Saturday, December 17, 2011

OWS: Whoo-Boy!

photo by Episcopal Cafe, New York.

I remember Spike Lee's film, "Do The Right Thing."  I remember the way tensions were building between the various characters in this Bedford-Stuy neighborhood on the "hottest day of the year." Italians, Africans, Puerto Ricans, Asians: everybody's fuses were growing shorter as the day wore on, and anything could tip the balance.  When a showdown over the pictures on the wall of fame in a pizza shop ends in the cops killing one of the characters, a riot breaks out.

December 17th is not the hottest day of the year in New York City.  And as the Occupy Wall Street movement begins migrating about to find a new public demonstration site, their eyes have become fixated on a portion of land owned by Trinity Wall Street, the main hub of all Episcopalianism in the United States.  TWS, which had been supportive of the OWS protestors while they were in Zuccotti Park, hasn't wanted them to occupy this piece of land, called Duarte Square.   They've reasoned that it isn't "safe" and would not be an appropriate place for an encampment during the winter because there are no facilities.  Today, the OWS movement decided it would scale or crawl under or cut open the chain link fence surrounding Duarte Square and take it over.  The response: TWS called in the cops who arrested 50 people, including a retired Episcopal bishop, and carted them off in police wagons.

No one was killed. There were no trash cans hurled through the windows of Trinity Wall Street.  But this scene raises many questions and should cause all to pause and think.

As Rev. Canon Dan Webster of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland notes at Religious Dispatches:

I think this comes under the heading, “To those who have given much, much is expected,” and that’s what Trinity Wall Street has to deal with. Like it or not…Trinity Wall Street owns the bulk of Lower Manhattan, they have the largest portfolio of any congregation in the global Anglican Communion, and they reap the benefits of the 1%...We have to do something now that brings a conscience to capitalism…

I'm not there in New York, but one has to wonder why things had to get to this point.  Could TWS not reason out a way to accomodate the OWS movement?  Perhaps Duarte Square isn't the perfect spot.  Is there another place, another way to provide shelter to the protestors who are demanding the very things the church says it wants: economic and social justice for all?

How interesting to have this showdown occuring now as the liturgical calendar marks the moment when Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to bear the Son of God.  This is celebrated with the Magnificat.  But remember: the Magnificat is a song reminiscent of Hannah from the Hebrew Scriptures and celebrates God's willingness to use the meek and lowly to topple the powerful and conceited.  Perhaps there is something for the church hierarchy to hear in this message.

Ever the Episcopalian, I am always thinking that there is more gray than black and white in these matters.  There has to be a way for TWS to offer something of their vast holdings of property to push for a fairer, more just economic system.  That is truly the heart of what Occupy Wall Street has been screaming about for the past three months.  We are a country where there is a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the have-nots are finally starting to notice, and demonstrate their anger.  At the same time, is OWS willing to be in another place?  Is setting up a tent city for 24/7 demonstrations the answer?   Has anything changed other than cities growing weary of the occupations?  Why occupy a church lot and not storm the New York Stock Exchange, or Bank of America?   Or come to Jacksonville and occupy the headquarters of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (I would love that!)?

Trinity has been a shelter to so many throughout its history.  Now's the time for the church to follow this new born baby about to arrive in our midst... and use its wealth to work for a new paradigm.  Today's melee in Manhattan doesn't get us there.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

Wonder where our bishop stands on the issue?

SCG said...

I imagine he will back +Sisk and ++KJS. I do understand what the folks at Trinity Wall Street are saying. They would be held liable if someone should be injured or die on their property. And from the sounds of it, it's not that TWS opposes the message of OWS. That's why I'm wondering if there isn't a third way to get this worked out. Both sides may need to give a little, and that's where I think the difficulty lies. One is worried about litigation and safety and the other is becoming fixated to a fault.
This situation calls for a via media.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Katherine is thinking about it. She must feel the pressure


stanchaz said...

Re Occupy & Trinity Church: You don’t need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that "Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." But many of the 1%, in blind greed and endless schemes, have forgotten this. They have closed their eyes to what the word "society" should really mean, what it can mean. But due to Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured, for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires....we are now talking about fairness and justice - about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s going on in this country, and why. The attempt by OWS to occupy Duarte Square (the empty lot owned by Trinity Church) is much more than a plea for sanctuary. For like Zuccotti Park, it’s an attempt to carve out a protected space, a living conscience for the city, amid the repression. A a city where control-freaks would sweep us under the rug, and out of the way. In a city where they would pen us in, and permit us to death. In a city that tells us to “move on, move on”..... you don’t belong, you don’t count, you don’t have a right to be here...don’t assemble, don’t block the street, don’t trespass, don’t EXIST! They would deny us, deny our lives, deny our very futures. IF WE LET THEM. But OWS responds, both in word and in DEED: it says we’ve had ENOUGH - we BELONG, we STAND our ground, and we DO matter! This IS our land, and we want it BACK! The word OCCUPY...says it all! That’s why OWS has captured our imagination. That’s why a living breathing OCCUPIED public space is important for OWS. Like Lady Liberty’s never extinguished torch that burns in our harbor, OWS needs to have a concrete, persistent, in-your-face presence.. continually remind us of what we’ve lost, of what we are, and what we can be; a protected place to affirm, to illuminate, to defy...and to inspire. Trinity Church, with its oft-proclaimed ideals (and its huge land holdings), should look deep into its collective soul, do the right thing, and help OWS secure a sanctuary. Not merely a space of refuge, but one of hope, non-violent change, and compassion. And dare I say: a space of love - love of country, love of your fellow man and woman, love for the poor and oppressed. Can thoughtful Christians argue with these simple Christian / human values? For if Christ were physically with us today, as He was 2000 years ago, He would be among the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain. Let us pray that Trinity Church -and others -hear the call, and respond. For the old ways are not working...

SCG said...

Thanks stanchaz for that statement, which I note is on the NY General Assembly of OWS site. There are challenges for Trinity Wall Street in terms of the response they need to make to our growing disparity between the very rich... and the rest of us. That response may mean some acknowledgement that they have much they COULD give in this situation. But in claiming space, OWS also has to rise to the occasion and realize that if you're gonna live there, you need to be responsible for yourselves. And that's where it seems there is a huge break down in the debate.