Ten years ago, we threw a party on Wall Street. It was one year after 9/11 and nine years before Occupy.
Here’s a little video from the original Wall Street Jubilee:
We were inspired by the ancient vision of Jubilee found in the Bible – where God invites the Hebrew people to dismantle economic inequality by forgiving debts, setting slaves free, and redistributing property. It was God’s emancipation proclamation, the Almighty’s creative way of systemically interrupting the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Sure, biblical scholars are quick to point out that the Hebrew people never really practiced the Jubilee very well. But one of my favorite scholars goes on to say, “That’s no excuse… Christians have never really practiced the Sermon on the Mount very well either.” It was still God’s dream, God’s intention — and it is our job to keep God’s dream alive.
So we threw a Jubilee party on Wall Street, ready to confront the raging bull head-on, ready to flip the tables on the front steps of capitalism’s temple.
We invited the homeless folks in New York to come to the front entrance of the New York Stock Exchange where we planned to give away ten thousand dollars in cash. They came…lots of them. Just as the opening bell rang inside the Stock Exchange, Jubilee started rumbling outside. Small bills were dropped from the balcony of a nearby building, a swarm of bicyclists rode through and dumped thousands of quarters. Undercover by-standers had come prepared and emptied bags, backpacks and purses full of change. The party was so irresistible that some of the folks in the stock exchange came out to catch a glimpse of the action. One of them even bought a bunch of bagels and started handing them out.
It wasn’t about coins – it was about change.
We threw the party there deliberately knowing we needed to bring the poor and rich face to face, to expose the economic patterns of Wall Street that are increasingly leaving masses of people in poverty so that a handful of folks can live as they wish–privatizing profit and socializing debt.
It was brilliant street theater, an economic flash mob, a little act of divine mischief. But something in us felt like there was more, something deeper — even holy — that happened that day. It didn’t change the world. But it did raise the question about whether the world needed to be changed.
Ten years later, we think it’s time for another Jubilee. This time around we are not just performing a stunt on Wall Street. We want Jubilee to spread from Wall Street to Main Street. We want to invite you to do an act of Jubilee on your streets.
So here is the invitation. It’s a call for all superheroes and anti-heroes and ordinary radicals… we are inviting people all over the world to simultaneously, wildly and wonderfully, orchestrate random acts of Jubilee.
Maybe you will hide money in alleyways and park benches. Maybe you will drop rupees from a hot air balloon over a slum in India. Maybe you can take a homeless person to lunch, or learn to quilt with an old lady. Maybe your religious community can match every dollar they spend on buildings with a dollar given to the poor. Maybe you can divest from stocks that exploit and invest in micro-finance grants that enrich. Maybe you can get your office to sponsor a well for folks in Africa, or get your dorm buddies to give $3 to buy mosquito nets for folks who might otherwise die of malaria. Maybe your college will create a scholarship for low-income youth. Maybe your neighborhood will pay off someone’s house before foreclosure. Maybe your business will forgive someone’s debt. Maybe you can get your pastor to switch salaries with the janitor or your CEO to pay all folks the same wage for one year. Maybe America will forgive all third-world debt owed to it. Maybe. It’s up to us. It’s up to you. God is already on the side of Jubilee. God might just be waiting for us to enact it. Be the change.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world. His most recent book is Red Letter Revolution, which he co-authored with Tony Campolo.