The Common Good

#OccupyWallStreet: Bruce Came From Vermont...

800px-Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Bruce came from Vermont.

"God is here," he said. "It might not be as direct as you are looking for but God's here."

The first thing I saw when I walked toward the park was the chaos. It looked like people and supplies were piled on top of each other in large mounds spread throughout the park. The space that was left formed a maze of paths choked by small groups of people engaged in debates and discussion.

But, the second thing I noticed were all the people sweeping. Running in between the guys with the hacky-sacks and the girls spinning light-flashing hoola-hoops were earnest young people armed with brooms. I couldn't tell if they had a system but they were attacking any stray piece of trash or cigarette butts they could find.

Twice a day, I learned, a circle gathers for mediation.

The Catholic Worker newspaper is readily available.

Supposedly, Deepak Chopra stopped by.

Another man, Tim, told me that he met some "fundamentalist Christians." When I asked if he meant "fundamentalist" in a bad way he paused for a moment before answering. "No, not in a bad way. I mean, they are here aren't they?"

Joanne joined the protests after she saw the arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge. She was careful to explain that she doesn't normally do this type of thing but she felt compelled to come and be a part of it. I asked her if she had been motivated by any personal connections to the issues and concerns that sparked the movement. She responded, "Don't we all?"

I talked to Daniel, a 22-year-old college student, who has been staffing an information table in the park 16 hours a day for the lastd 17 days. He considers himself a "non-observant" Jew. Still, he has found inspiration in a story Martin Buber tells in The Tales of the Hasseidem. Rabbi Mushleib, Buber explains, would go around town begging for money to try and raise bail for those who were wrongly imprisoned.

"And he danced a lot," Daniel added. "And he was raised from the dead in a bear costume. But I don't have any empirical proof about that," he smiled. "I just like to think of him as a model for humility."

Daniel was interrupted at the end of his story. Some protestors had been arrested.

"Was it the instigators?" Daniel asked. He explained that Anonymous, a "hacktavist group" and the Black Block, an anarchist, group had been stirring up trouble.

"Ya, thos a-holes again," his friend interjected.

A small group had formed around us as we talked and Daniel asked if anyone had read G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

"Remember how you eventually figure out that the leader of the anarchists and the [head of the] secret police squad is the same guy?" he said. "Pretty sure something like that is going on here too."

While most of the people I interviewed said they never felt any hostility towards religion, they didn't necessarily see any use for it, either.

Jonathan, 19, who works at a fast food restaurant, said: "There isn't really room for religion here. We are trying to focus on the big problems we face that we all have in common. Religion gets people focused on too many specifics and divides."

His friend Chris chimed in, "How could anything that caused so many wars be any good?"

I asked a group that was serving food what they would think if more religious people joined.

"Awesome! Some Muslim guys came down and offered to do all the food one day," one young woman said.

"No way!" responded a middle-aged man who had been pointing other protestors to vegetarian sandwiches. "We just got a bunch of food donated by some church in North Carolina."

Many protesters here have had some bad experiences with religion, but it's clear that they are genuinely open to seeing religion done differently.

Another young woman summed it up nicely: "You work for a progressive Christian magazine? We could use a lot more of you!"

T.KingTim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. You can follow Tim's tweets from the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations in New York City HERE.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)