Would [blank] Occupy?

    Jason Ahmadi of the War Resisters League carries a sign with a quotation from Gandhi on the first day of Occupy Wall Street, September 17.

    At Religion Dispatches, Ira Chernus (whom I interviewed here a few years ago) ably responds to Ian Diaz’s New York Times op-ed, which argues that Gandhi would call for disbanding the Occupy movement:

    [T]he Mahatma would have been amazed at the conclusion Desai draws: Dismantle the occupations and fan out to establish “community centers, schools, shelters, charities” everywhere. That’s a subtle distortion of Gandhi’s program of “constructive work.” It had nothing to do with charity and everything to do with creating alternative economic and social institutions while actively resisting the dominant, dominating institutions.

    Where better to start brainstorming and experimenting for a new society than in Zuccotti Park and the dozens of other urban spaces where occupiers are building real 24/7 communities? Split those communities up into little teams of volunteers and their creative energy would soon be gone, which is no way to fulfill our responsibility to transform a society that is unjust in so many ways.

    Chernus goes on to reply to Desai point by point—very much worth reading. But the whole question seems odd to me. This is of course a whole sub-genre in the debates about the Occupy movement, that of asking what this or that historical figure would do if suddenly transported to the present. Would Jesus occupy? Would the Founding Fathers? How about Rosa Parks? The trouble is, the reason these people changed the world is that they responded to their circumstances creatively, beyond a simple yes or no. What they did to confront the challenges of their time pushed beyond the either-or that other people were stuck in. If they lived in our time, they’d probably surprise us too.

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