Occupy Trinity Wall Street: Part 4 of 4

Sunday, December 23rd, Trinity Wall Street held it’s final forum at the office complex at 74 Trinity Place on “Jesus in the Margins”. TWS’s site states this last session “continues by exploring economic marginalization. Bryan Parsons will look at Situational Ethics, the prophet Amos, and the goals that Occupy and the Christian movement have in common. How does Christ call us, and Occupy encourage us, to look at humanity first when considering another? And what is the place of movements in influencing secular society to create space for all people to live happy and productive existences?”  Those familiar with this blog and the OTWS community remember Bryan Parsons arriving intoxicated one night to trade alcohol for cigarettes. Clergy, Matt Heyd, commented in November that it was time for these people to leave. It was getting cold, after all. It was cold for those shepherds who kept watch, and the parables often read in Advent are about waiting in faith. This is the time of year during which we are reminded that it is God’s decision about what happens in our lives. Our work is to wait in faith. Rather than deciding what’s right for those on the street, it might be the “churchy” or priestly thing to do and bring blankets. a hot meal, counsel for the troubled.

Some of those sleeping in front of Trinity Wall Street are part of the Occupy Sandy efforts – it’s an easy commute to Brooklyn or downtown and the Diocese of New York (not Long Island of which Brooklyn is a part) has forbidden volunteers from sleeping in the churches.  It has been observed that the space in front of Trinity Wall Street could provide a warehouse for provisions, but that space is locked up tight.  This time of year, it’s dramatic and telling – lots of square footage empty, with signs posted about the area being under surveillance, and tourists following red umbrellas touring the adjacent graveyards.

The spiritual illness at Trinity Wall Street has metastasized and those charged with oversight are cowed by Trinity’s wealth. Like so many stories in holy scripture, riches keep a person or an institution sick.  Christmas Eve marked day 200 of Occupy Trinity Wall Street.

OTWS Five Marks of Mission

Real Estate and the church

OTWS under surveillance

Occupy Trinity Wall Street, Pt. 3: Life on the street

OTWS why does this occur

On November 17th, when this broadside was handed out at the NY Diocesan convention, there were a few people from Trinity Wall Street’s staff who handed the broadside back. One was Reverend Anne Mallonee who said “I don’t need this, I know all about it.”  I replied “And now everyone else does!”  It was a stunning response from someone who has taken the oath of the priesthood, or even made the promise of baptism.  To claim to know all about this and do nothing is an admission of dislocation. No matter what your opinion of the validity or efficacy of Occupy Trinity Wall Street, there is the reality of these people sleeping on your front steps, being harassed by Trinity Wall Street staff and the NYPD.

On December 12, The Village Voice published a piece on the general spiritual malaise infecting Trintity Wall Street (found HERE). Hard copies of The Voice were kept by those sleeping in front of the church and handed out to passers by as well as parishioners. A middle-aged blonde woman asked for copies, took them all and then threw them in the trash can. She was identified as Linda Hanick, Trinity Wall Street’s PR representative. A puerile act and comically ignorant – the world of print is in demise. Google “Reverend James Cooper” and the first choice is the article in The Village Voice. That is his legacy unless the institution has a change of heart.

Below is part 3 of the original broadside.

A core group of people have been occupying for over 5 months. These include Fathema Nusrat Sha’didi, a street medic who found refuge and rest at St. Paul’s Chapel after the traumatic recovery work in the smoking remains of the World Trade Center; Ed Mortimer, a street medic, and Jack Boyle both defendants in the D17 trespassing trial.

OTWS NYPD harassmentThey are joined by a diverse community which includes people with regular jobs sleeping when they can, traveling activists, and most notably homeless youth seek refuge there. The latter group finds a haven safer than in  shelters and get a sense of being part of a greater cause. All who pass by note the irony in Trinity’s slogan—”For a world of good”. Some are there because this church sits at the top of Wall Street, the epicenter of capitalism at its most cancerous stage. Those same passers by know this story, noting the church as complicit by its silence with the toll taken by a culture of greed.

