in which he compares our current global situation to a man driving a car towards a cliff.
For more read Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “The Need of the Hour” from the Fall 2011 issue of Tricycle.
UPDATE: After posting this video, I wrote Bhikkhu Bodhi asking him why he has decided to support Occupy Wall Street. His response was powerful and is worth publishing in its entirety here.
There are several reasons I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. At one level, I see it as expressing a justifiable protest, long overdue, against the hijacking of the country’s economy by the financial and corporate elite, who enhance their wealth to the detriment of the overwhelming majority of ordinary people. We have too many people unemployed and under-employed; too many without homes or adequate nutrition; too many students burdened with heavy debts; too many people without health insurance or access to affordable health care. Over the past three decades, the gap in wealth between the top one percent and everyone else has expanded almost tenfold. The wealthy have grown richer by resorting to unscrupulous financial practices, forcing the government to protect them from collapse and pushing too many people into poverty and debt. The corporate and financial elite manipulate politicians to their advantage. Thus government policies respond, not to the needs of people, but to the appetites of the corporate elite. This is an affront to economic and social justice and a threat to the viability of democracy, which is now just a pale shadow of a government truly “of, by, and for the people.”
However, I don’t look at OWS movement solely in terms of its economic and political aspirations. At another level, I see OWS as a moral and even spiritual movement that is raising vital questions: “What ethical platform does this country stand on?” and “What kind of world do we want to create?” There are two fundamentally opposed ways of answering these questions. One sees our primary obligation to be the pursuit of self-interest. This position endorses competition as the driving force of progress and takes dominance over others as the mark of success. It treats people as disposable commodities, to be used for what they can yield and then discarded as “redundant.”
The other position sees our primary moral obligation to be to create a society—a nation and a planetary community—that gives everyone a fair opportunity to flourish and ensures that no one is left without support. From this perspective, government must provide a safety net that protects people from the pitfalls of poverty and personal calamity. From this perspective, supreme moral value is ascribed to care and compassion. Our social and political institutions must ensure that everyone enjoys an adequate standard of living, and has access to health care, education, and a clean environment.
I consider it a strength of the OWS movement that it hasn’t reduced its agenda to a specific set of demands. Perhaps it is a weakness of the movement that it has focused primarily on economic injustice and has not, as yet, stressed other deformities in our social and ethical system. At times the movement seems inchoate, but I believe it is struggling to give voice to our need to rise to a new stage of consciousness from which we see that, as a species and as a global community, we must thrive together in unity, by giving primacy to love, care, generosity, and compassion.
—Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
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