A Time For Anger, A Call To Action
Printer Friendly Version
E-Mail This Article
A Time For Anger, A Call To Action
by Bill Moyers
The following is a transcript of a speech given on February 7, 2007 at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
I am grateful to you for this opportunity and to President Prager
for the hospitality of this evening, to Diana Akiyama, Director of the
Office for Religious and Spiritual Life, whose idea it was to invite me
and with whom you can have an accounting after I've left. And to the
Lilly Endowment for funding the Values and Vocations project to
encourage students at Occidental to explore how their beliefs and
values shape their choices in life, how to make choices for meaningful
work and how to make a contribution to the common good. It's a
recognition of a unique venture: to demonstrate that the life of the
mind and the longing of the spirit are mirror images of the human
organism. I'm grateful to be here under their auspices.
come across the continent to talk to you about two subjects close to my
heart. I care about them as a journalist, a citizen and a grandfather
who looks at the pictures next to my computer of my five young
grandchildren who do not have a vote, a lobbyist in Washington, or the
means to contribute to a presidential candidate. If I don't act in
their behalf, who will?
One of my obsessions is democracy, and
there is no campus in the country more attuned than Occidental to what
it will take to save democracy. Because of your record of activism for
social justice, I know we agree that democracy is more than what we
were taught in high school civics - more than the two-party system, the
checks-and-balances, the debate over whether the Electoral College is a
good idea. Those are important matters that warrant our attention, but
democracy involves something more fundamental. I want to talk about
what democracy bestows on us?the revolutionary idea that democracy is
not just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying
people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political
agency. "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of
every human being" - those are the words of our 28th president, Woodrow
I've been spending time with Woodrow Wilson and others
of his era because my colleagues and I are producing a documentary
series on the momentous struggles that gripped America a century or so
years ago at the birth of modern politics. Woodrow Wilson clearly
understood the nature of power. In his now-forgotten political
testament called The New Freedom, Wilson described his
reformism in plain English no one could fail to understand: "The laws
of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the week." He
wrote: "Don't deceive yourselves for a moment as to the power of great
interests which now dominate our development... There are men in this
country big enough to own the government of the United States. They are
going to own it if they can." And he warned: "There is no salvation in
the pitiful condescensions of industrial masters... prosperity
guaranteed by trustees has no prospect of endurance."
took his stand at the center of power - the presidency itself - and
from his stand came progressive income taxation, the federal estate
tax, tariff reform, the challenge to great monopolies and trusts, and,
most important, a resolute spirit "to deal with the new and subtle
tyrannies according to their deserts."
How we need that spirit
today! When Woodrow Wilson spoke of democracy releasing the energies of
every human being, he was declaring that we cannot leave our destiny to
politicians, elites, and experts; either we take democracy into our own
hands, or others will take democracy from us.
We do not have much time. Our political system is melting down, right here where you live.
recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that
only 20% of voters last November believe your state will be a better
place to live in the year 2025; 51% say it will be worse. Another poll
by the New American Foundation - summed up in an article by Steven Hill
in the January 28th San Francisco Chronicle - found that for the first
time in modern California history, a majority of adults are not
registered with either of the two major parties. Furthermore, writes
Hill, "There is a widening breach between most of the 39 million people
residing in California and the fewer than 9 million who actually vote."
Here we are getting to the heart of the crisis today - the great divide
that has opened in American life.
According to that New American
Foundation study, frequent voters [in California] tend to be 45 and
older, have household incomes of $60,000 or more, are homeowners, and
have college degrees. In contrast, the 12 million nonvoters (7 million
of whom are eligible to vote but are not registered) tend to be younger
than 45, rent instead of own, have not been to College, and have
incomes less than $60,000.
In other words, "Considering that
California often has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the
nation - in some elections only a little more that 1/3 of eligible
voters participate - a small group of frequent voters, who are richer,
whiter, and older than their nonvoting neighbors, form the majority
that decides which candidates win and which ballot measures pass." The
author of that report (Mark Baldassare) concludes: "Only about 15% of
adult people make the decisions and that 15% doesn't look much life
We should not be surprised by the
consequences: "Two Californias have emerged. One that votes and one
that does not. Both sides inhabit the same state and must share the
same resources, but only one side is electing the political leaders who
divide up the pie."
