So, I mentioned in my last post about Jo, the nice lady who chatted with me about Nigeria and who is raising funds for Haitian girls’ education. When she did the traditional, “But what is Occupy Wall Street *about*?” dance (lean in, cock head, lean out… do the hokey pokey…), I said something about economic inequality, possibly even corruption. (Since those are the issues galvanizing the Nigerian protests, it seemed an appropriate response to all sorts of questions that day.)
“Yes, but without the rich we wouldn’t have museums,” she said, and I didn’t know how to answer her succinctly so I shrugged and smiled. I didn’t want to get into a deep conversation on Marx—I don’t know the lingo of labor and exploitation, the careful theories that are beautiful, deilcate constructions in and of themselves. Besides, I worry that I am too top-heavy and awkward and would fall out of them if I tried.
And, honestly, it’s something I’ve thought about, too. I love Art Deco and beautiful artifacts from the past. And usually, the things that are most beautiful and best taken care of are the things left behind by the rich. Problem.
We have Carnegie Hall because Andrew Carnegie had more money than social capital. We have the Chrysler Building because a corporation accrued vast sums of wealth. We have a Tiffany dragonfly hair clip at the Met because someone was rich enough to buy it and bored/savvy enough to donate it to the museum. (Museums are not just funded by the rich, they are filled by the rich: the Met’s furniture section, it has always struck me, is the well-tended attic of the ridiculously wealthy.)
I love the Chrysler Building and Tiffany glass and dark wood furniture and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its long list of generous individual and corporate donors on the wall. I do.
But you know what?
For a world closer to just, for a country with less exploitation and a city full of people with more equal opportunities and enough for everybody—enough clean water, air, and food; enough time to dance and snuggle and talk to our neighbors and pursue happiness—I would give up museums.
I would give up the pretty relics of the rich, if it meant we no longer had the hurting, hungry poor.
And you know what else?
We might just find that without one person having access to enough money to build his own hall, one corporation to scrape the sky in steel and glass, that many people together would build wonders; and if we were too ornery to do even that: Our porches the new theaters, our attics the museums, our minds the wonders of the world.
Artists would still band together because we hunger for community and for glory among our peers and our names and works to triumph over death—we would still create beautiful, lasting work—but this time, maybe, our grandchildren could inherit relics of the equal.
I know people suck; and I know that we all do not suck equally. I do not believe that the rich deprived of their money would suck more than a poor person who won the lottery. The rich do not deserve their money... any more than the poor deserve poverty.
We all struggle. But in that equality (of struggle and hunger and blood and fear) is a kind of grace—we are all human, and we as a band of hairless apes with our eyes on the stars do best when we are taught to share and take care of each other’s needs.
I guess it all boils down to I Occupy Because… I want to help; and because I need help.