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Occupy Wall Street’s Moral Ground

Much of the Occupy movement’s power comes from a simple moral message: It’s wrong to wreck the world. It’s wrong to wreck the health and hopes of others.

take $ out sign by Michael Prados

Photo by Michael Prados

The Occupy Wall Street movements and climate action movements stand on the same moral ground and affirm the same moral principles: It’s wrong to wreck the world. It’s wrong to wreck the health and hopes of others. An economic system that forces most of the people to bear the impacts of the recklessness of a few powerful profiteers, to assume the burdens of others’ privilege, and to pay the real costs of destructive industries in the currency of their health and the hopes of their children—that system is immoral. And when, to enrich a powerful few, that system threatens to disrupt forever the great planetary cycles that support all the lives on Earth? This is moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale.

Both movements affirm that all flourishing is mutual. The world is deeply interconnected and interdependent; damage to any part undermines the thriving of the whole. Accordingly, every person—no matter how rich—and every system—no matter how entrenched—has the responsibility to honor affirmative obligations of justice and compassion to present and future generations of all beings. Not only in principle. On the ground.

This is what demonstrators' homemade signs are saying: Get the money out of politics (and politicians' pockets), so we can be a democracy again.

The Occupy Wall Street Movements are connecting the dots on a map of dysfunction and injustice. Climate change. Toxic neighborhoods. Financial recklessness. Jobs despair. Concentrated wealth. Pointless war. The dots all connect to one central social pathology, which is funding (one might say, buying and selling) of elections (and of the elected) by powerful centers of wealth—mostly corporations, mostly destructive and extractive corporations. Our erstwhile democracy has now developed a futures market in politicians. This has created a situation where the government is fundamentally controlled by those who would risk or wreck the (name your favorite: economy, environment, children’s futures) for their own short-term gain.

The consequence is, of course, that the destructive few now control the regulatory agencies and potential regulations that might have limited their recklessness and greed. They have the consequent power to close off options for resolving the environmental and economic emergencies. They have the power to block federal actions that might prevent injustices. They have the power to bulldoze the natural systems that sustain our lives.

Along the straining fault lines of our civilization, we feel the forces building for justice, sanity, and lasting ecological and cultural thriving.

This is what demonstrators' homemade signs are saying: Get the money out of politics (and politicians' pockets), so we can be a democracy again, so we can enact the measures that will save us from personal and global catastrophe. Self-created environmental catastrophe has taken down many civilizations before ours. But this time, the self-inflicted catastrophe of climate change will take down also the hydrological cycles and relative climate stability that have allowed the evolution of the world as we know and love it. We can draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide to livable levels. But not until we draw down the power of those who are enriched by destroying the conditions of human and ecological thriving.

We are all in this together. The lines that connect climate change to jobs to the environment to education to health to justice are strong and undeniable. The time has passed for an environmental movement. The time has passed for a climate change movement. The time has passed for isolated grassroots movements. We stand on ground that trembles with tectonic movement. Along the straining fault lines of our civilization, we feel the forces building for justice, sanity, and lasting ecological and cultural thriving. This, finally, is The Big One—the coming together of all of us who care about the future and do not want to gamble it away. The Big One will shake the world.


Kathleen MooreKathleen Moore is a Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University and the founding director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word. Her most recent book is Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.

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