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September 2014
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Around 1:00 this morning, I got a text from Occupy Wall Street announcing that the police were massing to clear the park. Like thousands of others who got the notice, I watched the live feed on the Occupy website and then decided to head to lower Manhattan, but not before I took a little time to plan for the possibility of getting arrested. By the time I got down to Zuccotti Park a little before 3:00 AM, the police had cleared most of the protesters out (news reports say nearly 200 arrests were made), but some holdouts remained. I was part of a group of a few hundred behind a barricade at Broadway and Pine, a block away, as the police had blocked all access to the park except for some press. The crowd alternated between sober, festive, and restless as people struggled to get information about what was happening from minute to minute. For some reason, a few of us were permitted by police around 4:30 AM to go right up to the opposite side of the street from Zuccotti Park, and it looked as though everything from the encampment had been demolished and was being thrown away by city cleanup crews, and the entire space hosed down. I can only imagine that this includes the demolition and discarding of the entire Sacred Space Altar, which now exists only in pictures. The crowd, which grew slowly over the next two hours, was heavy on young people, but by 5:00 AM contained a good number of middle-aged folks (like me, I suppose) and some seniors, too. There were many songs and chants and conversations about what to do next. The word came that the religious leaders of OccupyFaithNYC were going to rally soon and that a new stage of the Occupy movement in NYC would come about as a result. Groups of hundreds of us made our way from Zuccotti north to Foley Square, where we held a General Assembly as the sun rose. The announcement was made that apparently Judson Memorial Church has opened its doors to help those displaced from Zuccotti Park, and I know that requests are being made of other churches in lower Manhattan to become something like a “sanctuary” for the Occupy movement, especially Trinity Wall Street. By early this morning, I had to leave Foley Square so I could teach at Fordham in the later morning. From what I can tell, things are now moving hour to hour, and this morning’s forcible eviction will no doubt only increase participation in the massive day of nonviolent direct action scheduled for this Thursday.

Just yesterday I was teaching the theology of Indonesian theologian Johannes Banawiratma, who has argued that churches not only imagine their action in relation to their local culture as consisting of Christians alone but, moving beyond a Christian “base community” concept — already a stretch for many North American churches — churches share a commitment to a transformed world with other religions and the nonreligious as well, and so should create spaces that generate local “human communities” grounded in a “spirituality of openness” that includes space for prayer, social analysis, immersion in local culture, and good pastoral planning of the sort that defenders of the “pastoral circle” have been defending for three decades. It is something very much like this vision that is going on in the Occupy Faith movement here in New York City: cooperation among not only Christian denominations but among religions, and between the religious and the nonreligious.

According to Banawiratma, understanding the fostering of an activist local “human community” as an ecclesial act would serve a “globalization without marginalization, building a worldwide community of justice and peace that recognizes the integrity of creation. In our pluralistic world our spirituality needs to enter into interreligious and intercultural dialogue and collaboration. Experiences have taught me that the movements for liberation need to be supported by as many people as possible. In a holistic framework the participation of all is important.” This sounds a lot like the Occupy movement, including the Occupy Faith movement that it has spawned.

Banawiratma underscores Nostra Aetate (no. 2) from Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve, and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and cultures.”

Recall the Sacred Space Altar at Occupy Wall Street and its myriad religious symbols, all presumably displaying a personal connection between spirituality and justice. Banawiratma unfolds Nostra Aetate in this way: “Every religion has its own historical experience and its own values. It is not just a preparation for the gospel or a deviation from the gospel. Christianity is not meant to promote a ghetto or a ‘Christian tribe.’ Christians are called to discern and to follow the presence and the work of the Spirit blowing within and outside the church. The historical limit of revelation and of human condition brings an obligation to be open to others. To be religious today is to be interreligious; to be faithful is to practice interfaith dialogue.”

(Johannes Banawiratma, “The Pastoral Circle as Spirituality: Toward an Open and Contextual Church,” in Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot, and Rodrigo Mejia (eds.), The Pastoral Circle Revisited: A Critical Quest for Truth and Transformation (Orbis, 2005), pp. 73-85, at p. 76)

Despite the dizzying array of mischaracterizations of the Occupy participants, it appears to me that people of many religions and none at all are working together, talking with each other, and discovering — amidst natural and predictable tensions and also conflict — that their religious traditions free them to commit themselves to a movement with no clear “message” other than the elevation of all people, especially those who have been on the losing end of our economic policies and structures.

Here are some pictures from early this morning:

3:00 AM: Police guard Wall Street

Just after 3:00AM, a crowd gathers at Broadway and Pine, one block from Zuccotti Park

Police and protesters separated by a metal barricade. The crowd chants about nonviolence and solidarity with police, though there are some exceptions

Sanitation workers scoop up material from Zuccotti Park and throw it into trash trucks

Around 5:00AM, the police advance on us and announce intention to arrest anyone who does not clear the street; it's not my time (I have to teach in a few hours!)

The police take and hold Broadway as the protesters either submit to arrest or prepare to regroup elsewhere

Hundreds reconvene in Foley Square around 5:45AM

The sun rises on Foley Square and at least 500 are present for a General Assembly

If you support the Occupy movement, please consider donating to your local Occupy movement (just go to your local Occupy website and make a donation). Here in New York, a new chapter has clearly begun. It is a time to deepen the human community, and as religions find their own reasons for doing so, thousands and thousands progress in making of their activism a spiritual exercise.

Tommy Beaudoin, New York City

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