You've got a big problem here. But don't
feel alone. Across the country our 18th political system is failing to
deal with basic realities. Despite Thomas Jefferson's counsel that we
would need a revolution every 25 years to enable our governance to
serve new generations, our structure - practically deified for 225
years - has essentially stayed the same while science and technology
have raced ahead. A young writer I know, named Jan Frel, one of the
most thoughtful practitioners of the emerging world of Web journalism,
wrote me the other day to say: "We've gone way past ourselves. I see
the unfathomable numbers in the national debt and deficit, and the way
that the Federal government was physically unable to respond to
Hurricane Katrina. I look at Iraq; where 50% of the question is how to
get out, and the other 50% is how did so few people have the power to
start the invasion in the first place. If the Republic were
functioning, they would have never had that power."
inertia of the political process seems virtually unstoppable. Frel
reminds me that the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee can
shepherd a $2.8 trillion dollar budget through the Senate and then
admit: "It's hard to understand what a trillion is. I don't know what
it is." Is it fair to expect anyone to understand what a trillion is,
my young friend asks, or how to behave with it in any democratic
fashion?" He goes on: "But the political system and culture are forcing
535 members of Congress and a President who are often thousands of
miles away from their 300 million constituents to do so. It is
frightening to watch the American media culture from progressive to
hard right being totally sold on the idea of one President for 300
million people, as though the Presidency is still fit to human scale.
I'm at a point where the idea of a political savior in the guise of a
Presidential candidate or congressional majority sounds downright
scary, and at the same time, with very few exceptions, the writers and
journalists across the slate are completely sold on it."
political system is promiscuous as well as primitive. The first modern
fundraiser in American politics - Mark Hanna, who shook down the
corporations to make William McKinley President of the United States in
1896 - once said there are two important things in politics. "One is
money, and I can't remember the other one." Because our system feeds on
campaign contributions, the powerful and the privileged shape it to
their will. Only 12% of American households had incomes over $100,000
in 2000, but they made up 95% of the substantial donors to campaigns
and have been the big winners in Washington ever since.
early on the consequences of political and social inequality. I got my
first job in journalism at the age of 16. I quickly had one of those
strokes of luck that can determine a career. Some of the old timers
were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to cover what came to
be known as the 'Housewives Rebellion.' Fifteen women in my home town
decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their
domestic workers. They argued that social security was
unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation,
and that - here's my favorite part - "requiring us to collect (the tax)
is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage."
hired themselves a lawyer - none other than Martin Dies, the former
Congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the
House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 30s and 40s. He was no
more effective at defending rebellious women than he had been
protecting against Communist subversives, and eventually the women
wound up holding their noses and paying the tax. The stories I wrote
for my local paper were picked up and moved on by the Associated Press
wire to Newspapers all over the country. One day, the managing editor
called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk. Moving
across the wire was a notice citing one "Bill Moyers" and the News
Messenger for the reporting we had done on the rebellion.
hooked me. In one way or another - after a detour through seminary and
then into politics and government for a spell - I've been covering
politics ever since.
By "politics" I mean when people get
together to influence government, change their own lives, and change
society. Sometimes those people are powerful corporate lobby groups
like the drug companies and the oil industry, and sometimes they are
ordinary people fighting to protect their communities from toxic
chemicals, workers fighting for a living wage, or college students
organizing to put an end to sweatshops.
Those women in Marshall,
Texas - who didn't want to pay Social Security taxes for their maids -
were not bad people. They were regulars at church, their children were
my friends, many of them were active in community affairs, and their
husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town.
They were respectable and upstanding citizens all.
So it took me
awhile to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary
rebellion. It came to me one day, much later. They simply couldn't see
beyond their own prerogatives. Fiercely loyal to their families, to
their clubs, charities, and congregations - fiercely loyal, in other
words, to their own kind - they narrowly defined membership in
democracy to include only people like them. The women who washed and
ironed their laundry, wiped their children's bottoms, made their
husbands' beds, and cooked their families meals - these women, too,
would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and
face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years
of labor but the creases in their brow and the knots on their knuckles.
one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle
to determine whether "We, the People" is a spiritual idea embedded in a
political reality - one nation, indivisible - or merely a charade
masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to
sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.
to be holding our breath today, trying to decide what kind of country
we want to be. But in this state of suspension, powerful interests are
making off with the booty. They remind me of the card shark in Texas
who said to his competitor in the poker game: "Now play the cards
fairly Reuben. I know what I dealt you."
