At the Iowa Family Values forum on Saturday, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich commented on Occupy Wall Street activists, saying, “Go get a job right after you take a bath.” It’s likely not a coincidence that his remarks came on the heels of Gingrich having been heckled by Occupy folk while giving a speech at Harvard.
Whether Occupy Wall Street folk are clean or unwashed is pretty much beside the point as I see it.
Gingrich sought to tie his remark to the challenge of Captain John Smith to aristocrats in the early American settlement to either work or starve, “If you don’t work, you won’t eat.”
Unfortunately, Gingrich’s remarks are more consonant not with Smith, but with the remark, “Let them eat cake,” apocryphally attributed to Marie Antoinette during a time of famine in France.
There are no studies of those participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests and communities across the nation, but among those on the streets are those who do have jobs as well as those who do not; those who have worked for a lifetime and those who are waiting to enter a job market that has no place for them; those who have protested wars at home and those who have fought them.
The unemployment rate (which measures those who do not have jobs who are looking for jobs) for young adults has topped 19% during this economic crisis and hovers consistently at above 16%. The Wall Street Journal, "Generation Jobless"
The young are being hit the hardest in these times. And this is while corporate profits have hit all time highs.
Given that joblessness is so high for young people who are looking for work but not finding it, Mr. Gingrich, might I suggest that telling those who are looking for work to get a job hardly qualifies as either helpful advice or meaningful challenge. Rather, it smacks of an utter lack of awareness of lived realities for so many in this country.
Admittedly, we continue to be much better off as a nation than many other countries.
But I stand with the 16th-century Reformers on this one: human beings were made for work, for vocation. Our work is our divine calling. We serve not only ourselves and our community with our work; we also serve our God. Being denied work is tantamount to being denied the opportunity to serve God.
Unfortunately, from this presumption, work is equated, wrongfully, with worth in our society. No work; no worth.
And, Mr. Gingrich, your remarks smack of that same assessment.
But the folks on the streets are not worthless. They are human beings. And they are working. They simply aren’t being paid for their work.
We can disagree with each other. We can challenge the foundations of the opinions of others. We can call into question the reasoning of someone whose opinion differs from ours. But we cannot dismiss or denigrate the very existence of others.
There’s a word for that: dehumanization, the effort to make a person or persons something other than a fellow human being, so as not to have to take them into account.
It is beneath you, Mr. Gingrich. It is beneath you as their fellow human being. It is beneath you as someone who would seek to hold the highest office in our land. And most especially, it is beneath you as a Roman Catholic Christian follower of Jesus the Risen Christ, who took us all into account.