Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Church of Occupy Wall Street


Most importantly, here, people are straightening their backs up.
Cornel West

Two weeks ago, activists from all over the country converged on Wall Street in NYC to camp out & nonviolently Occupy Wall Street. They are still there and crowds are ebbing and flowing during the week. They are assembling and marching for several reasons, all intersecting at Wall Street, where banks and corporations have gained a much larger share of the economic pizza in the past three decades. Lobbyists, lawyers and lots of campaign contributions have given them the upperhand. Great for them, disastrous for the Other 98%.

For them, war equals profit without sacrificing their children (the military is comprised mostly of poor and middle-class soldiers in need of opportunity) or tax dollars (the War on Terror has completely been financed through borrowing while tax rates have decreased immensely for the wealthy). Low taxes and very little oversight and regulation allow them to maximize their self-interest while diminishing ours. Meanwhile, lower tax revenues inevitably lead to cuts in already diminished public education, desperately needed infrastructure and the social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, etc) that has kept millions out of poverty in the past). Over the past couple of years, billionaire funded Tea Party protests and a certain nightly cable "news" station have told a fearmongering story about Big Government and Evil Muslim Terrorists and Creeping Socialism. This bogus narrative greatly accelerates the Income Inequality nightmare that we are all witnessing. Unfortunately, Obama and the Democratic Party have not provided a robust alternative to these silly diversions.

Cornel West showed up last week (he described the goal of Occupy Wall Street as communicating the need for "a transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colors."). So did Michael Moore and former NY Governor David Paterson. And then there was Rev. Billy Talen who brought his prophetic performance to the folks who he says are "building a new culture from scratch." A "church"--as opposed to a "march" or "protest" or "rally"--is precisely what journalist Matt Stoller called it after observing the crowds for a few days:

You can tell this is a somewhat different animal than other politicized gatherings. No one knows what to expect. There are no explicit demands. It’s not very large. And yet, celebrities are heading to Zuccotti Park. Wall Street traders are sneering and angry. The people there are getting press, but aren’t dominated by it. People are there just to be there, because it feels meaningful. The camp is clean and well-organized, and it feels relevant and topical rather than a therapy space for frustrated radicals. Just a block away is the New York Fed, a large, scary, and imposing building with heavy iron doors, video cameras, and a police presence that scream “go away”.

This church has free rent and shares meals together (reportedly a lot of pizza). This church is non-hierarchal. They give everyone the right to speak at their twice-per-day General Assembly in Zuccoti Park. This church has an all-donation library and will be hosting teach-ins in the coming weeks. This church is sharing medical supplies and services and has back massage circles. This church is doing precisely what the very first followers of Jesus did: building a new culture from scratch.

As Jesus' campaigned throughout Palestine, he proclaimed the Reign of God and taught marginalized people how to straighten their backs up. People mattered because God was on the side of the suffering and struggling. Jesus energized the "other 98%" while confronting the wealthy and powerful with a message that, if God was actually reigning, then Caesar was not and the priests who set up exclusive purity codes (discriminating against the diseased, sick, women and Gentiles) were not and neither were the Temple elites who overcharge the poor and widows to worship God.

These churches that Jesus' disciples established after the death, resurrection and ascension of their Master were town hall meetings that gave these counterculture revolutionaries a space for teaching, nourishment and strategizing. They set up an alternative political, economic and social entity altogether--a place where everyone was given dignity and courage & compassion were cultivated. We need more churches like this today.
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Epilogue:
Not sure why banks and corporations are really the problem? Here's a laundry list of indictments from the Occupy Wall Street page:

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

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