Whose ‘Filthy, Rotten System’?

Feb. 18, 1970, edition of National Catholic Reporter (NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz)
Brian Terrell has a great column in the National Catholic Reporter (April 16, 2012) tracing the origin of one of Dorothy Day’s most famous phrases: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” And he found a surprise! The Occupy Movement has taken up Dorothy’s phrase as one of their slogans to indict an unjust economic system. But for people of faith, we need to dig a little deeper into Dorothy’s original intent. Here’s an excerpt from Brian’s piece:

My efforts to find the origins of this quote were inconclusive. The archivist for the Catholic Worker papers at Marquette University, Phil Runkel, could find no reference to the quote earlier than the poster itself, which was published by WIN magazine in 1973.

One of Dorothy’s biographers, Jim Forest, did a search of the word rotten and found this in a column by Dorothy from 1956: “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists of conspiring to teach to do, but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

Tom Cornell, former managing editor of The Catholic Worker, offered a promising lead: “My clear recollection is that [Day] said these words in an interview in the offices of theNational Catholic Reporter in Kansas City, that she did not expect to be quoted, and that when she saw the words in print she was offended to be quoted using language which she considered vulgar and crude.”

By this time, though, I was tired of the whole matter and gave it up.

The ringing denunciation of the filthy, rotten system as the source of our problems could not be quieted, though, whatever its origins. In the intervening years, as if doubts cast on its authenticity breathed new life into it, scholars and Workers alike used the quote more than ever, attributing Dorothy’s authority to it without question. In the last few months, moreover, the analysis that “our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system” has found resonance in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Encouraged by images of hand-lettered placards attributing this scathing critique of the system to Dorothy Day popping up at Occupy encampments, I decided to renew my search of its genesis and forwarded Tom’s recollection to a friend on the staff of NCR, Joshua McElwee.

Joshua found the interview Tom remembered in NCR’s Feb. 18, 1970, issue, in which the editors interviewed Dorothy and writer Gary MacEoin and presented their conversation as a Lenten reflection under the headline “Money and the middle-class Christian.”

The editors put a large box in the body of this article with a subhead proclaiming in large, bold type: “Dorothy Day: Our problems stem from the acceptance of this lousy, rotten system.”

Here, I am convinced, is the “smoking gun”! …

Read Brian’s whole article.

Video: Actress’ Street Performance Against Mayor Bloomberg Gets Her Fired

This is what prophetic action looks like. (See Isaiah 20 and Micah 2 for earlier examples of bold prophetic action against the ruling powers.)

Mary Notari, an actress who pretended to be a representative from the office of New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg in a satirical performance addressing the Occupy Wall Street movement a block away from the mayor’s E. 79th St. residence this past Sunday was fired from her real job as an independent contractor at a market research consulting firm.

“They said my performance had put the company in an uncomfortable position,” said Mary Notari, who learned of her firing from a phone call Monday afternoon. “The mayor has said ‘No right is absolute’—including, apparently, the right to poke fun at him for using violent force against his own people and for bending the law to do so.”

In Notari’s performance, she asked the recently-evicted protesters how they would “feel if someone came to your place of residence and prevented you from moving freely?” She also announced that the protesters had “put the mayor under siege” and had “reduced him to behaving like a medieval warlord.”

Police prevented protesters from entering the E. 79th St. block where the mayor spends weekdays. When asked if the mayor was there at the time, a police officer answered: “No, he’s in Bermuda. He goes there every weekend. He’s a billionaire, he goes where he wants. Learjet.”

“What the police have done is made 79th Street between 5th and Madison a no-First-Amendment zone,” said Norman Siegel, a civil liberties lawyer. “The Constitution doesn’t say you have First Amendment rights except where Mayor Bloomberg lives.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I find drum circles just as annoying as the mayor does,” said Notari. “But the beating of drums is nothing compared to the beatings his police officers have delivered to peaceful protesters this past week.”

Jeffrey Sachs to Wall Street: A Case of Criminal Stupidity?

"Golden Calf" returns to Wall Street, October 2011.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs explains the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the anti-Keystone XL pipeline movement to the Wall Street Journal editorial board and hedge-fund managers. Sachs is also Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

I love to see the prophetic imagination played out in the headlines of our times!

“Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?”–James 2:6

“For wicked men live among My people. They watch like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have grown powerful and rich.”–Jeremiah 5:26-27

Sachs writes in Message to Wall Street:

“The [Occupy Wall Street] protesters are not envious of wealth, but sick of corporate lies, cheating, and unethical behavior. They are sick of corporate lobbying that led to the reckless deregulation of financial markets; they are sick of Wall Street and the Wall Street Journal asking for trillions of dollars of near-zero-interest loans and bailout money for the banks, but then fighting against unemployment insurance and health coverage for those drowning in the wake of the financial crisis; they are sick of absurdly low tax rates for hedge-fund managers; they are sick of Rupert Murdoch and his henchman David Koch trying to peddle the Canada-to-Gulf Keystone oil pipeline as an honest and environmentally sound business deal, when in fact it would unleash one of the world’s dirtiest and most destructive energy sources, Canada’s oil sands, so that Koch can profit while the world suffers. And they are sick of learning how many Republican politicians – the most recent news is about Herman Cain – are doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

Here, then, Wall Street and Big Oil, is what it comes down to. The protesters are no longer giving you a free ride, in which you can set the regulations, set your mega-pay, hide your money in tax havens, enjoy sweet tax rates at the hands of ever-willing politicians, and await your bailouts as needed. The days of lawlessness and greed are coming to an end. Just as the Gilded Age turned into the Progressive Era, just as the Roaring Twenties and its excesses turned into the New Deal, be sure that the era of mega-greed is going to turn into an era of renewed accountability, lawfulness, modest compensation, honest taxation, and government by the people rather than by the banks. …”

Read Sachs’ whole commentary.

Thousands Occupy Wall Street; Bronze Bull Needs Police Protection

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”–Proverbs 22:16

On Sunday, more than a thousand demonstrators occupied Wall Street in New York City to draw attention to Wall Street’s criminal behavior and call for structural economic reforms, reports Zaid Jilani.

“People have a very simple reason to be angry — because Wall Street’s actions made tens of millions of people dramatically poorer through no fault of their own. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conducted studies of the effects of the global recession — caused largely by Wall Street financial instruments that were poorly regulated by government policies — and found that the recession threw 64 million people [worldwide] into extreme poverty.” Watch this short video below for a great quote from 9-year-old Sam Kessler!

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy contracted by 0.6 per cent in 2009 and the implications of this have been severe for many. Economic growth in developing countries was only 1.7 per cent in 2009 compared with 8.1 per cent in 2007. However, if China and India are excluded, the economies of developing countries actually contracted by 1.8 per cent. The World Bank has estimated that an additional 64 million people will be living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 a day by the end of 2010 as a result of the global recession.

The question is, why aren’t even more people in the streets of the financial district in New York City?