For years now a small
fraction of American households have been garnering a larger and larger
concentration of wealth and income, while large corporations and
financial institutions have obtained unprecedented power over who wins
and who loses. Inequality in America is greater than it's been in 50
years. In 1960 the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20% and the
bottom 20% was 30 fold. Today it's more than 75 fold.
concentrations of wealth would be far less of an issue if the rest of
society were benefiting proportionally. But that is not the case.
Throughout our industrial history incomes grew at 30% to 50% or more
every quarter, and in the quarter century after WWII, gains reached
more than 100% for all income categories. Since the late 1970s, only
the top 1% of households increased their income by 100%.
upon a time, according to Isabel Sawhill and Sara McLanahan in The
Future of Children, the American ideal of classless society was 'one in
which all children have roughly equal chance of success regardless of
the economic status of the family into which they were born. That's
changing fast. The Economist Jeffrey Madrick writes that just a
couple of decades ago, only 20% of one's future income was determined
by the income of one's father. New research suggests that today 60% of
a son's income is determined by the level of his father's income. In
other words, children no longer have a roughly equal chance of success
regardless of the economic status of the family into which they are
born. Their chances of success are greatly improved if they are born on
third base and their father has been tipping the umpire.
of you know, a college education today is practically a necessity if
you are to hold your own, much less climb the next rung. More than 40%
of all new jobs now require a college degree. There are real world
consequences to this, and Madrick drives them home. Since the 1970s,
median wages of men with college degrees have risen about 14%. But
median wages for high school graduates have fallen about 15%. Not
surprisingly, nearly 24% of American workers with only a high school
diploma have no health insurance, compared with less than 10% of those
with college degrees.
Such statistics can bring glaze to the
eyes, but Oscar Wilde once said that it is the mark of truly educated
people to be deeply moved by statistics. All of you are educated, and I
know you can envision the stress these economic realities are putting
on working people and on family life. As incomes have stagnated, higher
education, health care, public transportation, drugs, housing and cars
have risen faster in price than typical family incomes, so that life,
says Jeffrey Madrick, "has grown neither calm nor secure for most
Americans, by any means."
Let me tell you about the Stanleys and
the Neumanns, two families who live in Milwaukee. One is black, the
other white. The breadwinners in both were laid off in the first wave
of downsizing in 1991 as corporations began moving jobs out of the city
and then out of the country. In a documentary series my colleagues and
I chronicled their efforts over the next decade to cope with the
wrenching changes in their lives and to find a place for themselves in
the new global economy. They're the kind of Americans my mother would
have called "the salt of the earth". They love their kids, care about
their communities, go to church every Sunday, and work hard all week.
make ends meet after the layoffs, both mothers took full-time jobs.
Both fathers became seriously ill. When one father had to stay in the
hospital two months the family went $30,000 in debt because they didn't
have adequate health care. We were there with our cameras when the bank
started to foreclose on the modest home of one family that couldn't
make mortgage payments. Like millions of Americans, the Stanleys and
the Neumanns were playing by the rules and still getting stiffed. By
the end of the decade they were running harder but slipping further
behind, and the gap between them and prosperous America was widening.
turns their personal tragedy into a political travesty is that while
they are indeed patriotic, they no longer believe they matter to the
people who run the country. They simply do not think their concerns
will ever be addressed by the political, corporate, and media elites
who make up our dominant class. They are not cynical, because they are
deeply religious people with no capacity for cynicism, but they know
the system is rigged against them.
"Things have reached such a
state of affairs," the journalist George Orwell once wrote, "that the
first duty of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the
obvious." The editors of The Economist have done just that. The
pro-business magazine considered by many to be the most influential
defender of capitalism on the newsstand, produced a sobering analysis
of what is happening to the old notion that any American child can get
to the top. A growing body of evidence - some of it I have already
cited - led the editors to conclude that with "income inequality
growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age and social mobility
falling behind, the United States risks calcifying into a
European-style class-based society." The editors point to an "education
system increasingly stratified by social class" in which poor children
"attend schools with fewer resources than those of their richer
contemporaries" and great universities that are "increasingly
reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities." They
conclude that America's great companies have made it harder than ever
"for people to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchies
by dint of hard work and self-improvement."
