The Catholic Worker adds its voice to Occupy Wall Street

What would Dorothy Day think?


Soon after legendary folk singer Loudon Wainwright III finished performing for cheering protesters in Zuccotti Park yesterday afternoon, telling them that the Occupy Wall Street encampment reminded him of the 1968 “Summer of Love,” a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System showed up.

Bud Courtney, who plays banjo in the group, said its decidedly unholy name came from the late Dorothy Day, who started the Christian-anarchist Catholic Worker Movement 78 years ago with Peter Maurin during the Great Depression. She is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.

“Dorothy observed that all of our problems come from our acceptance of the filthy rotten system,” said Mr. Courtney, 61, a former actor who served on aChristian Peacemaker Team in Iraq last year and now lives at one of two Catholic Worker hospitality houses in the East Village. With the help of several bandmates as well as protesters who sang along, he belted out Woody Guthrie’s classic, “My Land is Your Land.”

Longtime Yippie activist Aron Kay, who has been visiting the Occupy Wall Street encampment daily since it sprouted up on Sept. 17, said he was aware of Catholic Worker’s history in the East Village, where its volunteers regularly provide free food, clothing and shelter (what Ms. Day would have called “acts of mercy”) for people in need. The movement now claims about 213 independent communities in the U.S. and abroad. St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality on East First Street and Maryhouse on East Third Street subsist solely on donations and are run by unpaid Catholic Worker volunteers committed to voluntary poverty.

“People may not know their name here,” said Mr. Kay, 61, leaning on a cane. “But as far as I’m concerned, this [protest] is following in the tradition of the Catholic Worker – take care of the homeless; take care of the disadvantaged and the unemployed, the students, all people who are victims of the same entity: Wall Street.”

Brian Hines, 46, a Catholic Worker supporter who plays guitar for the Filthy Rotten System, said he agreed that Occupy Wall Street protesters and their diverse causes seem to embody many of The Catholic Worker movement’s values. “Dorothy thought the poor gave the rich an opportunity to do good,” he said, adding that Ms. Day would not have wanted a government intervention. “She would never say ‘New York City: Help the poor.’ But she did understand that the system was the problem.”

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37 responses to “The Catholic Worker adds its voice to Occupy Wall Street”

  1. Jim Forest said it all:

    “Dorothy would be thrilled,” he said. “But she wouldn’t here,” he added, referring to Maryhouse. “She’d be down there [in Zuccotti Park].”

    (Great picture, Deacon Greg.)

  2. Fr. Stephen, csc #2:

    I suspect Dorothy Day would say: “Come On-A My House.”

    I don’t doubt the veracity of this incident and hopefully, this is an isolated one.

    (No offense intended but quite often I have thought that the NY Post was one small step above the National Enquirer in some of its articles and headlines.)

  3. I imagine she would say: “You’re not entitled to have others maintain you; get off your butts and go serve others.”

  4. Rev Mr Flapatap #4:

    I doubt she would say that.

    “She was constantly afraid of the temptation to self-righteousness. ‘If we end up pointing our fingers at others, we demean ourselves and what we’re trying to do.’” (Coles, Dorothy Day, A Radical Devotion, p.168)

  5. The Catholic Worker and the groups below all have something in common. They support OWS.

    The 99%: Official list of Occupy Wall Street’s supporters, sponsors and sympathizers

    Communist Party USA
    American Nazi Party
    Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Ira
    The government of North Korea
    Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam
    Revolutionary Communist Party
    David Duke
    Revolutionary Guards of Iran
    Hugo Chavez
    Socialist Party USA
    Black Panthers (original)
    Communist Party of China
    White Revolution
    International Bolshevik Tendency
    International Socialist Organization
    Marxist Student Union
    Freedom Road Socialist Organization
    Party for Socialism and Liberation

    Sources for above:

  6. Jasper #6:

    If you are accusing the Catholic Worker of being communist, you are out of order and totally uniformed aka, ignorant, or perhaps, just a rabble-rouser.

  7. If a persons heart is concerned more with social justice than God and the salvation of souls, they are not practicing the Faith. If the Catholic Workers Movement stands with those organizations affiliated with the movement it reflects upon them as well. Sometimes philosophies, economics and yes even religions can be cooped by incompatible ideologies. The One True Faith is about true freedom. Subsidiary and “old” Distributism flows from our faith, not revolution, socialism, egalitarianism and the other isms preached by the lost OWS sheep. GK Chesterton said 3 acres and a cow, not free college, social hand outs and forced redistribution of wealth. Unfortunately, narcissism has perverted our culture.

  8. HMS,

    Read Dr. Carol Byrne’s book.

    “While declaring herself committed to a non-violent revolution, Day nonetheless supported every Socialist regime around the world regardless of its violent beginnings and inhumane consequences. There is documentary evidence that Day supported the policies of hostile foreign powers operating from Moscow, Havana, Peking and Hanoi against her own country, the USA.

