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Solidarity and Occupy Wall Street: A Tale of Two Movements

The following post is an excerpt from the Guest Editorial of the latest issue of Political Theology.

Paraphrasing Galatians 6:2, the Catholic philosopher Józef Tischner explained that solidarity “means to carry the burden of another person.”  He preached these words during the Solidarity movement’s First National Convention in Kraków, Poland on October 19, 1980.  Tischner subsequently described the events unfolding before his eyes in his book Etyka solidarności.  A 10 million strong movement of people from diverse walks of life fought for the rights of citizens and workers, leading eventually to Communism’s demise.  Solidarność accomplished this without shedding blood.

Although one can find other influences on the movement, Solidarity explicitly acknowledged an intellectual and moral debt to Catholic social teaching (CST).  Over the last one hundred and fifty years, CST developed perhaps the most robust theoretical understanding of solidarity and called for a world imbued by it.  Even though it withered after 1989, Solidarność has been among the most successful social movements to embody the Catholic ethic of solidarity to date.  To the participants it was an unparalleled time of moral and spiritual unity.  The victory of these downtrodden workers ranks among the most inspiring “David conquers Goliath” moments in history.

Thirty years later, we are perhaps at another historic crossroads. Accounts of Occupy Wall Street disclose that something new – or at least absent for decades in the US – is afoot.  Having lived in Poland, I have been perplexed by the docility of the American public despite blatant and persistent injustices, though some analysts have cogently explained the mechanisms that have suppressed dissent.  Occupy Wall Street has changed this landscape. The movement is still in its fledgling stages, or has begun to dissipate, depending on one’s interpretation of current affairs.  Nonetheless, it is interesting, and perhaps instructive, to contemplate OWS in the light of Solidarity and CST on solidarity.  I am not on the movement’s front lines, though I am a sympathetic observer and public advocate of economic justice.  [To continue reading, click here.]

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