It is eerie to read assessments like that and then read the anthropologist Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail
He describes an America society in which elites cocoon themselves "in
gated communities, guarded by private security guards, and filled with
people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send
their children to private schools." Gradually, they lose the motivation
"to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social
Security, and public schools." Any society contains a built-in
blueprint for failure, warns Jared Diamond, if elites insulate
themselves from the consequences of their own actions.
So it is
that in a study of its own, The American Political Science Association
found that "increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of
equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have
stalled in this country and even reversed."
This is a marked
turn of events for a country whose mythology embraces "life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness" as part of our creed. America was not
supposed to be a country of "winner take all." Through our system of
checks and balances we were going to maintain a healthy equilibrium in
how power works - and for whom. Because equitable access to public
resources is the lifeblood of any democracy, we made primary schooling
free to all. Because everyone deserves a second chance, debtors,
especially the relatively poor, were protected by state laws against
their rich creditors. Government encouraged Americans to own their own
piece of land, and even supported squatters' rights. In my time, the
hope of equal opportunity became reality for millions of us. Although
my parents were knocked down and almost out by the Great Depression,
and were poor all their lives, my brother and I went to good public
schools. The GI Bill made it possible for him to go to college. When I
bought my first car with a loan of $450 I drove to a public school on a
public highway and stopped to rest in a public park. America as a
shared project was becoming the engine of our national experience.
now. Beginning a quarter of a century ago a movement of corporate,
political, and religious fundamentalists gained ascendancy over
politics and made inequality their goal. They launched a crusade to
dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons,
and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have held private
power. And they had the money to back up their ambition.
Let me read you something:
powerful interests shower Washington with millions in campaign
contributions, they often get what they want. But it is ordinary
citizens and firms that pay the price and most of them never see it
coming. This is what happens if you don't contribute to their campaigns
or spend generously on lobbying. You pick up a disproportionate share
of America's tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of
products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a
similar situation have been excused from paying. You're compelled to
abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay
debts that you incur while others do not. You're barred from writing
off on your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while
others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your
business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set
for your competitors. In contrast, the fortunate few who contribute to
the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the
benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the
government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market
wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more
time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If
they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they
want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government
gives its approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended
for the public, it gets killed.
I'm not quoting from Karl Marx's Das Kapital or Mao's Little Red Book.
I'm quoting Time Magazine. From the heart of America's media
establishment comes the judgment that America now has "government for
the few at the expense of the many."
We are talking about
nothing less that a class war declared a generation ago, in a powerful
polemic by the wealthy right-winger, William Simon, who had been
Richard Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury. In it he declared that
"funds generated by business... must rush by the multimillions" to
conservative causes. The trumpet was sounded for the financial and
business class to take back the power and privileges they had lost as a
result of the Great Depression and the New Deal. They got the message
and were soon waging a well-orchestrated, lavishly-financed movement. Business Week
put it bluntly: "Some people will obviously have to do with less... .It
will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing
with less so that big business can have more." The long-range strategy
was to cut workforces and their wages, scour the globe in search of
cheap labor, trash the social contract and the safety net that was
supposed to protect people from hardships beyond their control, deny
ordinary citizens the power to sue rich corporations for malfeasance
and malpractice, and eliminate the ability of government to restrain
what editorialists for the Wall Street Journal admiringly call "the animal spirits of business."
backwards, it all seems so clear that we wonder how we could have
ignored the warning signs at the time. What has been happening to
working people is not the result of Adam Smith's invisible hand but the
direct consequence of corporate activism, intellectual propaganda, the
rise of a religious literalism opposed to any civil and human right
that threaten its paternalism, and a string of political decisions
favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political
system right out from under us.
To create the intellectual
framework for this revolution in public policy, they funded
conservative think tanks that churned out study after study advocating
To put muscle behind these ideas, they created a
formidable political machine. One of the few journalists to cover the
issues of class, Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post, reported
that "During the 1970s, business refined its ability to act as a class,
submerging competitive instincts in favor of joint, cooperate action in
the legislative area." Big business political action committees flooded
the political arena with a deluge of dollars. And they built alliances
with the religious right - Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat
Robertson's Christian Coalition - who gleefully contrived a cultural
holy war that became a smokescreen behind which the economic assault on
the middle and working classes would occur.
