Occupy Wall Street

Last December, Bishop George Packard, along with a handful of clergy and protesters, sought to occupy X park, owned by Trinity Church, an Episcopal church of great wealth and prosperity.

Of course, clergy in the interwebs are divided.  A few consider this a missed opportunity, and more militant ones paint Trinity Church with the Iron Heel’s colors.   The non-retired episcopacy wrings their hands and frets.  It’s a pretty good representation how the liberal elite think of occupy wall street.

I admit, I’m perplexed as to why the occupiers want the space owned by Trinity.  It’s hard for any institution to negotiate with a non-institution.  Might OWS consist of double agents (not necessarily Lutherans), republicans in liberal clothing, or Trotskyists?  Who is held accountable for the mistakes of individual saboteurs?

If only Dr Cooper could have asked for an insurance certificate.

But it does raise some questions.  Who is representing the occupiers?  Were there other opportunities to build relationships?  Who has authority?  Who pays the consequences?

The occupiers, to their credit, choose places that were not illegal to occupy.  Zuccotti Park was a safer choice than Goldman Sachs.  University campuses are probably easier to occupy than Bank of America.  Public spaces allow for the persons to participate, without actually threatening the private enterprises that control most commerce.

Over the last forty years, we’ve constrained and confined our public, democratic places.  The result:  environments where we have echo chambers, where extreme views are forbidden, especially those that critique commerce.   Each media institution has a modest particular “slant” so people don’t accidentally become informed about a variety of issues or perspectives.  All a businessman knows, thus, is business; but not much about anything else.  We are made into ideologues and consumers, rather than citizens of mutual concern.  We become limited: we examine how any change affects us personally, but have little consideration for its consequences upon other people.

The commons, our public spaces, the non-commercial locations where people of different walks of life can become safely acquainted, require public subsidy.  The institutions that protect liberty require commitment, from each according to their ability.   It is the cost for living in a country free from violence, where the different classes can engage each other without fear of theft or exploitation.

Surely, protests are where our parishes may step in.  When the government prohibits persons to organize freely, the church, whose primary role in the culture is precisely organizing voluntary work, can offers its space, in hospitality, toward the stranger.

This may be just one step along the movement’s maturity.   OWS will build  with already effective institutions and consider their next step.  But its hard work that requires patience, tenacity, resilience and courage.    If they could pay rent and buy the porta-potties themselves, perhaps they’d find more sympathetic relationships.

OWS, however, may want to analyze a bit who Trinity is.  It ‘s not simply the one percent.  It’s congregants are actually not all from the surrounding area.   They are engaged in multiple ministries world wide.  It’s not an enemy, nor should it be made one.

Building the movement to change the awful system of arrangements that has impoverished many Americans will take more than the deeds of the impatient.  It will take years of building relationships, of listening to the many individuals who can effectively contribute to revealing and changing the system.  Trinity is one of those organizations.  They are not the enemy, and need not be made to feel as if they are.

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