The Occupy Wall Street movement seemed so silly. Just about everyone, from the left to the right, tends to think it was a failure, and I used to agree. The rich bankers who took down an entire nation still roam the streets free as the dogs they are. And sometimes it seems the only thing the Occupy folks made happen is that people still wear those silly masks.
But then I read an article in the Atlantic about how seemingly all of America, even Republicans, is shifting to the left. It might be hard to believe, but take a look at the article and decide for yourself. The one thing we do know is that even Hillary would have been considered a liberal nut back when her husband was president if she ran with the platform she has now (which is kind of crazy).
And the reason for this leftward shift? Occupy. The reason an old Brooklyn Jew living in Vermont and calling himself a socialist has a chance against a woman funded by Goldman Sachs? Occupy. The reason we have a country leaping from liberal cause to liberal cause (marijuana, gay rights, trans rights)? Occupy.
There may not be people living in tents in Zuccotti Park anymore (actually, I’ll bet there’s still some dudes out there), but the anger, frustration and powerlessness the Occupy movement expressed has permeated all aspects of America, whether we want to accept it or not.
Honestly, it’s hard to believe. I had to read the article a few times to get my head around it. Occupy? Those dudes? Really?
It wasn’t until a friend messaged me about a gay rights advocate named Chaim Levin in the Chabad community I’ve vocally supported (who just launched a Facebook page to support LGBTQ Chabadniks) that I started to really understand what this article represented, and the deeper message that we could all learn.
My friend was deeply concerned about Chaim. That he was flawed, that he was perhaps even dangerous, and most definitely not fit to be the leader of a movement.
And every time he voiced a concern, all my mind could say was that it’s because Chaim is so flawed that he is fit to lead.
Maybe it’s Avraham’s fault, the way he created monotheism and spoke to God and was basically perfect and all that. Maybe we think that’s what revolutionaries look like. Or maybe that’s what we want all our leaders to be like.
But the reality is that there are leaders, people who are fit to lead, and then there are the “firsts,” the revolutionaries. And just about always, the people who finally speak up about something no one else is, are deeply flawed. Because to speak up about something no one is speaking up about takes guts, takes a willingness to lose everything in order to create change, takes an almost willful foolishness in the face of what appears to be an unbeatable establishment.
Those Occupy people were silly. They were also brave. They got maced, arrested, and abused. And still, even in the face of the New York Police, the unbeatable power of big banks, and a country that seemed to roll their eyes at them, the movement grew and has affected America to this day, even as it disappeared.
The people needed, in other words, to be a bit silly to do what they did. To believe they could fight such huge powers. To believe that they could gain enough followers to change everything. To believe that anyone even cared.
To be the first means to be crazy. It means to be willing to believe the impossible is within our grasp. And, often, it means being very angry. Angry enough to do anything to succeed.
Meyer Seewald, I think, may be crazy. For those of you who do not know, he started Jewish Community Watch, an organization that supports abuse victims in the Jewish world and is infamous for its “Wall of Shame” area of its website that outs abusers.
Meyer has always been vocal, angry, and extremely controversial. He also happens to have been a victim of abuse.
When confronted about my support for Levin, I brought up Meyer, and wondered what my friend thought. Same problem: Meyer is flawed.
I almost fell apart when I heard that. If it wasn’t for Meyer, the Jewish world would not even be close to where it is in its fight against abusers. Especially the orthodox and Hareidi communities. Meyer has done more for awareness about abuse and its dangers in the few years JCW has been around than has perhaps been done in the history of orthodox Judaism.
I do not mean to say that we should forgive all trespasses or that we should not speak up when we think something is wrong. The problem, however, lies in our desire to have flawless leaders. The problem is that we would rather let problems rot our people day after day because we still haven’t found the right person for the job.
I am tired of living in a world where we allow the most serious abuses in the world go unfought. I am tired of living in a world where Jews are afraid to call out the leaders who protect the very abusers themselves. I am tired of living in a world that doesn’t see that to be quiet in the face of injustice is just as malignant a problem as is the support of injustice.
It is the Seewalds and Levins of the world who are willing to put themselves on the line and finally make something happen. They are crazy and they are flawed. But they are the firsts. The Nachshons, the ones willing to jump into the Reed Sea when every other Jew sat back and watched. Without them, nothing would happen. They are the spark to the fire.
And we can either sit back and judge, watch as we sit comfortably not fighting their fights as others suffer, or we can join them.