Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Another Saturday afternoon conversation...


I’m at the church after being at a presbytery meeting across town at Jan Hus. Getting ready for tomorrow. Jason stops in for conversation. Jason is one of my long remaining friendships from Occupy. He’s now deeply embedded in Staten island, becoming  part of the community. Staten Island, where Occupy Sandy played such a creative role. Staten Island, where Eric Garner was choked to death, crying I can’t breathe…

Every conversation with Jason is both exciting and challenging. Back during the crazy days of Occupy West Park, I often helped him work his way through some of the madness around him. I appreciated both his intuition and critical thinking. But I suspect with healthy doses of ADD on both sides, it’s not always the easiest conversation to track.

Right now, we’re trying to see how our work connects. At the end is an idea that something about all this eventually leads to the beautiful tower project that has been sitting there waiting to take shape all these years. But the dots are all over the place and not so easy to connect.

What Jason does …and this is important,…is to have conversations…with workers, with regular Staten Island folks, with alienated and exiled queer kids…and frankly, the most revolutionary thing any of us can be doing right now is listening. And some of the listening inspires Jason and some makes him angry. And makes it hard to keep silent in meetings where what he says is not necessarily welcome.

In a city in turmoil, in a country where there are almost daily instances of police violence against black people, a lot of Jason’s anger goes to what might be called the professional activist sector, those whose full time jobs are involved with organizing around issues of the day.

Back in the ‘60’s, those of us in the urban business used to talk about poverty pimps…those who may have entered the work with all good intentions but who ultimately had a vested interest in the status quo remaining status quo in order to keep their jobs or sense of meaning. True transformation was not on the agenda. In the church business, we talked about the mission derby where the best slide shows (now videos) of misery would win the brass ring. Something like that.

I shared with Jason my experience of speaking to a panel at Yale on the theology of Occupy at the peak of the occupy moment. I was one who had actual experience of the beautiful and maddening reality of what Occupy was and who the Occupiers were. I was not romantic. I ended my talk by saying at the end of the day, the real problem was liberals. At the break, I was quickly surrounded by people ready to tell me how without liberals, I would not be at Yale saying what I was saying and there would be no YDS. (Jason said, maybe that’s not such a bad idea…I stopped before saying, but it’s more complex than that

At the end of the day, liberals get to enjoy the fruits of the empire without guilt because they are after all, liberals. And in the tweedy northeast, they are the establishment. With a sense of moral superiority, especially vis a vis working people, southerners, red necks and other ignorant masses. And who ultimately know what’s best for everyone else.

What angers Jason is that he sees the interconnections. Between police violence and stop and frisk and mass incarceration and unemployment and gentrification. It’s what Occupy saw and felt and intuited and refused to produce definable goals to negotiate because at stake was the totality of reality.

It’s difficult because sometimes all a community wants is another stop light, garbage be picked up regularly and maybe fewer guns. Meanwhile back at the empire…

Through Occupy and now Black Lives Matter, the leadership has come not from the professional activists but from uncontrollable grass roots accountable to no one but each other. For the first time, queer kids are on the frontline arm in arm with their brothers and sisters and no one’s looking for cheers, it just is, radical inclusion. Jason has  a special heart for their life experiences, for their vulnerable, even exploitable life in the margins, often at  great physical, psychic and spiritual price. They are already here.

I’d like to get Jason to connect with Stephanie and her….rest of us…project. Just share thoughts, a conversation. One of a lot of conversations that need to be held. Let’s have them at West Park. Let’s see where they lead.

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