Every Generation Needs A New Revolution Essay

The quote is attributed to the third president of the United States.  Interesting.  I think he may be right.  Every generation has an obligation to renew, reinvent, re-establish, re-create structures and redefine its realities for itself.

A few years ago the Ford Motor Company found itself floundering.  Consumer interest had long passed over its products in favour of the inventions and creativities of the Japanese products.  The Ford people developed a new creative communications piece–“Not Your Father’s Car”.   We aren’t just repeating the past, we are creating a new today.

In the early 70’s I began my faith journey.  At the time it was a season of unrest amongst the younger people of the day.  Sit ins, love ins, societal unrest, generational mistrust, protest marches, anti government crusades…it was a time of deconstructions and anti institutionalism.  My friends at that time were pretty disappointed by the state of the institutional church.  I remember a lot of us “dropping out”.  We couldn’t get our heads around the present reality and certainly had no hope in the future reality.

But then I began to hear the challenge that “if you don’t like it, do something better” and we rose to the challenge.  We CAN do something better.  We CAN create forms that are more functional, more operational, more meaningful, more true the New Testament expression of faith and congregating.   And for the next 30 years it was my huge intentionality to work at being the people of God, congregating, community making, life forming.

Were we “successful”?  Maybe.  We had some good moments.  We also had some abysmal moments.  But we were compelled that community making (congregating?) was  worthy pursuit.

Here is my point— it’s time for the next generation to forge a new revolution.  The time is ripe.  Old patterns are worn.  A previous generation’s “best shot” is still a previous generation’s effort.  It’s time for the next generation to not simply analyze and criticize, it’s time for the next generation to create new forms for being the people of God.

Step up.  And if it looks like I, or my generation is standing in your way, step around us and step on.

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Few understood the power and limitations of democracy like Thomas Jefferson. The author of history's most recognized document gave us our unalienable rights, and created a groundbreaking government with powers delegated only with the consent of the governed. In addition to these momentous principles, Jefferson left us with a powerful, if not widely forgotten, notion: "Every generation needs a revolution."

Jefferson's idea is powerful not only because it seems to degrade the authority of his carefully constructed government, but also because it followed a vicious, violent, landmark victory in the American Revolution. Even amidst the anguish of wartime, Jefferson still recognized the importance of allowing people to question authority. It's no surprise it came first in the Bill of Rights.

So if Jefferson saw the death and blood of the American Revolution as necessary, what would he think of a peaceful, equally rebellious movement like Occupy Wall Street? My guess is he would sign on in a second.

Unfortunately, many influential leaders of the day do not share the mindset of our third president. Instead, they have tagged protesters as "un-American," and told them to "go home and get a job." And while a recent CBS News poll has a substantial amount of Americans, 43 percent, in support of the movement, there is still a significant lack of urgency to tackle the disastrous status quo.

The primary opposition to Occupy Wall Street is that the message is incoherent, and that protestors have failed to come up with specific demands in the form of legislation. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post sees this as anything but a weakness. "We have no shortage of politicians in this country," he writes. "We need to be forced to answer questions that sound simplistic or naive -- questions about ethics and values. Detailed policy positions can wait."

After all, protesters are not too concerned with developing specific policies. For their demands -- from income inequality to a lack of financial regulation -- are part of the daily political discussion. Instead, protesters are more interested in shinning light on difficult questions of ethics: What do we owe to each other? What does a just society look like? And it bears mention that besides hopeless calls for tax cuts, the Tea Party, which many Occupy Wall Street opponents support, never presented any meaningful or realistic legislative goals.

Another widely supported attack of the movement is that it is costing the city of New York a lot of money. One estimate puts that figure at $2 million. But that $2 million is hardly a high price to pay for ending the tax cuts and loopholes that are costing the country trillions of dollars.

Moreover, if you take a trip to Zuccotti Park, the home of Occupy Wall Street, it becomes immediately clear how much the city has overreacted. The protestors are peacefully confined to one area with no obstruction of traffic or pedestrians. But the New York Police Department has decided to have 24-hour patrol of the area and barricade off every street within a few blocks of the movement. So to all those who complain about traffic and too much police attention, talk to Mayor Bloomberg, not the protesters.

Many also like to simply brush off the movement by saying it has accomplished nothing. My response: talk to any world leader, any member of Congress, or any global citizen, and they will know what Occupy Wall Street is. The President of the United States has even weighed in. If that's not an accomplishment, what is?

As it turns out, there are a few legitimate concerns being echoed by the local community. Health concerns and noise violations are often points of discussion. But it's the city of New York who is denying the protesters access to porta-potties. And it would not even cost anything: many privately funded organizations have volunteered to provide porta-potties.

The noise concerns are legitimate, and many have pointed to the fact that the constant drumming is in violation of federal noise standards. But those same federal standards are never upheld when it comes to construction and car horns, so why is drumming any different? After all, that area -- directly across from Ground Zero -- is hardly shielded from the daily circuses of traffic, construction, and tourism. We never heard noise concerns about that.

Any debate about Occupy Wall Street -- or any movement in general -- should not rest on questions of character. Any opponent who simply calls the protesters "dirty," "un-American," or "a hippy," is simply hard-pressed for a better answer. Instead, we should have discussions about motives and ethics. Is it just, for example, that over the past thirty years, 80 percent of the country's income has gone to the top one percent of Americans?

Thomas Jefferson was part of a generation that stands tall in our history for one reason: they asked the right questions. Surely they would see some of themselves in those camped out in Zuccotti Park.

Follow Jess Coleman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jesskcoleman

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