A careless disregard for the young, sensitive population was featured on September 23 when alcohol was served to these minors. CEO/Rector Cooper said casually “I hope everyone’s of age!” Bryan Parsons, TWS staff was observed one night in August intoxicated trading alcohol for cigarettes among the youth.

Representatives from TWS, such as clergy Matt Heyd, straight-faced recites NYC code requiring hosing down of the sidewalk twice a day. However, the second hosing was not initiated until September—three months after the sleep-in began. Heyd will also tell you it is NYC code to drill holes in scaffolding to prevent standing water. Holes were drilled on October 21st, long after the summer heat when standing water would offer a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. When it rains, instead of the steady fall of drops, the water accumulates in pockets, hitting those below in bullet-like large drops making sleep or simple rest very difficult.

At press release, Heyd was not available for further comment.

TWS staff defends the practice of maximizing profits through luxury apartment development at the expense of small business and middle and working class families through TWS’s charitable work overseas, inspiring the street chant Trinity Church you look so pretty, but you do nothing for New York City.

Throughout the heat of summer, rain and snow, beatings and harassment from the NYPD, no clergy have offered a drink of water, a bathroom to use, or sanctuary in any form. During Hurricane Sandy OTWS found safety among the greater OWS community. After the November snowfall those occupying TWS sent out word that they needed warm clothes. Meanwhile, TWS proudly Tweeted a video of one of its priests delivering clothes to those in the vicinity but not to those huddled in front of the church.

TWS will cite Charlotte’s Place as a resource. However OWS can get free internet at dozens of locations. Charlotte’s Place is limited in many ways, to include that it is only open Monday through Friday from 12 to 2PM.

Need doesn’t punch a time clock.

OTWS fellowship

OTWS sleeper 1

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it Started – D17

Part 2 of 4

On December 17th (D17) OWS gathered near Duarte Square for a celebration. A number of people climbed a ladder and trespassed. It was clearly street theater and civil disobedience-Santa Claus and Miss America were first over the ladder. One bishop, three Episcopal priests, a nun, and two Roman Catholic priests were arrested with others.

The lead up to the event involved Bishop Desmond Tutu releasing two conflicting messages regarding Occupy Wall Street and generating questions regarding his intentions, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Mark Sisk. Jeffets-Schori’s and Sisk’s letters on December 16, 2011 can be found HERE.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Unfortunately some attending clipped wires on the fencing, committing vandalism. Few of the 52 trespassers who were arrested, tried, and prosecuted at the insistence of TWS committed any vandalism. The majority of vandals ran away when the NYPD appeared.

That day the fence was pushed down on the crowd outside the no trespassing zone by the NYPD while other officers kettled the crowd from the street side, thus terrorizing observers.

People who were exercising First Amendment rights were beaten up by the NYPD in the name of TWS and by extension the Diocese of NY. The statement from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church added an ironic overtone: “Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms.” The Church remained silent on the violence perpetrated against those who were merely observing non-violent actions.

Collaborating with the District Attorney’s office, TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper began work on prosecuting the trespassers to the full extent of the law. During the course of the most visible trial (held June 10-21) it became evident that Trinity Real Estate, its CEO Cooper and staff enjoyed a cozy relationship with the NYPD as well as the DA’s office. For example, vans of police in full riot gear were parked at the ready for 5 hours in advance to arrest people for “possible trespass”. Will Gusakov, a master carpenter who designed and built the ladder but did not trespass, was arrested blocks away from Duarte Square and put on trial . One of the ways taxpayer money paid for protection of Trinity Wall Street’s private assets.

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street's private property

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street’s private property

At the end of the trial, one defendant, Mark Adams, was sent to jail. Adams was the only defendant who is Muslim, born in Pakistan. Adams joined OWS after his home went into foreclosure.

