Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Melting Our Golden Calf

YHWH said to Moses, "Go down now! The people whom you led out of Egypt have corrupted themselves! In such a short time, they have turned away from the way that I have given them and made themselves a molten calf. Then they worshiped it and sacrificed to it saying, 'Israel, here is your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt.'" (Exodus 32:7-8, The Inclusive Bible Translation)

There is nothing quite like reading this scripture standing before the statue of the Charging Bull on Bowling Green. Since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the bull has been roped off, a sacred object protected from those animals, you know the ones, tattooed, leftie, unwashed. The Charging Bull is indeed a symbol of capitalism, charging in what is the center of the capitalist system: Wall Street. Hours after being there before the statue, I still cannot shake that eerie feeling of reading that scripture depicting the evil that was the creation of the Golden Calf while standing in front of, not a calf, but a full grown Bull. The people whom you led out of Egypt have corrupted themselves.

My excursion to Manhattan's Financial District on this day was through a field trip for my Christian Ethics class with Dr. Traci West. We went on a Poverty Scholar's Tour of Wall Street, led by John Wessel-McCoy from the Poverty Initiative. It is a tour designed to open our eyes to the current and historic realities of how the system of capitalism has so oppressed us. We asked the question, "Should people serve the economy, or should the economy serve the people?"

It is a historic moment to be asking such questions. We visited the Wall Street Occupation at Liberty Plaza, which was flanked by massive numbers of police officers, though folks on the plaza looked tired but impassioned, many resting, many talking, and many dancing and playing music. They are a people "gathered together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice," as they explain in their first official statement. And who can deny that feeling of mass injustice? Please take the time to read some of those examples of injustice in their statement. I am sure that even good folks who are just working hard and don't want to cause any trouble cannot help but feel in their guts that something just isn't right: "They [the symbolic Wall Street] determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce." Yet that Golden Bull on Bowling Green has such a pull on us that to protest seems, well, blasphemous.

We walked down to the intersection of Water and Wall Streets where the Royal African Trading Company sold and rented slaves beginning 1711. New York did not outlaw slavery until 1827. This is one of the many dirty little secrets of the financial district--- this wealth is dirty money. It was accumulated through the blood of slaves then, it is accumulated on the backs of the poor and even middle class now. And, like so many of those dirty little secrets, there is no monument decrying this site where human beings were bought and sold as slaves. It would interfere with that myth that we tell ourselves of the sacredness of capitalism as embodied in the financial district. And so we sang "Amazing Grace," to honor those bodies that were dehumanized in that spot, and perhaps to remind ourselves of our work to rehumanize still today.

At one point, we were heckled by a man who yelled at us, "Don't listen to him [meaning John, our tour guide]! He is full of shit!" to which Dr. West shouted back, "We want to listen!" I thought that was a strange response until I realized that the lie of the holiness of capitalism has prevented us from listening, yet some of us were breaking through that lie to listen to the Truth.

The people at the Poverty Initiative here in New York, the folks sleeping in Liberty Square, those in solidarity in Boston and LA and Austin and DC and everywhere, are like Moses for us. They are coming down the mountain at God's direction to confront our corrupted selves and throw that Bull into the fire to melt it.