Saturday, December 17, 2011

Occupy, fear, and finding peace this Advent season

Several hundred low wage workers, immigrants mostly, marched through the granite canyons of San Francisco's financial district on Thursday. Organized by Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), they were joined by folks from OccupySF still gathered in front of the Federal Reserve offices despite being evicted from their tents. Local community organizing groups brought strong contingents. The marchers made stops at Wells Fargo Bank and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. Longer account here.

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They carried what seems to me the essential message of this season of protest. The eruption of the 99 percent has been an announcement that we will not let fear will not rule us any longer.

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Shrinking away in the vain hope that the one percent will let us keep some crumbs from the whole loaf they aim to monopolize has not worked. All that remains is to move beyond our fear.
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I've been following with fascination developments on the other side of the country, in New York City, where Occupy Wall Street is challenging the sympathetic, but oh-so-wealthy, Trinity (Episcopal) Church Wall Street to open a patch of unused land to their encampment. So far, the church has given in to fear -- fear of disorder, fear of the unruly poor who are are their neighbors. Trinity is saying "no way."

A retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. George E. Packard, has engaged with the movement of the 99 percent and finds himself at something like home. He is blogging his encounter at Occupied Bishop. Here's what he wrote this morning as he and his wife set off to join the crowd at the disputed land, Duarte Park:

Brook and I travel down to Duarte in a few minutes and what awaits us I do not know. I do know that for me and the OWS I know no violence is intended, only peaceful disobedience if it comes to that. …

And speaking of "coming to that" I am still baffled that the Episcopal Church of which I have been a member all my life could not--through Trinity--find some way to embrace these thousands of young people in our very diminishing ranks. (Every year for the last five years we have lost 14,000 members.) Just as we pioneered an awareness of the full membership for the LBGT community what's happening here? How hard would it have been for Trinity to convene legal counsel and say, "Give us some options so that a charter could be granted over the winter months?"

Can a rich institution squeeze through the eye of a needle?
Across the country, another priest put himself alongside Occupy protesters and ended up looking like this when the Seattle police got through with him.
The Rev. John Helmiere recounts his attempt to keep the peace in a frightening confrontation and what happened next here.

Utterly terrified, I made my way to the line between the occupiers and the police, held my arms out, and began shouting to my occupation brothers and sisters: “Peaceful Protest Everyone,” “Keep the Peace,” “Do not respond with violence.” My brothers and sisters on the police force began advancing behind a wall of horses and heavy bicycles. …

As I walked through the metal detector at the jail, a fellow occupier I hadn’t spoken with yet looked at me in my collar and said, “You’ve just been baptized.” …

Father John's entire account is very much worth reading.
In this season of Advent, Christians wait in hope for the coming of the light (literally in the northern hemisphere) and/or the coming of the Light (the child-human in whom we believe Godself joined us for a wonder-filled, tumultuous season). At my church we often sing an Advent refrain that expresses the mix of longing and hope that attend this time:

Come oh come Emanuel [the awaited Messiah],
With your captive children dwell,
Let all our sad divisions cease,
Here on earth, heavenly peace

Our friends who have been inspirited by the movement of the 99 percent are showing those of us who are comfortable -- again -- that the essence of the peace we so value comes with abandoning fear. Peace is not about avoiding conflict, but about giving up fear. Without fear, violence becomes unnecessary. We can get through our conflicts together. When we are afraid, we kill each other.

This is so simple it seems impossible. But really living means finding our courage.