It appears to be a protest movement, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, Occupy Oakland; and it is that. Over 2,500 people have already been arrested in the streets and a young veteran of the Iraq war seriously injured by police while exercising his well-earned right to seek justice and freedom here at home.
It appears to be about the numbers after more than four decades of reckless policies have generated the greatest disparity of income since the Great Depression. It appears to be about the long overdo awakening of the voice of 99 percent of the people who increasingly suffer while the other 1 percent greedily grab more than 40 percent of all the income in the country. It is certainly that.
It appears to be about the narrow politics of ideology that foolishly polarizes the political process and blindly pits the classes against each other. It is clearly that. It appears to be another conflict between young people needing things to change for a better future to be born and older folks who fear that the future will be lost if things change too much.
It is all of those things, yet also more than any of them. The increasing unrest in the land and intensifying protests in the streets are a necessary lament for a collective dream that has been lost. Not simply the loss of the “American dream” of a consumer society and endless economic growth; but, the loss of the real dream, the dream behind the dream, the dream of an America that has not been yet.
The rising tide of protest involves both a witnessing of what has been lost and the stirring of a desire to look for the dream of America again. While some try to cling to an America that has already passed, while others try desperately to defend a malignant America suffering from growing disparities and heartless intolerance, others have begun walking the streets and searching their hearts for an America that is yet to be. For, America has always been a dream dreamt by those most needing a dream to follow.
The current protests cannot be reduced to Americans fighting Americans or be dismissed by simplified notions of class warfare. The diversity of signs and variety of messages being displayed by protestors throughout the country are live, streaming dreams of change erupting amidst political paralysis and the growing blindness of ideologies and fixed ideas. It is not simply left wing vs. right wing, or conservative vs. radical. Rather, it is the dream vs. ideology, imagination vs. blind belief, and necessary idealism vs. the cynicism born of greed and manipulation.
Young people are out in the streets of America again, not simply looking for work, although they are seeking meaningful employment. They are looking for an America that their dreams can inhabit, searching for a future that might help to sustain nature as well as heal a wounded, despairing culture. Like all those who have dreamed of America before, they are seeking the land of hidden promise more than the promise of simply owning the land.
America has always been a dream needing to be renewed and re-imagined by each generation. Each stream of immigrants rode a wave of dreams seeking a fertile ground to take root in. The seeds of the dream have always included longings for opportunity, but also a desire for a living sense justice that includes genuine care for those less fortunate and mercy for those orphaned by fate, hampered by illness, wounded by war, and trapped in poverty.
Poverty is not simply the cause of the hostilities and divisiveness in a culture; it is also the symptom of a greater spiritual bankruptcy and loss of the deep sense of unity that underlies all of life. The current political paralysis doesn’t simply call for another dull, expensive election, rather it calls for another dream, a greater and more inclusive vision than any “win at any cost” election can produce.
Occupy means “to keep and hold, to fill, to employ.” It is high time to occupy America again; not the America of partisan politics and corporate influence; but the America that can hold and keep alive the dreams of its young people, the America that can employ people in meaningful work and draw upon the well of ideals again.
Young people need to dream their dreams or there can be no future. And, older people must develop genuine visions or there can be no real culture. A culture comes apart where its young people fail to live their dreams, but also where its older people fail to envision a meaningful future that extends beyond themselves.
As young people enter the current marketplace of life they encounter a political climate that is dangerously toxic, public institutions that seem hollow and ineffective, and an environment that extends bleaker every day. If those who are young shy away from the intensity of life-changing events before them, something more tragic than protesting for change may ensue. It is not the task of youth to understand the nature of what changes them as much as to embrace it. It is the task of those who are older and perhaps wiser to add clarity of vision to the dreams trying to emerge through the confusion.
The dream of America was never simply an economic enterprise, never only a search for a greater personal share of the so-called “free market.” Freedom is a dream ever trying to awaken in each young heart; but also trying to re-awaken in the hearts of those old enough to know better than to fall for the rhetoric of fear or the politics of division.
There has always been a deeper dream of America, not simply the political notion of a union of states, but an intuition of a deeper unity of life. Not simply a shared economy that needs dull sacrifices in order to balance the national budget. But an opportunity to dream America forward and sacrifice for a future of renewed meaning and universal ideals.
We live amidst a narrowing of minds and hardening of hearts, yet the dream of life beckons to us and promises paths of renewal that can soften the collective heart and return the flow of imagination that alone can renew the flow of currency. Martin Luther King’s “I had a dream” speech could rally millions to the cause of justice and freedom because it spoke to the unspoken dreams and called to the unlived lives of those who learn how easily injustice and intolerance, poverty and exclusion can grow. As the deeper dream of America hangs in the balance of these strife-torn days and nights, I keep hearing the voice of Langston Hughes longing for the dream of America:
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be… the dream the dreamers dream… the great strong land of love… Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man [or woman] be crushed by one above. A land where liberty is crowned With no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe… Instead of that same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog and mighty crush the weak… O, let America be America again — The land that never has been yet —