Archive for Civil Rights

Will Occupy Wall Street Lead to the Building of a Moral Economy?

Jeanne Christensen, RSM, Editor KCOB

Many of us have been following and/or participating in local “Occupy Wall Street” events.  It is both hopeful that voices are being raised and discouraging that, in many instances, those with power or authority have striven to silence those voices.  Encouraging is what John Gehring, from Faith in Public Life, says in his recent article (Occupy Wall Street, False Idols and Building a Moral Economy),in Catholics in Alliance —  “Even as some pundits and politicos dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as a fleeting burst of activism from the far left, Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said last week that the “basic sentiment” behind the protests aligns with mainstream principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.”  How many churches are waking up to the need to speak out about the gross injustices in the U.S. economic system? Gehring also says:

Ever since Pope Leo XIII ushered in modern Catholic social teaching with an 1891 encyclical challenging the excesses of a savage capitalism that exploits workers for maximum profit, the Catholic Church has been on the front lines of the struggle for economic fairness.  During the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan touted “trickle down” economic theories that disproportionately benefited the richest 1 percent, Pope John Paul II warned against an “idolatry of the market” and insisted that private wealth was subject to a “social mortgage” to benefit the common good. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, called for an economy that serves the “dignity of the human person” and responded to the era’s anti-tax orthodoxy (which remains a powerful force today with the Tea Party) by urging that “the tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” Pope Benedict XVI denounced the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in his 2008 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and called for a more just distribution of wealth. And last week’s Vatican document, widely covered in the US media, spoke clearly about “the primacy of being over having,” of “ethics over the economy” and of “embracing the logic of the global common good.

The Vatican’s complete document can be found here or here.  This document is an analysis of the moral failing behind the current economic crisis.  Even more—signed by the Council’s head, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and by its secretary, Bishop Mario Toso—the document charts what might be called a “Catholic way forward” from the present morass.  To read an interesting analysis of the document, read Professor Steve Schneck’s article, The Vatican’s Breathtakingly good Statement on Economics .

George Weigel and other conservative Catholic commentators who have arrogantly dismissed Church teaching on economic justice and income inequality for years should dust off their copies of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Compendium is clear that “the Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be accessible to all.” It points out that the Church has “never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable” – insisting that a “universal destination of goods” is inextricably linked with a “preferential option for the poor.”

As Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University has frequently pointed out, the Vatican’s consistent calls for a radical rethinking of global capitalism is far to the left of the most progressive Democrat in Congress.  While this causes heartburn for those self-styled defenders of orthodoxy on the Catholic right who think they have a monopoly on Catholic identity, it just might be the kind of moral medicine we need today.”

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Plymouth, MA: Thanksgiving Day, 2010

By Michael Humphrey

For the past 41 years, Plymouth, Massachusetts has commemorated its most famous day, Thanksgiving, with an argument. But it’s not the typical holiday fight between family members. The debate comes in the form of two marches, each telling its own story about those men, women and children who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. One story, the English pilgrim’s, is about survival and the birth of a nation. The other story, the American Indian’s, is one of treachery and the death of a people. For my final project at NYU, my wife Lorie and I marched with both sides and filed this report.

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Excerpts: Jack E. White on Martin Luther King

Jack E. White, in a TIME 100 article (April 13, 1998) said of Martin Luther King, Jr. “He led a mass struggle for racial equality that doomed segregation and changed America forever.”  Mr. White’s article goes on to say:

“It is a testament to the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. that nearly every major city in the U.S. has a street or school named after him. It is a measure of how sorely his achievements are misunderstood that most of them are located in black neighborhoods.

Three decades after King was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn., he is still regarded mainly as the black leader of a movement for black equality. That assessment, while accurate, is far too restrictive. For all King did to free blacks from the yoke of segregation, whites may owe him the greatest debt, for liberating them from the burden of America’s centuries-old hypocrisy about race. It is only because of King and the movement that he led that the U.S. can claim to be the leader of the “free world” without inviting smirks of disdain and disbelief. Had he and the blacks and whites who marched beside him failed, vast regions of the U.S. would have remained morally indistinguishable from South Africa under apartheid, with terrible consequences for America’s standing among nations. How could America have convincingly inveighed against the Iron Curtain while an equally oppressive Cotton remained draped across the South?

Even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in 1954, what the world now calls human-rights offenses were both law and custom in much of America. Before King and his movement, a tired and thoroughly respectable Negro seamstress like Rosa Parks could be thrown into jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down. A six-year-old black girl like Ruby Bridges could be hectored and spit on by a white New Orleans mob simply because she wanted to go to the same school as white children. A 14-year-old black boy like Emmett Till could be hunted down and murdered by a Mississippi gang simply because he had supposedly made suggestive remarks to a white woman. Even highly educated blacks were routinely denied the right to vote or serve on juries. They could not eat at lunch counters, register in motels or use whites-only rest rooms; they could not buy or rent a home wherever they chose. In some rural enclaves in the South, they were even compelled to get off the sidewalk and stand in the street if a Caucasian walked by.

The movement that King led swept all that away. Its victory was so complete that even though those outrages took place within the living memory of the baby boomers, they seem like ancient history. And though this revolution was the product of two centuries of agitation by thousands upon thousands of courageous men and women, King was its culmination. It is impossible to think of the movement unfolding as it did without him at its helm. He was, as the cliché has it, the right man at the right time.

To begin with, King was a preacher who spoke in biblical cadences ideally suited to leading a stride toward freedom that found its inspiration in the Old Testament story of the Israelites and the New Testament gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a minister not only put King in touch with the spirit of the black masses but also gave him a base within the black church, then and now the strongest and most independent of black institutions.

Moreover, King was a man of extraordinary physical courage whose belief in nonviolence never swerved. From the time he assumed leadership of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1955 to his murder 13 years later, he faced hundreds of death threats. His home in Montgomery was bombed, with his wife and young children inside. He was hounded by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which bugged his telephone and hotel rooms, circulated salacious gossip about him and even tried to force him into committing suicide after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. As King told the story, the defining moment of his life came during the early days of the bus boycott. A threatening telephone call at midnight alarmed him: “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.” Shaken, King went to the kitchen to pray. “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.'”

In recent years, however, King’s most quoted line—”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”—has been put to uses he would never have endorsed. It has become the slogan for opponents of affirmative action like California’s Ward Connerly, who insist, incredibly, that had King lived he would have been marching alongside them. Connerly even chose King’s birthday last year to announce the creation of his nationwide crusade against “racial preferences.”

Such would-be kidnappers of King’s legacy have chosen a highly selective interpretation of his message. They have filtered out his radicalism and sense of urgency. That most famous speech was studded with demands. “We have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” King admonished. “When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ “These were not the words of a cardboard saint advocating a Hallmark card-style version of brotherhood. They were the stinging phrases of a prophet, a man demanding justice not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now.”

TIME national correspondent Jack E. White has covered civil rights issues for 30 years.

This photo shows Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (2nd from right) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Selma March.  When asked why he was marching with Dr. King, Heschel is reported as answering, “I’m praying with my feet.”  There are Kansas Citians and many others who also marched to Selma or who hold the stories of persons who did.  If you have such a story, will you share it with others in the Kansas City Olive Branch Community?  Send to   They will be shared in future editions of the KC Olive Branch.

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