From land, water,
and other resources, to media and the broadcast and digital spectrums,
to scientific discovery and medial breakthroughs, a broad range of
America's public resources have been undergoing a powerful shift toward
elite control, contributing substantially to those economic pressures
on ordinary Americans that "deeply affect household stability, family
dynamics, social mobility, political participation and civic life."
What's to be done?
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
came to Occidental because your campus has a reputation for believing
in a political system where ordinary people have a voice in making the
decisions that shape their lives, not just at the ballot box every two
or four years in November, but in their workplaces, their neighborhoods
and communities, and on their college campuses. In a real democracy,
ordinary people at every level hold their elected officials accountable
for the big decisions, about whether or not to go to war and put young
men and women in harm's way, about the pollution of the environment,
global warming, and the health and safety of our workplaces, our
communities, our food and our air and our water, the quality of our
public schools, and the distribution of economic resources. It's the
spirit of fighting back throughout American history that brought an end
to sweatshops, won the eight-hour working day and a minimum wage,
delivered suffrage to women and blacks from slavery, inspired the Gay
Rights movement, the consumer and environmental movements, and more
recently stopped Congress from enacting repressive legislation against
I believe a new wave of social reform is about to
break across America. We see it in the struggle for a 'living wage' for
America's working people. Last November, voters in six states approved
ballot measures to raise their states' minimum wage above the federal
level; 28 states now have such laws. Since 1994, more than 100 cities
have passed local living wage laws that require employers who do
business with the government - who get taxpayer subsidies, in other
words - to pay workers enough to lift their families out of poverty.
Angeles has led the way, passing one of the nation's strongest 'living
wage' laws in 1997. And just the other day the LA City Council voted to
extend that "living wage" law to the thirty-five hundred hotel workers
around the Los Angeles Airport - the first living wage law in the
country to target a specific industry and a specific geographic area.
But it took last fall's march down Century Boulevard - organized people! - to finally bring it about and it took the arrest of hundreds of college students, including several dozen from Occidental.
great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said that "if there is no
struggle, there is no progress." Those who profess freedom, yet fail to
act - they are "men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They
want rain without thunder and lightning, they want the ocean without
the awful roar of its many waters... power concedes nothing without a
demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will
submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong
which will be imposed upon them."
What America needs is a broad
bi-partisan movement for democracy. It's happened before: In 1800, with
the Jeffersonian Democrats; in 1860, with Radical Republicans; in 1892,
with the Populists; in 1912, with Bull Moose Progressives; in 1932,
with the New Deal; in l964, with Civil Rights activists - each moment a
breaking point after long, hard struggles, each with small beginnings
in transcendent faith.
Faith! That's the other subject close to
my heart that I have come talk about. Almost every great social
movement in America has contained a flame of faith at its core - the
belief that all human beings bear traces of the divine spark, however
defined. I myself believe that within the religious quest - in the
deeper realm of spirituality that may well be the primal origin of all
religion - lies what Gregg Easterbrook calls "an essential aspect of
the human prospect." It is here we wrestle with questions of life and
purpose, with the meaning of loss, yearning and hope, above all of love.
am grateful to have first been exposed to those qualities in my own
Christian tradition. T.S. Eliot believed that "no man [or woman] has
ever climbed to the higher stages of the spiritual life who has not
been a believer in a particular religion, or at least a particular
philosophy." As we dig deeper into our own religion, we are likely to
break through to someone else digging deeper toward us from their own
tradition, and on some metaphysical level, we converge, like the images
inside a kaleidoscope, into new patterns of meaning that illuminate our
For most of our history this country's religious
discourse was dominated by white male Protestants of a culturally
conservative European heritage - people like me. Dissenting voices of
America, alternative visions of faith, or race, of women, rarely
reached the mainstream. The cartoonist Jeff McNally summed it up with
two weirdoes talking in a California diner. One weirdo says to the
other. "Have you ever delved into the mysteries of Eastern Religion?"