OTWS began in response to Mark Adams being sentenced to 45 days on Riker’s Island. After rallies, vigils, and teach-ins themed around “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, Jack Boyle, a D17 defendant, initiated the occupation/sleep-in. The occupation gained momentum when Adams began serving his time in prison on Riker’s Island.

Parishioners at TWS were told Adams’ sentence was related to offenses other than trespassing on the vacant lot. However court records show that Adams went to prison solely at the insistence of an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of NY.

Adams served time in the heat of July just as General Convention made resolutions to increase ministry to those in prison and while the 5 Marks of Mission were embraced as a standard to move missionally forward in the 21st century. Trials for trespassing continue today-most recently for Charles Meyers-TWS’s accusations compounding on other “infractions” and generating prison records for young men and women based on inflated charges.

Interviews with those involved with Occupy Trinity Wall Street and who have been sent to Riker’s Island at the insistence of Trinity Wall Street and CEO/Rector James Cooper can be found HERE.

The OWS community has a well-organized, dedicated group who visit those in prison, write them, and provide support. On release, the OWS community finds them shelter mostly in the form of couch surfing and facilitates access to social workers and therapists who donate time.

As of this writing no one behind bars because of TWS has been visited by Episcopal clergy to include the primary colluder with the NYPD and DA, CEO/Rector Cooper. No offer of shelter or of psychological counseling have been proffered despite TWS’s considerable assets.
Duarte Text Box OTWS

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it started

 

Trinity Wall Street Moral Gate

“Trinity Wall Street could be the moral gateway between Wall Street and Main Street.”

OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET: OVERVIEW

Since June 8th the sidewalk in front of Trinity Wall Street (TWS) has been location central for prophetic witness.  People affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), calling themselves Occupy Trinity Wall Street (OTWS) are occupying that doorstep 24 hours a day.

WHY?

At least 10 and as many as 30 people are sleeping on the street-an activity completely legal in New York City and protected by the U.S. Constitution. These men and women bear witness to the inequities wrought by the greed of Wall Street calling attention to a deformed capitalism that does not respect the dignity of every human being but looks on all Creation as a source of personal profit and production. For Episcopalians the significance of this sleep-in is sacramental. Yet rather than welcome the presence of these prophets or offer any kindness, TWS has harassed, humiliated, and sent protesters and homeless youth to jail and the hospital. This was done in the name of the Episcopal Church, notably with the tacit acceptance of the Diocese of NY.

 HOW IT STARTED: D17

When OWS was violently rousted in November, 2011 from the encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, it lost a home. People were fed, educated, and community was being built. A national voice of outrage was embodied. A new vision of democracy was evolving–inclusive and horizontal-it was oriented towards peace, justice, and mutual aid. Without a home, OWS would have a difficult time working on this vision. OWS approached Trinity Wall Street, particularly CEO/Rector James Cooper, in December to discuss the possibility of occupying one of its many Manhattan real estate assets–a vacant lot on Canal Street and 6th Avenue known as Duarte Square. Like the time when St. Paul’s Chapel was a sanctuary for recovery workers after attacks on the World Trade Towers, Trinity Wall Street, by destiny, was at another a nexus of history.

Encouraged by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, retired Bishop George Packard was asked to facilitate dialog between OWS and TWS. With the exception of token gestures, CEO/Rector Cooper would not enter into discussion. OWS was told ground would be broken on a new building in May, 2012. OWS gathered support from the local Community Board and residents surrounding Duarte Square; made plans for a healthy encampment; and promised it would move out when ground was broken in May. Several members of the OWS community went on a hunger strike to call attention to this prophetic moment and a need for sanctuary. TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper only answered with a corporate line about plans for private property.

Mallory Diego Elliot

 Hunger strikers Malory Butler (19-year-old ballet student) & Diego Ibanez, with supporter Elliot Figman on Day 15 of the hunger strike. Mr. Ibanez was a critical organizer for Hurricane Sandy relief, spearheading a volunteer corps that served over 5,000 hot meals a day in addition to other forms of relief.