    She also wrote favorably about such Socialist dictators as Lenin, Castro, Mao and Ho Chi Minh, even though they had all violently persecuted the Church in their respective countries. Is it not ironic that some Catholics who died in Communist purges of the 20th century have been canonized while the Vatican is considering sainthood for a Catholic who spent most of her life collaborating with their executioners? “

  9. Jasper…

    Dr. Carol Byrne? Among other things, she is also a leading advocate for SSPX, and she has argued publicly that it is a scandal for Christian women to wear pants. At one point she even states: “It will never be right for women to overshadow or displace traditional Catholic teaching by claiming the right to wear trousers.”

    As she puts it:

    We need to rescue the Christian concept of womanhood from modern society’s confusion over marital duties and family life. In order to maintain standards of decency in dress, women need the graces that come from frequent prayer. They also need the moral support of their menfolk: in the first place of the Holy Father, then of the hierarchy, clergy and religious and also of their husbands. But women have been spiritually short-changed and woefully let down by the silence of the Magisterium after the Council. However, there is the other side of the coin: the problem of the unruly wife and the passion with which some women pursue the ‘right’ to wear trousers. Instead of having a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4), they frustrate their husband’s attempts to counsel them by continually usurping his authority in the home.

    Dcn. G.

  10. I love the way the Pharisees come out. “They are with sinners!” Guilt by association, it’s also how they took out Jesus.

    Or, one has got to love this: “If a persons heart is concerned more with social justice than God and the salvation of souls, they are not practicing the Faith.”

    As if they are in contradiction to each other; you can’t be for God and the salvation of the souls outside of social justice. Jesus and the prophets declared social justice — to practice the faith, you follow the teachings of the faith. We are not Protestants who reject works, we are Catholics who understand faith is only found with works. And social justice, being connected to the heart of God for the poor, is every bit concerned for God. Those who reject social justice might be the ones who need to see if they are practicing the faith.

    25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
    29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  11. I’m not sure what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are protesting. Greed, OK. Wrongs, OK.

    But, it has become a platform for every group that wants a headline.

    For some time I have been concerned about the direction of the Catholic Worker group. Being a social activist is one thing, but there is a line. Have they crossed it? Their supporters (or former supporters) will determine that.

  12. What is interesting is that Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan — you do realize the Samaritans were seen as these evil, vile people, outcasts to be rejected — his point is even so one seen as so low can do better than self-professed holy people. Jesus never rejects the good done by sinners, but Pharisees use sinners as an excuse to reject the good.

  13. I think the problem here is that the protests have degenerated into some kind of sham. They may have started out with some sincere folks who really believed in what they were saying (albeit misinformed on many points – the government spends more on defense than social services? Really?) but now OWS has been hijacked by the usual suspects. It’s hard to see past the drugs, sexual assaults, public defecation, intimidation of people who actually have jobs, public indecencies and narcissistic ‘demands’ that are being put forth. Would Dorothy Day run up a tuition bill of $100,000 and demand that somebody else pay it off for her?

    Businesses are being forced to close because of OWS forcing people in the ‘99%’ to lose jobs and this morning I watched a slide show of homes worth $500,000 and more where some of the protesters live who have been arrested.

    I may be one of the 99% and even agree with some of the original points made by OWS but now I think that they need to shut this down fast. It’s enough to make me take a fat-cat banker to lunch.

  14. Janet

    First, it was said it was the usual suspects, and so they are bad and must be ignored. Now later, it is well, the usual suspects have hijacked it. Same meme — same guilt by association meme — same meme which consistently is used to keep people away from the good. “Look! Sinners!”

    I would rather stand by a sinner who is promoting something good (fill in the blank here; it could be communist; it could be racist; it could be war monger; et. al) than a holier-than-thou Pharisee who uses the sin to ignore the good.

  15. Jasper:
    Thank you for the suggested reading but I prefer to read primary sources and books and articles written by those who knew Dorothy Day personally. You may want to get a subscription to the Catholic Worker newspaper, published 7 times year and still a penny a day. For a no-matter- how-small donation, it can be mailed to you. In it you will find excerpts of her columns and writings as well as articles which describe the mission of the Catholic Worker Movement, which is and has always been based on the Gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Matthew 25:31-46.

  16. Henry

    I think we probably agree more than disagree on this but let me clarify something. I think that the behavior and irrational demands of the folks who are now involved in this are causing people to ignore the good of the original protests.

    They are turning people off to the message. Everything that I cited is happening in these camps and the average 99%-er like myself wants to see that go away. Not the worthy goals or ideals of the sincere people who are involved.

    You may think that all the people involved here are legitimate protesters. I do not. I think a fair amount have moved in with their own agendas and there are also other opportunists involved now. Sinners don’t bother me in the least. Some of my best friends are sinners.

    Now excuse me while I go and lengthen my phylacteries…just kidding, Henry! God bless you and this country that allows us to exchange our ideas freely on a beautiful morning like this.


