Acton Notes - President's Message

Do you remember Occupy Wall Street? A huge split has occurred within the Occupy movement. Some of the main players wisely saw that they were getting nowhere by camping out in front of skyscrapers and decided to take the cause of social justice into their own hands. They pushed for Occupy members to start doing social projects. They would show up after various calamities such as Hurricane Sandy and help with the clean-up, alongside church groups who are usually among the first responders. Instead of merely demanding social justice, they decided to take real action.

But this tendency has seriously annoyed a faction of people within Occupy too. The more activists element says that helping people with their real problem amounts to giving up the political vision. The point of Occupy, they say, is not to do charity work but to change the system.

I'm intrigued by this split because it highlights a long-time tension in the movement for redistribution and the welfare state. After all, if your goal is to really help people—and that is a goal we should all have—there are more effective ways of doing this than going to the government and demanding that it put in place new taxes, administer new programs, and transfer money from sector to sector. The best way to help people is to actually help people.

But for some members of the hard left, this is not a good approach at all. As incredible as it seems, even the charitable work of Mother Theresa and her order of nuns came under fire for providing direct charitable services rather than being politically active in demanding socialism. But they stuck to their mission, believing that the best way to make the world a more just and beautiful place is to minister to people's needs directly.

Voluntary charity and voluntary good works is the path toward authentic social improvement. This is the path that the Action Institute has long counseled, and we take it a step further and actually highlight and celebrate those individuals and institutions and faith groups that choose this road. Thank you for supporting our important work.

Rev. Robert Sirico, President