The final outdoor rally this winter for the Occupy Madison movement started with a small handful of people, and grew to about 30 children, women, and men who waved signs, delivered passionate speeches, and marched peacefully on downtown Madison.
Many people in town have asked me what they stand for, what their message is. To hear it in their own words, check out the videos, or check out the photos of the signs they were holding.
After attending the rally Saturday, I'd have to say there was no one message, but rather many themes in common. The word I heard time and again was "justice."
Several at the rally felt that big money is corrupting politics, and that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and unions alike the ability to spend at will to support or attack political candidates, must be reversed. Others spoke about the need for economic justice at all levels of our society. Still others said they considered themselves products of the American Dream and that they are concerned that dream would be denied for the next generation, for our children.
There were angry words from those who had lost their jobs or lost their homes. One speaker exhorted those who had experienced personal failures such as job losses, unpaid debts, or repossessed homes to consider the role that systemic corporate and government failures have played in contributing to those losses.
Lynne Charles, one of the organizers, paraphrased Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop's famous thesis, "A Model of Christian Charity," better known as his City on a Hill sermon. Written in 1630 aboard the Arabella, one of eleven ships that sailed from England to New England, the sermon is considered Winthrop's effort to characterize the spirit of the community they were about to join and help create. It has been quoted by everyone from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan since then, and Charles joined them Saturday when she explained why she took the afternoon to Occupy Madison.
"Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God," Winthrop wrote. "For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."
Charles said she agreed with that sentiment.
"We have our wealth ... because of our shared commitment to each other," she said. "We should let go our our superfluities to help others with their necessities."
There were other messages displayed Saturday that might resonant with some of us who live in Madison. One woman attending the rally held a sign that said, "Honk if you support local business." This is a theme supported by other Occupy events as well. Check out the YouTube video with this article that documents a "mic check" protest at the end of December in the Branford Walmart, a protest that encouraged shoppers to shop local.
Concern about economic justice, undue corporate influence, the effect of the bad economy on individual lives, the future of our children, and how we can address those concerns in our everyday lives were among topics discussed Saturday and displayed on signs.
Honk if you agree, several signs said. And many drivers Saturday afternoon did just that.