Two citations provide a wonderful historical frame for the Occupy Wall Street movement, now well into its second month.
1) "The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box. The people are demoralized, public opinion silenced, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workman (is) denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages. and [we] are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toils of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.
A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization....
Controlling influences dominating both parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise any substantial reform. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.
We seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the 'plain people.'
We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded . . . to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.
[We] will never cease to move forward until every wrong is righted and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country."
2) "Some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class…working (people) have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury…practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself."
Citation number 1 is from the preamble to the platform of the American Populist Party released on July 4, 1892. Citation number 2 is the prelude to Pope Leo XIII's great encyclical Rerum Novarum, issued on May 15, 1891. Taken together, against the current Occupy Wall Street spectacle, they show:
- how difficult it is to find fresh language to deplore the divide between rich and poor, boss and worker, even after 120 years and with a proliferation of communications media that is almost beyond imagining
- that it is not true capitalists never learn. They evidently learned more than a century ago how to ignore the voices of moderation and reason, indeed of those working to actually save the system from its most abusive practitioners.
We cannot, of course, "eat the rich" as some would have us do. But perhaps, given this historical frame, we should look a bit more supportively those who trying to at least get their moral attention once again.