Coming up: D17 and Duarte Square

Ed Mortimer Text Box

OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET

Writer and photographer Mickey Z-Vegan has a blog post on Occupy Trinity Wall Street

HERE

for those who are not trusting the spin from The Episcopal New Yorker “The Real Estate edition”.

And speaking of spin, has anyone seen the latest Episcopal News Service item in which the Episcopal Church takes credit for the hard work of one responsive priest (Michael Sniffen) in Brooklyn and the work of Occupy Wall Street when it comes to serving those who lost so much in Hurricane Sandy?

Turn the other cheek…don’t look the other way

When I called on a friend to sing an original song for my wedding, he asked me about dress requirements. ” Oh…whatever. I trust your judgment.  You should know the Bishop of NY will be there and dressed like a bishop.”

“Should we all wear cardboard boxes on our heads as a show of solidarity?”

There is something inherently comical about bishops.  Their outfits are just the beginning.

Bishops become supremely comical when they take not just their outfits but themselves seriously. To observe the behavior of those with egos that put them in the delusional world – one in which they imagine they have authority outside the priests in their regional management districts—is classic comedy. Rudy Vallee in a Preston Sturges movie without the endearing charm.

The latest edition of The Episcopal New Yorker has one with a head scratch asking “Real…or Onion?” The issue,  released in this post-Sandy/Advent/wealth disparity-financial cliff/climate change crisis/people leaving TEC to find God elsewhere time was devoted to Real Estate!  And it’s not dedicated to actual real estate issues in New York, a city with home health care givers, families, and shop clerks living in shelters; a metropolitan area with a disproportionate amount of empty homes for every homeless family. No, the bulk of the issue is dedicated to diocesan real estate, the problems of its upkeep; the Bishop’s Message culminating with the observation that “the Church’s property can be a problem, but it is a nice problem to have.”

What a punch line! It’s one of those real-life instances that if you heard it in a movie about a clueless, quasi-villainous religious leader, you wouldn’t believe it real.

Coincidence?  On November 17th, I handed out broadsides at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the Diocesan convention that told the story of ongoing harassment on the steps of Trinity Wall.  In addition to shining the light on the spiritual sickness that has infected Trinity Wall Street and its staff, the intention was to initiate a horizontal discussion regarding the responsibility the church has when it comes to its properties.

The content of the broadside will be posted on this blog in the days to come. Until then, you can check out interviews with those who have been sleeping on the front steps of Trinity Wall Street HERE.

The broadside was written primarily to give voice to those who have been sleeping at Trinity Wall Street since June 8th and suffered harassment in the form of beatings, theft, verbal insults, and more from the NYPD and the Trinity Wall Street staff. Some have been put in jail at the insistence of CEO/Rector James Cooper. No one – and no one means no one – from Trinity Wall Street parish has offered so much as a glass of water let alone visited those in prison. These people are my friends and comrades. They are the friends and comrades of every person who leads a spiritually intentional life. Naively I thought that if Cooper’s and Trinity Wall Street’s colleagues and supervisors (i.e. bishops) were aware that there were homeless, hungry, troubled people treated like chattel on the church steps they would be held accountable in some way. They would have the opportunity to heal the spiritual sickness that for so long has infected Trinity Wall Street.

More importantly this is a time when the institutional Church has to evaluate honestly and quickly whether the way it maintains itself is sustainable or even Christian.  It has got to realize as so many of us have, that the Spirit-led life of commitment to Jesus includes finding the service on your doorstep. In Trinity Wall Street’s case and the Diocese of New York that is not metaphoric.

You can read the Diocese of New York’s puff piece here, keeping in mind George Orwell’s thought on PR – Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

As you read, carry with you this protective amulet of The Word from John 18:37 – “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

To whom does Bishop Mark Sisk listen?  To whom does CEO/Rector James Cooper listen?

Jesus would have us turn the other cheek not look the other way.

