Friday, November 11, 2011

Keeping hope alive at OLA, with some help from interfaith friends

Jesse Jackson came to Occupy LA this week and I caught the end of this speech as I walked over to the encampment from my parking spot. His passionate refrain “Keep hope alive” echoed for blocks.

Hope is a very elusive thing. Emily Dickinson says “hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul.” On my car there’s a bumper sticker that says “Got hope?’ but the bumper sticker along with the feelings that inspired it has largely faded. The Occupy movement has revived my hopes, and the hopes of many other progressive people. But this “thing with feathers” is very precariously perched.

Ever since I attended meeting for worship at Occupy Philadelphia last week, I have been convinced that God is nudging us religious folk to become more deeply involved with Occupy LA. It isn’t helpful simply to sit on the sidelines and study and criticize their performance. If we want to keep hope alive, we need to go to their encampment and be in dialogue with them. The Occupiers have been at City Hall for nearly 40 days, individual religious people have shown up, but so far the interfaith peace movement has not been actively supportive.

This weekend I got the support of Southern California Quakers and the local chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religions to establish an interfaith presence at OLA.

While I was doing this, others in the interfaith movement were following their leading to become involved with OLA.

On Wednesday, a group of religious leaders came to OLA:  Sandie Richards (Methodist Minister at LA United Methodist Church), Peter Laarman (exec dir of Progressive Christians Uniting), Shakeel Syed (exec dir of the Islamic Shura Council of So Cal), and Rabbi Jonathan Klein (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice). They met with Scott Shuster, one of the OLA “facilitators,” listened to his concerns and came up with some plans to provide a religious presence at OLA.

They are calling themselves the “Interfaith Sanctuary.” Their goal is to help coordinate a religious community response. They have established an interfaith tent, using a Sukka that Jewish supporters of  OLA had put up. And they have hoisted a banner that says “Interfaith Sanctuary”

They also have a blog:  as well as a facebook page and google listserv.

There will be another planning meeting for religious folk next Wednesday morning at 10 am.

Why is there a need for the religious community to be involved?

Anyone who reads OLA's "Declaration of Occupation" or has been following the Occupy movement knows that the grievances they express are those that the Progressive religious has been articulating for many years: opposition to corporate greed, the war machine, environmental destruction, etc.

What OLA needs are the following:

Food and other supplies. Many of the Occupiers are unemployed, some are homeless, they need all the help we can provide.

Pastoral care/compassionate listening. Most of the Occupiers are wonderful, intelligent and idealistic, but some have serious emotional and psychological issues.

Witness in case of police crack down. So far, the LA police have been benign, especially compared to places like Oakland, but this could change. And if it does, it is important that there are credible witnesses to describe what happens.

Inspiration and support. Living in tents, exposed to the elements and to some of the most desperate people in the city, can be very demoralizing. The Occupiers have inspired us with their courage and faithfulness. We in the religious community need to do likewise and show that we care and are with them (even if we don't live in tents).

Conflict resolution, mediation, consensus decision-making. The Occupiers are making a valiant effort to deal with conflicts that arise and to engage in participatory democracy, but they are feeling overwhelmed by the extent of the problems they are encountering. More will be said later.

Education. Many of the Occupiers are young and want to learn from seasoned political activists how to effect the changes they yearn for.

There is a huge problem with drugs, crime, etc. That’s because the OLA is essentially a lawless zone, where the police have been told not to intervene. Homeless and mentally ill people, and drug dealers and users, are being drawn to this place where they know they will not be hassled. The vast majority of Occupiers who are sane and don't use drugs are being overwhelmed. There is even the feeling that the benign neglect on the part of the police may be intentional:   “Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” The Occupiers are asking for help from those with skills and knowledge in how to deal with those who have chemical abuse and other problems.

Despite these problems, OLA and the Occupy movement have accomplished a great deal. They are moving the political debate away from blaming the government and cutting programs that help the people, and focusing on the problem: predatory bankers and capitalists that have ripped off the middle class and poor.

The Occupiers have been big supporters of the Moveyourmoneyproject, which has inspired tends of thousands of Americans (myself included) to move our money out of predatory commercial banks into credit unions and socially responsible local banks.

Amy Goodman today had a wonderful segment about how Occupiers are supporting the anti-foreclosure movement.

Many of us are rallying in support of Richard Alarcon’s measure for Responsible Banking. Come to City Hall on Monday, Nov 21, at 1 PM to show your support for this measure.

What is the big picture? What is the future of this movement? How can it become long-term and sustainable? Will this movement help to jumpstart a movement that will transform (not simply reform) the System, as Chris Hedges and David Swanson are arguing?

These are questions that the interfaith religious community needs to take seriously. More to follow.....

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