Amidst the recent police violence in Oakland and the sure temptation of some protestors to resort to violence, I wrote this little reflection inviting all Occupiers to a renewed commitment to nonviolence.
There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this dark world.” It is a reminder that there are people behind oppressive structures — people who laugh and cry and bleed just like everyone else — and those people are not the enemies, but the systems are.
I was reminded of this when I went into Bank of America on Move Your Money Day, and transferred my money to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia. As I went into the bank, I saw the smiling faces of Bank of America tellers who have become friends over the past decade. When I told them I was closing my account, one of the women asked jokingly, “You don’t like us anymore?” At first my heart sunk, but then I said, “No way, I love the heck out of all of you. I just don’t like the values of the bank you work for.” To my surprise, they all smiled. In fact they may not like the values of the bank they work for either. Even though I’ll be leaving Bank of America, I’m hoping to stay in touch with my friends there. I may even take them some coffees next week, which I’ll charge on my new credit union debit card.
It is always tempting to demonize people and humanize corporations. It’s easy to forget that we are up against something bigger than flesh and blood people. And it’s particularly easy to forget that people are not the enemy when people are shooting pepper spray in your face.
It was not exactly like the occupations of Wall Street or Boston, of Oakland or Seattle.
Rod House’s “wee encampment” was a one-man occupation on the library grounds in LaVeta, Colorado, population 906, some 65 miles southwest of Pueblo. He was so horrified by what he saw happening to protesters in other cities he was at wit’s end.
“I’ve got to do something, but I’m 71 years old,” House said.
So on Black Friday, that day that represents consumer society on steroids, House, an Air Force veteran, pitched his tent on the library grounds, determined to make his own stand for a better world. He was there simply as individual standing against the power of money that has corrupted politics.
One of the highlights of the fall for me was undertaking a kind of Occupy Tourism. I was spending most of my time on the move, working to build the broad coalition that eventually won at least a temporary victory against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta. In almost every city I visited, I tried to stop by the local encampment, in part because Occupiers were among our most reliable allies, and in part because it was so much fun.
I’ve gotten to speak through the human microphone in lower Manhattan and tour the D.C. campsite just a few blocks from the White House. But I’ve also gotten to sign the copies of my books in the library tent at Occupy Boston (a quiet tent, staffed by honest-to-God librarians from Boston Public Library, with everything arranged by subject). I even made it to foreign occupations—standing beneath a giant stone lion in the grand Vancouver encampment. Happiest occupation goes to San Luis Obispo, California, where I got a hug from a fellow with a huge “Free Hugs” sign. The most chic, not surprising, was Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they arranged not only a campfire for my talk, but a rising full moon in the desert sky.
LONDON — It looks like the stage of a West End theater. The tents are gathered around and almost up against the steps of the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each night, a General Assembly is held on those steps, and the sermons on inequality have a biblical ring to them.
This is Occupy London and the Occupiers were having their discussions with each other and visitors in the protective shadow of the Dome of St. Paul’s — as they should be. What a picture of the Incarnation, I thought, marveling at the scene.
What makes Christian faith most unique among all the religions of the world is, indeed, the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets — that’s what Incarnation means.
So here is the church in the midst of the international conversation that is changing the world — right where we should be.
As Injured Vets Return Home, Churches Reach Out. Occupy Wall Street Gears Up For The Big Day. Faith Overtones In Occupy Protests But Leaders Wary. OpEd: How The First Amendment Got Hijacked. Religious Groups Offer Help To Evicted Protesters. OpEd: What Happens When A Seminary Is Occupied? Religious Voices Loud And Clear At Keystone XL Protests. Iowa Scientists Ask Candidates To Acknowledge Climate Change. And Below The Line: Portraits Of American Poverty.
It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!
And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!
Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.
Writing in the Nov. 29, 2011 issue of The Nation, Norm Stamper, who served as Seattle's police chief during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, says his "disastrous response" a dozen years ago should have been a cautionary tale. "Yet our police forces have only become more militarized."
"My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose," Stamper writes. "Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The 'Battle in Seattle,' as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community."
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As I have read about the Occupy Movement, I have noticed many individual Christians expressing support, but little public support for the movement from the Christian community as a whole.
I have had mixed feelings about this.
Certainly support of the poor, standing up for social justice, most of what the Occupy Movement is about, coincide with what we are called to as Christian people. Yet I think it would be inappropriate for Christians to try to jump into leadership roles when the Occupy Movement is so diverse and when we have so often failed to take a stand on such issues ourselves.
It seems to me that public confession and repentance might be the best way to communicate our support with appropriate humility.
With this in mind I make the following confession as a person of Christian faith. I hope others will join me in this or similar confessions.
The clean up of Zucotti Park -- announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday -- by city workers has been scrapped as of early Friday a.m.
The announcement came shortly after 6 a.m. EST, less than an hour before city workers were scheduled to enter the park near Wall Street where thousands of demonstrators have been camped out for nearly a month.
Bold leadership means that Mayor Bloomberg should do what he can to allow these protests to continue, even if he doesn't agree with them. As an elected official, it is essential that the mayor find a way to protect demonstrators' free speech and right to assemble.
The freedom to protest is one of the things that has made this country great and its abridgement is an affront to us all.
You have awakened the sleeping giant, too long dormant, but ever present, deep in the American democratic spirit. You have given voice and space to the unspoken feelings of countless others about something that has gone terribly wrong in our society. And you have sparked a flame from the embers of both frustration and hope that have been building, steadily, in the hearts of so many of us for quite some time.
Throughout history, often it has been left to the youth of a society to do that, and you boldly have stepped into the role of the emerging generation, which sometimes means saying and doing what others only think. You have articulated, loudly and clearly, the internal monologue of a nation.
"'The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your dainties and your splendor are lost to you, never to be found again!' The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud ..."
-- Revelation 18:14-15