Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In the midst of it all, hope

Walking up the street from breakfast  with Marsha, there’s a commotion in front of the church. I hear a woman, surrounded by occupiers, identifying herself as a journalist, from the Wall Street Journal.  Asking questions  about a Tonye, an accused rapist from Zucotti Park. People are getting in her face, an aging Rastaman is going off about Bush. Rafael steps in and separates her from the crowd. It’s like a scene from Kevin’s Den, only who’s the wolf, who’s the sheep? We bring her inside. I identify myself as the pastor. We go sit in the sanctuary.
For the next two hours, Jessica, the WSJ reporter, Jeff, Stan, Sage and I talk about Tonye, the presence of #ows folk at West-Park, what it all means. There’s a story she wants. And we have another story. It takes work. Yes, he was at SPSA. Yes they had a community meeting and voted, because it was 14 degrees, to let him stay. Surrounded by four males. Yes, he’s been banned by#ows. No, he’s never stayed at West-Park. Yes, I confronted him.
But the real conversation is what’s going on. And why West-Park is doing this.  It’s staying  true to who we’ve been. And who we are. Right now.  It comes from our understanding of what it means to be reformed. Stewards of, responsible for, all of God’s creation. And especially God’s children. Faithful. We talk about the political content of trying to build a community.  Another world is possible, goes the chant. They’re trying to make that real. We’re trying to give them the chance. In our terms, a visible sign of the kingdom, the kindom, the beloved community. 
When she says, so isn’t hsi jusy another homeless shelter? Sage says you can’t draw those lines. That acceptance and inclusion is protest in itself. And I say that you can’t fault a movement for seeking to respond compassionately and humanely to realities that the society, the culture hasn’t figured out how to repond to. Or chosen to respond to.
She wants to go into every detail of life at West-Park. I try to explain that it’s not just a place to sleep, but working side by side. Building relationships. Turns out she grew up in this neighborhood. Was penned by the police the morning the eviction took place. Pushed her way out to get close to the story. And I remember  when I did that, covering a protest at a nuclear power plant, Black Fox, in Oklahoma. For ablack newspaper, The Oklahoma Eagle. How I wound up arrested. My first. Who knows what she gets. Understands.The journalist, the occupiers, the same age.  
When she leaves, we continue our conversation. The need for complete transparency, working with, not harassing the media. What it takes to build a community for the long struggle. Sage says this movement has a lot of mothering, it needs some fathering.
I need a break. When I come back, RL has dropped by to wish us happy new year, see how his bathroom (the one he had fixed) is doing. Berik is back to talk with Dan, Leila is removing art work so the plumber can open the ceiling to look for a broken pipe. Bobby wants me to tell Jane that he saw George Lucas on 53rd Street but that he didn’t stop to say hi.
Hope is there to review #ows,sign some checks and review everything churchwise before she heads for Atlanta. Wants us to go to Presbytery Council together.
I get a call from Child Protective Services. They are looking for Heather and her children. I put Dan on the phone. Hope has already left. I have to catch a bus. CPS calls again. They want to come and investigate. I tell them I have no idea where Heather is. Which is true. 
I come back after Presbytery Council. Kevin has invited artists and actors to a bar then to a surprise meeting at West-Park, held the meeting and left. It’s a mild night. Things seem quiet. 
Danielle, an occupier from Miami, wants to talk. Of Chilean/Brazilian heritage. She was a concierge, her boyfriend a construction worker. When the both lost their jobs, she said, maybe we should head to New York, see if we can make a change. But she’s tired, has had enough. Wants to go home. She and her boyfriend lost thier id’s in the eviction. Not sure what I can do. She has a simple warmth and beauty. Almost an innocence.
Outside, under the scaffolding, a circle has formed. Stan, Jason, Jeff and his girlfriend, holding hands.  Danielle and her boyfriend. Downtown is starting to recognize what’s going on at West-Park. That it;s more than a crib.  Operations wants to meet here tomorrow. Some other point people want to move in. They see radical political potential in living in community, in a broader community. The discussion of rules, ie, community agreements, non-negotiables:  there must be a list, treat the press well, take your dope down the street and  far away from here, be good neighbors, has gone on long enough. There’s an easy warmth, like being on a cabin porch or around the fire at summer camp. I feel tired. But strangely at peace. In the midst of it all, hope. 

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