  17. Wall Street itself is not evil, Wall Street does not, did not, can not create homeless people. People create this condition. No we cannot ask those of “means” to pay for what we think is the right thing to do. Dig into your own wealth, your own pocket and your own heart to “help” the homeless. The poor will always be with us, the homeless will always be with us. Take a personal step of charity to help these individuals to be comfortable and do it in the name of God and at the instruction of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount). Stop the demanding “others” do something when you cannot even put words to your demands. The shame of the Catholic Worker is that it used the name Catholic.

  18. Bill,

    If you read papal encyclicals, you will see they point to the need of the state to the promotion of the common good, which includes the universal destination of goods. The absolutist position on property is a kind of idolatry, because all property is really in the hands of God, given to us as stewards; as Jesus showed, unjust stewards will have what they own removed from them! The “they don’t create the problem” response ignores systematic evil and the impact of immoral business practices have on the common good.

  19. Bill:
    I hope that you have come to that conclusion without having read the works of Dorothy Day and those associated with the Catholic Worker.
    Because if you have read them, I think you will appreciate why some of us are proud that the name Catholic is associated with the movement.

  20. If folks are worried that the Catholic Workers are up to no good, there’s a simple way to find out: head over to St. Joe’s or Maryhouse and see for yourself. I recommend going on a Sunday. You’ll eat well.

  21. I think Carol Bryne might be confusing things Dorothy Day said before her converstion, when she WAS a communist, with what she said after her conversion. The Catholic Worker always said that it did not support “state socialism” which is how they identified what was practiced in the Soviet Union.

    Dorothy herself was a devout and orthodox Catholic. Some, not all, of her followers have put their own idea of social justice ahead of their loyalty to the Church. (therefore supporting women’s ordination, for instance.) Dorothy herself always said that if her bishop told her to stop publishing The Catholic Worker newspaper, she would do so.

    The Catholic Worker people I knew backed up their “social justice” ideas with their lives; they lived at the CW house in similar circumstances to the poor, ate what was served in their food kitchen, and dressed from the donation box. They also knew poor people as individuals, and loved them close up, not as an idea and a distant crowd, as do some liberals. When one of the people who came frequently to their CW house would die, they would write a long obituary, which showed they had bothered to find out about his or her origins, family, and life history. Love of the poor means nothing if you do not love this particular poor person standing in front of you. The CW people I knew, did that.

    Susan Peterson

  22. The site you present – the home of a good conservative person who has not provided any sources for his list – perhaps a fevered brain or lack of oxygen.

  23. Bill: “Wall Street itself is not evil, ”

    On October 10, 2007, David Kelley, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, published a column in that newspaper entitled “Capitalist Heroes.” His first words were: “Fifty years ago today Ayn Rand published her magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged. . . . And it’s always had a special appeal for people in business.”

    Bottom line, that article was a two-and-a half page blatant, arrogant and quite true statement that “Wall Street” was driven by greed — the human characteristic prized by followers of Rand’s “Ethical Egoism” ethical philosophy and condemned as one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” of traditional “Pre-Vatican Roman Catholicism.”

    I’ll let you judge for yourself whether a major arm of Wall Street condemned itself in print. There is no question about that in my mind.

  24. And so nothing good could possibly come out of OWS because PP has joined ranks? I’m not understanding why PP joining ranks is such a vile thing? Is PP vile? Yep, but that doesn’t automatically equal that OWS is vile, evil and unjust. That just means PP supports them.

    I guess I’m not understanding what you’re trying to say.

  25. Dorient Day may be a Servant of God, but she is gone now, and it appears that the Catholic Worker movement left the planet with her.

    Granted, I only see with my own eyes, but it seems to me that the only thing Catholic about them these days is their name.

    Dorothy Day will always be controversial, but it seems from what I have read about her and by her that she was loyal to the Church and the Magisterium. I have yet to find evidence that the CW movement of today is also, although I am sure there are individuals in the movement who are.

  26. I’m sure Dorothy Day would be there, bless her heart. She was an undoubtedly holy woman and loyal to the Church, but I think she was a tad too soft hearted and too idealistic at times.

    But then so are we all.

  27. Andy, simply cut and paste any of these and Google them with supports occupy and you will see each one indeed has come out in support. What was missed was the Democratic Party who is not using their 99% term. See Obama, Reid, and Peolsi so far. They also obviously have the old ACORN group with funding from Soros. Soros wants to fund a complete revolution in America.

    Now we are seeing violence break out at many locations. I note a chart comparison between Occupy and the Tea Party lising number of arrrests, number of rapes, number of other crimes. This is going to get ugly. One of the major union leaders came out advocating shutting down businesses and bridges. Having lived through the 60’s riots and disorder and burning cities, the only solution is a massive crackdown to end this violence before it gets out of hand. When we need leadership the most, we have Obama offering none.

  28. i suspect your eyes are turning a verysharp brown these days. obviously you have never read let alone study dorothy’s writings. the saddest part is how a person like you can be so willfully ignorant. as dorothy would say one of the major works of mercy is to ‘educate the ignorant.’ i will pray for you as i know she would.

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