News agencies were already slow to cover the movement in New York, so it is no surprise that reporting on the involvement of religious people at Occupy Together took even longer. But the wait was worth it, with fellow State of Formation contributors having written on their personal participation: Mary Ann Kaiser wrote a great piece on her hands-on work as part of Occupy Austin and Anna DeWeese posted on her experience at Occupy Wall Street. Faith & Reason also has terrific summaries of the reasons why different faiths have become involved, including a great link to a HuffPost Religion post on an Occupy Wall Street Yom Kippur. Another HuffPost Religion post does a good job of highlighting the variety of religious groups at Occupy Wall Street, including Jumah at #OccupyDC, Occupy Torah, Occupy Judaism and Occupy Sukkot.
At Occupy LA, the city I am from, there has been group meditation and yoga sessions, but the most prominent story in the last few weeks on spirituality was an event organized by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). On October 7th, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, fifteen peace activists were arrested in front of the Federal Building in downtown LA, including Anthony Manousos, a Quaker who serves on the board of directors for ICUJP and the Executive Committee of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World Religions, Reverend George Regas, rector emeritus of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islam Shura Council of Southern California, Father Chris Ponnett of Pax Christi, a Catholic organization, and Friar Tom, a Catholic priest, among others.
What struck me was that while Occupy LA supporters joined them as they marched towards the Federal Building, it does not seem to have been coordinated that way. ICUJP sent out tried-and-true press releases including promises of “Visuals: some 20 activists and religious leaders wearing vestments being arrested,” but the press release made no mention of Occupy LA, though some articles made the connection.
If established organizations do not yet a presence at various Occupy committees, they should send someone as a representative to help get the word out about their available resources and work alongside those already participating with religious convictions who are contributing their voice.
One thing that all the religious movements involved have in common with is that they started from a small band of people and grew into a large, sustained movement. That is exactly what Occupy Everywhere wants to do, also. One example of a potentially long-lasting group to come out of Occupy Wall Street are the Protest Chaplains (Facebook and blog), originally organized in Boston by Marisa Egerstrom, an Episcopalian doctoral student at Harvard University. Protest Chaplains have spread, now having a presence at Occupy Wall Street, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Portland, Occupy Washington D.C., Occupy Minnesota, and Occupy Toronto, to list a few. To solidify and perpetuate the movement, they suggest downloading the Jewish, Christian and Islamic congregational discussion guides that are offered free from Interfaith Workers Justice (email required).
Another way the religious can meaningfully contribute are the Sacred Spaces modeled by The Occupy Boston Faith and Spirituality Group, which has a Facebook page devoted to creating and hosting Sacred Space at your local Occupation, and have posted an online guide with the goal of sustaining “a movement with a soul – one that not only shouts and marches but also sings and sits and reflects.”
Since they began as chaplains, their advice does not apply to all Christians, let alone other religious groups. I certainly do not have any clerical gear or albs. But after they carried a cardboard processional cross, they write that “one guy told us in New York that we were the first Christians he’d ever seen at a protest – at least, on his side.”
They also received a tweet that said, “I’m an atheist, but it’s so nice to see Christians finally acting Christ-like.” This, of course, is not because there are no Christians working for justice, but because the media usually only shows the most negative news on any topic (and I hope that my posts here can help be a small corrective to that tone). Because of this, some people can be nearly apologetic about their faith, but the best way to remedy the perception that the religious are not concerned about this world is to demonstrate that you are involved precisely because of your deepest convictions.
Like our faith traditions, do not expect perfection (whatever your conception of that is). And like our traditions, there may be some misconceptions and myths to clear up first. Here in LA, some of the concerns echoed those our faith traditions continue to grapple with, such as info by Victor EntrePuerta on inclusion and privilege and Emma Rosenthal on accessibility for persons with dis-abilities. There are reminders, such as Poor Magazine’s that these streets have already been occupied by the poor for a long time, by Graham Blake that puts American poverty in perspective with global poverty, and by Occupy California that some of the “99%” agree with the “1%” on many issues.
And there are debates, like this Uprising Radio clip on KPFK between Alejandra Cruz, a member of the Committee Against Police Brutality at OLA, and Mario Brito, a member of the OLA General Assembly discussing the role of the police in the movement. Before speaking from a position of faith on any issue, we need to be educated on the issue first. Let’s practice humility and continue to educate ourselves before we try to educate others.
In light of all of the above and more, here are 5 concrete ways to express your devotion for justice and peace:
1. Like knowing your faith, know the basics of the movement you believe in so that you can share it in ways that outsiders or beginners can understand. Remember that a common criticism from those attempting to discredit the movement has been the lack of a clear platform, or when it does, not offering solutions to the problems being critiqued (though some protestors see this as a positive). A good introductory guide for Christians is at Patheos.
Specific communities may have insights into issues that others may have missed, like in L.A. where there is Occupy UCLA and Occupy LAUSD tackling specific educational issues. If protestors doesn’t always seem to have defined all their requests yet, then maybe try to think about what Occupy Wall Street in NOT. Do protestors have a sense of entitlement that perpetuates the very system that they oppose, or is that a simplification that you could respond to? In what way might comparisons with the Arab Spring be valid (or not)? Either way, get to know some of the proposals being discussed, such as from HERE and HERE, and decide which you agree with and don’t, the reasons for your decision, and what potential solutions come to mind.
2. Meditation and prayer help keep you grounded and prepare you to keep a positive and loving spirit in the midst of the raw emotions always swirling in protest.
3. Sing (even if you have a singing voice like mine!)
4. Recall to yourself, and remind others, of strands of love and compassion that can be drawn on in your tradition, such as the words of Jesus where he said that he came to “proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
5. Spread the word! Share these groups and links and this post with those in your network who may not even be aware yet that other people of faith like themselves are organizing in solidarity with all who want justice. This allows them to learn from, and share with, those already in the trenches. And remember to let me know what happens as you continue to change the world!
UPDATE 10/27/2011: The day after I first published this, fellow State of Formation contributor Damien Arthur wrote a piece on “Christianity’s Role in the Occupy Wall Street Movement,” and the Associated Press published “Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street”, as well (October 25, 2011). The very next day, The Center for American Progress published “Faith Groups Lend Diverse Voices to the Occupy Movement:Organizations of All Beliefs Join in Protest Against Inequality.” People of faith are responding!
Top image: Casting Out the Money Changers by Carl Heinrich Bloch. (This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. It was accessed through Creative Commons and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.)
Bottom image: Satiric poem by Heinrich Heine, illustrated by Ignatius Taschner (1871-1913), around 1900. (Image taken from NYPL Digital Gallery. This site states that all its images are in Public Domain. This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. It was accessed through Creative Commons and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.)