And the second weirdo answers: "Yes, I was once a Methodist in
Philadelphia." Once upon a time that was about the extent of our
exposure to the varieties of Religious experience. No longer. Our
nation is being re-created right before our eyes, with mosques and
Hindu Temples, Sikh communities and Buddhist retreat centers. And we
all have so much to teach each other. Buddhists can teach us about the
delight of contemplation and 'the infinite within.' From Muslims we can
learn about the nature of surrender; from Jews, the power of the
prophetic conscience; from Hindus, the "realms of gold" hidden in the
depths of our hearts," from Confucians the empathy necessary to sustain
the fragile web of civilization. Nothing I take from these traditions
has come at the expense of the Christian story. I respect that story -
my story ?even more for having come to see that all the great religious
grapple with things that matter, although each may come out at a
different place; that each arises from within and experiences a lived
human experience; and each and every one of them offers a unique
insight into human nature. I reject the notion that faith is acquired
in the same way one chooses a meal in a cafeteria, but I confess there
is something liberating about no longer being quite so deaf to what
others have to report from their experience.
So let me share
with you what I treasure most about the faith that has informed my
journey. You will find it in the New Testament, in the gospel of
Matthew, where the story of Jesus of Nazareth unfolds chapter by
chapter: The birth at Bethlehem. The baptism in the River Jordan. The
temptation in the wilderness. The Sermon on the Mount. The healing of
the sick and the feeding of the hungry. The Parables. The calling of
the Disciples. The journey to Jerusalem. And always, embedded like
pearls throughout the story, the teachings of compassion, forgiveness,
Love your enemies, bless those who
curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who
spitefully use you and persecute you.
Whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also... and whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother
has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go
your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
these pages we are in the presence of one who clearly understands the
power of love, mercy, and kindness - the 'gentle Jesus' so familiar in
art, song, and Sunday School.
But then the tale turns. Jesus'
demeanor changes; the tone and temper of the narrative shift, and the
Prince of Peace becomes a disturber of the peace:
Then Jesus went
into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in
the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers... and he
said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of
prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.'"
message grew more threatening, amid growing crowds right on the Temple
grounds. In his parable of the wicked tenants, he predicted the
imminent destruction of the Jerusalem elites, setting in motion the
events that led to his crucifixion a short time later.
turned there. No second mile traveled. On the contrary, Jesus grows
angry. He passes judgment. His message becomes more threatening. And he
Over the past few years as we witnessed the
growing concentration of wealth and privilege in our country, prophetic
religion lost its voice, drowned out by the corporate, political, and
religious right who hijacked Jesus.
That's right: They hijacked
Jesus. The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, "The Lord
has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor" - this Jesus,
hijacked by a philosophy of greed. The very Jesus who fed 5000 hungry
people - and not just those in the skyboxes; the very Jesus who offered
kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast; who raised
the status of women and treated even the hated tax collector as a
citizen of the Kingdom. The indignant Jesus who drove the money
changers from the temple - this Jesus was hijacked and turned from a
friend of the dispossessed into a guardian of privilege, the ally of
oil barons, banking tycoons, media moguls and weapons builders.
it was this same Jesus who inspired a Methodist ship-caulker named
Edward Rogers to crusade across New England for an eight hour work day;
called Frances William to rise up against the sweatshop; sent Dorothy
Day to march alongside striking auto workers in Michigan, fishermen and
textile workers in Massachusetts, brewery workers in New York, and
marble cutters in Vermont; who roused E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield
to stand against a Mississippi oligarchy that held sharecroppers in
servitude, challenged a young priest named John Ryan to champion child
labor laws a decade before the New Deal, and summoned Martin Luther
King to Memphis to join sanitation workers in their struggle for a
This Jesus was there on Century Boulevard last
September, speaking Spanish. And it is this resurrected Jesus, in the
company of the morally indignant of every faith, who will be there
wherever Americans are angry enough to rise up and drive the money
changers from the temples of democracy.
To you students at
Occidental, let me say: I have been a journalist too long to look at
the world through rose-colored glasses. I believe the only way to be in
the world is to see it as it really is and then to take it on despite
the frightening things you see. The Italian philosopher Gramschi spoke
of the "the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will."
With this philosophy your generation can bring about the Third American
Revolution. The first won independence from the Crown. The second won
equal rights for women and for the sons and daughters of slavery. This
third - the revolution of the 21st Century - will bring about a
democracy that leaves no one out. The simple truth is we cannot build a
political society or a nation across the vast divides that mark our
country today. We must bridge that divide and make society whole,
sharing the fruits of freedom and prosperity with the least among us. I
have crossed the continent to tell you the Dream is not done, the work
is not over, and your time has come to take it on.