Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reflections on the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street


The first person to come into the church this morning is Bobby.  Word is, he's moved out of Capital Hall and has a new place in the Bronx. Thought the Hall was getting a little too crazy for him. He's brought two computer books for Jane. 

Jason H has come for our reflections on the onenyear anniverdsary of Occupy. Luisa is soon to follow. Two dogs today with Jamie's Toto and Glen's Tony.  And Amy is back to play the piano.

We read our passages: Proverbs 1: 20-33, Psalms 1119, James 3: 1-12 and Mark 8: 27-38.  As we begin our reflections, I ask  Jason and Steven why they came. Jason described being in Western Mass, having been a school teacher, deeply involved in community work. Felt a call. Something speaking to the need for a new way of doing things. He spoke of arriving in Zucotti, seeing the bench where he had hungout as a homeless person back in 2001 when he watched  the sky fill with smoke and ash.  That was the beginning of wanting to get sober. What he found was a community that wanted to question everything, committed to full inclusion, the valuing of every voice. 

As for Steven, he was running a business for medical communications. (As I understand it.) Kind of IT for the medical world.  He saw something that seemd like it would challenge the incredible income inequality that has come to characterize our city, our country. Set aside his business and came to see what he could contribute. 

I asked Jamie what led her, as a businesswoman, to want to be supportive. Even though she wasn't sure about the focus on Wall Street, wasn't it the government after all?   She too had this sense of something being not right. Needing change. And her long time friend Shen drew her into challenging conversations and the work of the Messaging group. 

Why did Marsha, another businesswoman, go down to Zucotti at 6 am the first morning evictions were threatened? To be in solidarity, she said. Look, more than anything, I believe in fairness. What we have is NOT fair. 

The other questions were harder. One year later, what was most satisfying, most frustrating? Both Jason and Steven agreed that changing the discourse was an accomplishment. Getting the concept of the 99% into public dialogue.
And most disappointing? The way personal agendas, jealousies, power struggles devoured the movement from the inside.  

I recall the night, expressing these frustrations, I said to Jason, So you're discovering what in my business we call original sin, otherwise known as the human condition. It's inevitable. Question is, what do we do about it?

And Marsha says, Look, I have to say it...I'm not sure if we'd be here if it asn't for Occupy.   Your presence revived us. 

Then it's my turn. On this one  year anniversary, what do we find?
Looking briefly at today's scriptures, we find this: 
Wisdom's voice crying out in the the busiest corner  at the entrance of the gates....and we could could add bridges and parks as well...There's been plenty of wisdom's voice crying in the street. But also the tension between  wisdom and  folly.

I remember one of my first visits to Zucotti. The lunch hour visitors calling out 
what's your plan? And the response back from the first line of the park, What's your plan? The point is, there never was a plan...this was a spontaneous outcry. And somehow there was a romantic notion that we could all build a plan together. 

The epistle, James, by tradition the brother of Jesus, talks a lot about 
teaching...this is not about the  Chicago teacher's strike...but more about importance of what we say...WORDS too are important...words can hurt, words can heal...inspire, depress, nurture...destroy...THINK before you speak.

And the Gospel? It's about the nature of Messiah.  Is this the carrying on the movement of John the Baptist? Is this Elijah? The forerunner to the Messiah? No, says Jesus, it's about the way of the cross..what will it profit to  gain the whole world and to lose one's soul?

This is too much for Peter. He wants Jesus at the head of a triumphalist anti-imperial campaign. And Jesus responds, Get behind me Satan. As tempting as it is, he will not allow himself to take the easy way out...that's what Satan is....the tempter...who only ever tempts Jesus with good things. The issue is more how than what.

I was always struck by how for so many I spoke with, the call of OWS was like an evangelical call. How many literally dropped everything to come join in. Must have been like that for the first disciples. There was something profoundly spiritual in that response. 

OWS was a cry of protest against an  economy that doesn't work. Not just in the US, but globally. It was a protest in a a culture in which meaningful political space has all but vanished. And more than that, it was a sincere effort to create a new way of being. A way marked by working together. A way in which all voices were to be heard, inclusive in every way. A way in which everyone counts.

So what went wrong? In essence, OWS was defeated by human nature.  Zucotti was ready to fall apart before the raid.  Drugs, addiction, mental illness and other  social problems that have been left unresolved by our society did their destructive work. Though let us never forget that OWS struggled with integrity to engage compassionately and creatively with those who have been cast aside by society. The poverty diaspora, as Kelly said. 

And let us be real. There were also active efforts by the powers to subvert

So, no matter what happens next few days, all those issues will remain...the outcry was inevitable....and will continue....the road is one way or another we are still on that road. We have been changed by Occupy. But some have been changed by being with us. I rejoice at lives reclaimed, redirected. We're in this together. So let us continue...

During the offering, I sing How Can I keep From Singing? with the verse added by Paul Robeson during the Red Scare days.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real, thought far off hymn
That hails the new creation
Above the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What through the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
What through the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Then we gather around the table singing I'm gonna live so God can use me...and then our amens.
We gather in McAlpin after service.Talk about worship. Glen's visions. How we can work together to build a stronger congregation.

Jason sticks around. We sit outdoors and talk. He's not so interested in the upcoming OWS anniversary actions. They seem so moment centered. Not building. He's in serious conversation with people who are looking at the 22 seats open on City Council in 2013. The opportunity that might present. About bringing the people he's connected with so far together. Using open space process to develop vision and strategy. I affirm the desire to come up with something concrete, measurable, achievable. Yes, it's a long road.


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