occupy wall street

Engaging the Powers: The Promise of a New Civil Rights Era

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street gathering in 2012, gabriel12 / Shutterstock.com

In the past few years, a new era of civil rights organizing has emerged out of the depths of tragedy and despair. The list of names of young African Americans who have died at the hand of police, out-of-control vigilantes, and hate-filled white terrorists has fostered profound lament and intense anger. The simple phrase, “Black Lives Matter” has galvanized activism, mobilizing, and organizing.

This new civil rights battle includes legislative battles at state houses like South Carolina, leading to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds. There is work to do in D.C. as well. Yet the real front of this new era will be on the corporate scene, on Wall Street and with economic power brokers and corporations. It is time to go “over the heads” of politicians and enter into dialogue and debate with corporations over the value and dignity of dark bodies, and how to reconstruct a moral economy that is not profiting off of people of color.

Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window depiction of Palm Sunday in the cathedral of Brussels, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Protests in Ferguson, rallies in Hong Kong, and the Occupy Movement: People challenging systems and structures clamber for my attention. But faithful followers of Jesus shouldn’t get involved in these political and economic wrangling, should they? Sure, we ought to pay our taxes and vote; you know, give to Caesar and all that. But Christians should only be concerned about the spiritual transformation of individuals, not gallivanting around to rail against political and economic systems. After all, Jesus never protested political or economic policies did he? If we transform enough people, won’t the rest of the systemic issues work themselves out?

I have heard this challenge to Christian involvement in social movements numerous times, and it holds a certain appeal for someone like me who is allergic to politics. I’m the no-bumper-sticker, no-yard-sign guy who would just as soon steer a discussion away from upcoming elections than face the discussion of large-scale political or economic issues. I’d much rather focus on individual spirituality. After all, Jesus never did march on Rome or speak out against Caesar’s cruel dictatorship. He doesn’t mean for us to get mixed up in social, political or economic activism.

Or does he? I am learning to re-examine the cultural lenses by which I encounter Christ in scriptures.

NY Judge Orders Twitter to Release Tweets of #OWS Protester

A judge in New York has ordered Twitter to release three month's worth of tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protester charged with disorderly conduct during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reports:

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. rebuffed one of Twitter Inc.'s central arguments, which concerned who has rights to contest law enforcement demands for content posted on its site. But the judge said the company was right on a separate point that could require prosecutors to take further steps if they want to see one particular day of Malcolm Harris' tweets and his user information....

The case began as one of hundreds of disorderly conduct prosecutions stemming from an Oct. 1 Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it has evolved into a closely watched legal tussle over law enforcement agencies' access to material posted on social networks.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said Harris' messages could show whether he was aware of police orders he's charged with disregarding. Twitter, meanwhile, said the case could put it in the unwanted position of having to take on legal fights that users could otherwise conduct on their own....

[Harris] challenged the subpoena for his tweets, saying prosecutors' bid for user information, alongside the messages, breached privacy and free-association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions through replies and retweets, and his location at various points, [his lawyer, Martin] Stolar said.

Read the report in its entirety HERE.

Meritocracy Has Failed

Salon's Editor-at-Large, Joan Walsh writes:

"Thanks to OWS and the work of writers like Stiglitz, 2012 was supposed to be the year America rediscovered and tackled economic inequality. Time magazine closed 2011 by naming OWS its top story of the year, a pretty big honor for a movement that only revved up in the year’s final quarter. But that’s how much its “We are the 99 percent” framing seemed to change the political debate."

Read her full article here

Finding a Space for Occupy

A key figure in the Occupy movement, Arun Gupta writes for Al Jazeera:

The real stumbling block for the Occupy movement is also the reason for its success: space, or now, the lack thereof. Understanding the significance of political space and Occupy's inability to recapture it reveals why the movement is having difficulty re-gaining traction.

Read this full article here


An International “Occupy” Manifesto

Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

Several days ago a document, the “GlobalMay Statement,” showed up in my email inbox. In the statement, it is explained that “this is an attempt by some inside the [occupy] movements to reconcile statements written and endorsed in the different assemblies around the world. The process of writing the statement was consensus based, open to all, and regularly announced on our international communications platforms, that are also open to all. It was a hard and long process, full of compromises. This statement is offered to people’s assemblies around the world for discussions, revisions and endorsements.”

One of the things which struck me was how strong the statement is on the climate and environmental crises. The first sentence of the first general point says that, “The economy must be put to the service of people’s welfare, and to support and serve the environment, not private profit.” Four of the ten bullet points under that first general point deal in some way with environmental issues.

Media Interest in Occupy Wanes

For Salon, Natasha Lennard worries that falling interest in the Occupy movement could have repercussions for the debate on inequality:

As evidenced by the lack of stories about the May Day general strike last week, the mainstream media’s interest in Occupy Wall Street has waned. It’s a shame because, as a new report indicates, Occupy has been central to driving media stories about income inequality in America.

Read her full article here

Occupy Wall Street Lives!

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

#OWS protesters march in lower Manhattan on Tuesday. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

As I walked around Union Square in NYC yesterday between 4 and 5:30, waiting for the march down Broadway to begin, memories of occupied Zuccotti Park came to mind. Handmade signs about a very wide range of issues were everywhere. There were drumming and musical groups doing their rhythmic things and people dancing as they did so. There was Reverend Billy performing, and an incredibly well done colored chalk piece of artwork on the sidewalk near 17th and Broadway. People everywhere, mainly white folks but diverse, lots of young people but with a significant number of non-young people.

And a spirit of hope, a spirit which declared: “we are here, we are organized, we have not been defeated and we are not going away.”

Shane Claiborne: Occupy Nonviolence

The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in

The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in December. Via http://bit.ly/vP6XVT.

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. 

Occupy Breakfast

Scene from "Braveheart" is projected at the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast.

Scene from "Braveheart" is projected at the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Photo via Getty Images.

What does it mean to be a Christian when organizations such as The Family create a Jesus that does not hear the prayers of the poor? An organization that prays to the powerful in place of God? That participates in the global crucifixion of the poor by turning Jesus' cross into a social ladder for politicians to climb upwards, past the broken body of Christ? To cultivate relationships with dictators?

To cultivate the most powerful for political influence, to create an elite society for the elite, is that listening to the prayers of the people?

I ask you, was Jesus a political networker? Did he hobnob with the most powerful? Did he cultivate relationships with the dictators of his time, Herod and Pilate?

Our political class does not hear the prayers of the poor, they hear the "prayers" of corporate lobbyists who fund their campaigns. And they hear the prayers of Christians such as Doug Coe and The Family at the National Prayer Breakfast, because they offer connections, votes, and money.