The Op Ed Wars

The 77th General Convention is over. The one allegedly controversial decision – the blessing of same-sex unions – generated a lot of brouhaha.  A news outlet shouted that The Episcopal Church was the first to acknowledge and accept the blessing of same-sex unions.  This left friends in the UCC dumbfounded. In 2005 the United Church of Christ voted on a national resolution that endorsed equal marriage by 80% of the delegates. Seven years have passed since that decision.

Then the Op Eds  questioning TEC’s decision began to appear.

Disclaimer: I skimmed these pieces because I don’t care. I used to care. The tipping point was right after 2003 and the approval of Gene Robinson successfully winning the Purple Fever version of the Parker Brothers Careers board game. At first I felt the self-satisfaction until my LGBT friends informed it meant nothing for them. They still lost property or had their names scrubbed from beloved partners’ obituaries.  That’s when I put the big “We’re Number 1!” foam finger in storage.

Two critical Op Ed pieces were published, the first in the post-Murdoch Wall Street Journal (so who really cares here?) and the second in the New York Times.  The Nerf ball salvos from the “conservatives” were responded to by loyalist Episcopalians. So many responses, so many shares on Facebook it was exhausting. I was close to wishing there would be more snapshots of dinners instead of the chest thumping quotes. The Op Ed Wars had begun.But the issues with the institutional church, the indisputable fact that on line graphs the numbers of church attendees was in the same trajectory as pay phones went unattended. Not only does the point-counterpoint model erode public discourse, it contradicts one of the core tenets of Anglicanism – the via media. In my interpretation, that’s not a kind of denominational Switzerland, responses so “reasoned” they are nearly incoherent. Via media means being comfortable in confusion and the grey areas as part of a process. Living with the bad news before deciding that MDGs or Five Marks of Mission are The Solutions. When were those writing the counterpoint Op Ed pieces going to get down to what the issues were? One piece on the Huffington Post was titled “The Glorious Episcopal Church.”  The language of exceptionalism was being recycled only by those with an investment in the system.

The latest response to the two not-so-superlative Op Eds was by Jon Meacham. He questions the future of the institution and he says this – quoted and re-quoted on Facebook:

But I do know this: the central tenet of Christianity as it has come down to us is that we are to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward; to give when we want to take; to love when we are inclined to hate; to include when are tempted to exclude.

Very good idea, Mr. Meacham.  However, there is a disconnect that occurs every day in nearly every community. Like the real estate maxim of “location, location, location”, church is “local, local, local.” This is not just a reality but a potential strategy. The giving, the loving, the inclusion, the reaching outward must come include everyone. Not just blessing same-sex marriages. Everyone means everyone. There are a lot of marginalized people these days. Bill McKibben’s new data on global warming, threatening Creation itself, is not covered in the reams of bleached white paper handed out Sunday mornings for worship. We have more empty homes than homeless families.  Our landscape and public psyche is scarred by corporate greed. People are illiterate, lonely, hungry, in need of skills, and dying. Five Marks of Mission isn’t going to get us anywhere as long as Wall Street corrupts everything  people of faith value. Don’t rely on a pastor’s, Vestry’s, or committee’s idea of inclusion – ask those in the community where your church is planted.

A few years ago a co-classmate in EFM told me that she loves her church -a bedroom community of Manhattan and home of a lot of Wall Street honchos -because the rector makes all the business people feel so very good every week. Trinity Wall Street suggests that we attend a service during which an associate is preaching because his southern accent is “so soothing”. The Episcopal Church has become a soul spa for the 1%.

The sad fact is that the institutional church gets together every three years to redefine what is “good” in order to mask its complicity in the commodification of God’s creation in these terrible, transitional days. The institution asks us to look at a few deft moves in the shell game –a liturgy here, pronouncement there.

It is not equipping those who attend to speak the truth and do their very best to fight the forces that are out to take out life and love on this planet.  Our very survival hangs in the balance.