By Callen Harty
Growing up in a lower middle class Irish-Catholic family I understand what it is like to be part of the 99% of the world that does not control the wealth. Ours was a single-parent household during a time when there were few single-parent households. My father had died when I was two and I was the only one in my small high school class of just over 60 students who was from a single-parent household. My mother was the youngest of nine and I was the youngest in our family, so I got hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs. Many of my clothing items were fashionable almost a generation earlier as I had first cousins who were only a few years younger than my own mother. We had a house, a car, food on the table, the bills were paid, and we were fairly well taken care of, but we didn’t have a lot of extras, and that was okay.
I often heard my mother’s stories of living through the Great Depression. She was born in 1925, so was still a small child when the stock market crashed in 1929. She talked of a person in town who bought her shoes after seeing how ragged hers were and how proud she was to be able to wear those to school. She talked of how poor her family was and how often she felt shamed by her old clothes compared to some of the other girls in her school who had new and pretty dresses to wear. But the stories I remember best are not the stories of how poor her family was, but how generous they were despite their own circumstances.
My mother’s childhood home was next to the train station and indigent men would often get off the trains and knock on their door to ask for food. My grandmother, struggling to keep food on the table for her own family during the worst economic period in our country’s history, would always give them something to eat. There was always enough soup to share even when there was little soup at all. If there were one piece of bread and two people needed bread they would each get half a slice. It was the way they believed and the way they lived.
I remember, too, my mother’s own generosity when we really did not have that much ourselves. I recall her inviting a neighboring family to live with us after a house fire, almost doubling the occupancy of our house for a couple months. There was no question about doing it; they needed a place to stay. She used to visit several elderly women and give them rides, run errands for them, fetch groceries, and more. She always gave of herself and always passed on to her children the Biblical and human lessons of caring for our brothers and sisters in need—even if we were in need ourselves. In our religious and cultural heritage one could find countless Bible verses admonishing believers to help provide for infants, the infirm, the poor. It was incumbent upon us to share what we had and to work toward making everyone’s lives better. It was socialism without the political doctrine. It was a matter of humanity.
While my behavior in life has not been perfect and while I have succumbed to a certain degree of materialism, I have also strived to live up to those early lessons. I have done my best to be kind to others, to help others when and where I could, and to share my blessings. I have fought over the years for equality for all and for social justice and have done my best in my spiritual nature to be true to those ideals. This is why the Wisconsin Uprising called to me and why the Occupy movement continues to call me. It is not just about unions. It is ultimately about social justice and equality for all.
I am fiercely dedicated to this struggle. I am absolutely committed to working for a society that treats everyone equally and shares its own collective blessings. I believe those who are wealthy need to pay their fair share. I believe that the function of government is to care for the least of its citizens. This is what neighborhood is about; it’s just that in a nation it is a much larger neighborhood. But we still find someone housing when their house burns down, give them soup when they are out of work and hungry, share what we have with those in need.
But while I am part of the 99% it is not about hating the 1%. It is about loving 100% of humanity and finding ways to make the economy work for all of us. It is not about destroying those who have, but uplifting those who do not. It is about getting the 1% to give of themselves because it is the right thing to do. It is about winning their hearts. I do not want a violent upheaval of the social order; I want a peaceful revolution of spirit which will, in turn, recreate the social order. For me it is about creating light in a dark corner rather than darkening everything so that no one can see. Perhaps I am naïve to think that this is possible, but I have seen the spirit of generosity in every human being that I have met, rich or poor, religious or not, and I believe in the essential goodness in all of us. The 99% only defines me in terms of wealth, or lack thereof. It does not define my humanity. For that I am part of the 100%. On this planet, at this time in our history, I believe that all of us need each other. Everyone and everything is interconnected. Right now we are on the brink of destruction. We can either push each other over that edge and destroy everything or we can link hands and try to save us all. I choose to join hands with all in an attempt to work together toward a brighter future for all. Maybe we’ll succeed in saving our economy and maybe we won’t, but at least we can save our souls, our very humanity, by working together for justice and living together in love.