Submitted by Charles Sackrey; Dedicated to Karl Patten
We all know now that the money changers have ruined a good part of the world economy, brought millions to our knees and many more to the streets. Yet, on the bright side these blue suited, repeat offenders have forced us to ask a crucial question: Is our worship of capitalism simply another fantastic dream about a pie in the sky that was never there?
And, if so, two other questions: “What is to be done? And, just whose advice should we follow?” We will all have our favorite words of wisdom in these matters, ranging from the soft and resolute murmurs of the advocates of non-violence to the shouts of those demanding that we raid Goldman Sachs amd the home office of the Koch Brothers’ empire, and capture the felons as they try to slither their way to safety.
About these questions, I have found myself lately thinking about two of my own mentors who most usefully to me now about how to unseat these corporate criminals. Well, first off, there’s Jesus, who led my family to raise me as a Southern Baptist and made me come to believe that you had to worry about the fellow down the road who was in trouble. I’ll say more about Jesus in a minute.
Second, when I went to college in Texas, I was inspired and radicalized by left wing professors and I became in a predictable order first a communist, then an anarchist, then the democratic socialist that I am now. That path meant that along the way I would gather wisdom and inspiration from Joe Hill, the most famous member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies. The Wobblies were anti-capitalist unionists who, began in the early 1900s to wage a mighty class war with the bosses. This is one war you should read about if you haven’t already. The Wobblies were crushed in 1917 by the federal government for their opposition to capitalism and to World War I, only to rise again to organize farm workers in the 1920s and 30s. And, they still exist on a much smaller scale.
Joe Hill, an immigrant from Sweden, was an active organizer, speaker, and troubadour for the Wobblies from 1910 to 1915. Then in 1915 he was executed on trumped up murder charges by the state of Utah. He was enormously popular within the union, and famous for many of his songs and great courage in organizing. He is especially famous for a comment to a friend just before he was executed. He said, “I will die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.” He also added, “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”
The Wobblies believed in resisting the bosses in every way possible, but the weapon they considered the most powerful was the general strike. In such a strike, the workers – knowing that they are the ones who produce the output — simply would lay down their tools. The Wobblies knew that without their wage slaves, the capitalist bosses could not produce anything, and the system would stall and become vulnerable to being overthrown. In my anarchist days, I, too, used to dream about the general strike, and once again it seems to me a promising weapon in the war with the corporate bosses.
Given these views, I see the Occupy Wall Street movement as at least in part, a fabulous reincarnation of the spirit of Joe Hill and the Wobblies. And, I know that many of the older ones are being urged forward by remembering Joan Baez, or someone else, singing “ I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night. Alive as You and Me.” My hat is off to those in this movement, in my town and in all the others around the world, because they switched from being complainers to being organizers. Now, I dream happily that they and I will become worthy ancestors of the Wobblies. And, as they talk among themselves about short and long strategies, surely the idea of a general strike somewhere down the road will find its way into their discussions.
So, what about my second mentor, Jesus, himself, And, here, I’m not talking about the one who claimed his to be the son of God, and whose followers claimed he healed the sick, and could turn water into wine, among other miracles. The Jesus that most influenced me after I grew up was the rabble rouser who loved the poor and loathed their oppressors. Like many radicals, my favorite story about Jesus is the one, told by his disciple, John, and confirmed by many other witnesses. According to John, this is how Jesus answered the question, “What is to be done?” Just before Passover, Jesus went to the Jerusalem Temple and found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove the men and animals from the temple area. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
Jesus apparently was particularly perturbed about the burden of Temple commerce on widows and their children. Given this story, and whether we are faithful followers of Christ’s sacred word, or just an admirer of the parts of Jesus that were like Joe Hill, we might see this story as a mandate to do something like this: we organize a caravan and go to the offices of Goldman Sachs and of the Koch Brothers where, armed with whips made from cords, we demand that they follow us to the jailhouse where they can begin to pay for their crimes against humanity and democracy.
It is also interesting that, according to his disciples and other witness, the fracas as the temple was the only time they ever saw Jesus really angry. In fact, if you didn’t’ know this story, you might think Jesus spent most of time talking about love, grace, forgiveness and how awful things would get for us if we didn’t behave. I think we can all understand at this point why it was the bankers of his time who helped to push Jesus over the line into violence.
If I were a money changer, or a political hack in their pay, I would be worried about the collective rage now building about their actions. What they have done and are doing is likely to cause many of us to cross all sorts of lines in our struggle to regain the power they have seized.
A final note here is about a wonderful irony. While Jesus was the founder of Christianity, and Joe Hill was an atheist with a deep contempt for the church, they were as one in their unfettered anger for the money changers. And, as the Baptists in my family would put it, they were also both great witnesses for the good.