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.

December 31, 2011

The New Year blew in a month or so ago along with the Occupy movement. A tempest of blessed confusion and change, it began quietly in the sea of summer, advancing to the shore of public awareness, and gaining more momentum after the brutal international raids on Occupy communities in mid-November.  Two days later, 30,000 (a low estimate) marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in joyful solidarity on a cold night. All ages, vocations, a few carrying signs that read “Screw us and we multiply.”

Now that was some candlelight vigil – Welcome Advent!

The Occupy movement brings with it provocative topics for discussion and action.  A few of its principles include anti-consumerist, anti-corporate, anti-hierarchical world views. Along with these are many pros: the movement is deeply spiritual – to be close to an action and the leadership involved is to experience something akin to another Great Awakening. Those involved are dedicated in a way we have not seen for some time in America to principles of community and caring, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

It’s about occupying space, interior, exterior, positive, and negative. With occupying space comes the question “What is public property, what is private property?”  You hear the call and response around the country:  Whose streets? Our streets! Whose park?  Our park!

If we were to ask a group attending a Sunday morning liturgy and started chanting “Whose church?” could those attending chant back as confidently as Occupiers “Our church!”? Or more accurately “God’s church!”?

That question –“Whose church?” – has been at the center of this blog since its beginning.  The great divide of wealth that has been increasing over the past 30 years has been mirrored in the institutional church in terms of power and control.  Control born out of fear. Economically, a few parishes hold on to their privilege while the poorer parishes start filing for the equivalent of unemployment benefits or even hospice care.

One of the things that, in my opinion, have shocked the 1% is the proud claim “We are the 99%!”  They’re confused – the meme is that everyone should want to be the 1% and if you’re not there, well it’s not only your fault but you should be striving for that particular gold ring.  We are expected to wait by the gate of envy, sites set on McMansions and bumper sticker colleges, producing another generation of dislocated masters of the universe.  They never consider that among the 99% are those who teach the children, heal the families, clean and repair the belongings of the 1%. And the 1% can’t see the truth before them:  the work of the 99% has more cultural and spiritual value and personal satisfaction than manipulating  abstract false derivatives or collecting interest on inherited investments.

In my experience, the wealthier parishes are content with “church as club” served with a palate-cleansing sorbet of charity in between courses. The less wealthy – kept from understanding the freedom that accompanies poverty – are frequently wannabes. This occurred in a parish our family attended for a number of years. It was small – maybe 75 on a big festival day – but it seemed sincere and our daughter had friends in the Sunday School. Flawed as it was, it was there for a few years of her formation.

Then money got in the way. The wealthiest parishioner fell in love with the notion of labyrinths. I suppose one should give her credit that she spent her time between trips in the mini van picking up the kids reading about the history of labyrinths instead of lunching and shopping.  She decided that what this tiny parish needed was a 50,000 dollar labyrinth – averaging a little over 1,000 dollars for each head attending Sunday morning.

The desire for more took the form of a capital campaign. Not one to fix the roof, get the asbestos out of the classrooms, but one that had a wish list determined by a few for the few more:  a new pipe organ for the organist (a relative of the rector), an upgraded kitchen, and a columbarium.  But first on the list was a fancy consultant who called in the various family heads to read us the wish list and ask us to which project we’d like to contribute.  During the discussion, it was mentioned that the campaign was considered successful as 50,000 had already been raised….for a labyrinth.  Needless to say, people found better things to do on Sunday morning since they had been left out of the discussion and had money targets painted on their backs.

The labyrinth still is there, private property of the church.  It’s empty most of the time. There is a more rustic, community-built labyrinth three miles away by the water that is open to everyone.  A few years after leaving, while on staff at an Episcopal church nearby, I suggested that the youth group walk the labyrinth.  No clergy or parents knew of its existence. We tried to make an appointment. No one answered our messages.  The parish web site says that those who have a divine experience while prayerfully on its path can send a letter via snail mail to the woman who donated it.

And that was a moderately middle-class parish suffering from the wannabe ethos. An ethos identical in intention with that of reality TV shows. Four miles north is a different, wealthier parish that embodies “church as club”. When the local high school performed Les Miserables (Les Comfortables present Les Miserables!) the choir director had the professionals in the choir give free private voice lessons  to the high school choristers. He then purchased a booster ad in the program congratulating them as they had gotten leading roles. When the same choir director moved on, the Anglophilic search committee chose from a short list of four the one who came from the UK subsequently paying over five thousand dollars in visa fees. Let’s add to the cost of collusion in this elitist endeavor the fact that the church had to bear false witness  in order to hire outside the US.

Whose culture?

What is public culture and what is private? Whose church? God’s church?

Wealthy parishes are, of course, in wealthy towns. The parishioners reflect the demographic of the area. Taxes are high; real estate in many of these areas has not been affected by the crash so far. When I say high, I mean crazy high – like the taxes on the rectory alone in our town would be the equivalent of the average American family income.

Whose building? The parish’s building. Well…the Vestry’s building for a while. But with tax exemption there ought to come some community responsibility.

Here’s a proposal and a challenge to all those who do not go to church – and there are so many of us: work for local legislation  stating that a church does not receive tax exempt status unless it proves it is doing the work of the Gospel – particularly Matthew 25.  And then, if the parish makes the cut and achieves tax exempt status determine what its responsibility should be to the greater community.  What’s the exchange for city income deprivation?  A little give-back like ensuring the church’s real estate, grounds, meeting rooms, libraries, and even worship space are open all the time.  To a person of faith, all is God’s world and there is nothing secular. With real leadership and vision everything is sacrament and blessing, a banquet table to be shared by all.

Another challenge to those still attending church regularly: occupy your church. Not warm the seats on Sunday morning, or go to a few classes, or feel guilty because you missed that choral evensong, but really question who and what is “church”.  Do you have a nursery school that is open just 3 hours a day and caters to the tennis mom set? How many working mothers could use affordable full-day early childhood education live surrounding your church? A lot.  Stop the music style arguments. Now. Instead, ask who is singing our music, chanting our psalms. Educate upwards. I once heard a rector respond to the question “Is your new call high or low church?” that the church preferred a more relaxed style of worship, but she would be changing that as soon as she could. Whose pastor?

Are you in one of the churches on life support? Open the doors, define Christian community historically, and embrace the changes The Holy Spirit has in store for you. It will be sweet or raucous or both and indeed divine.

We cannot rely on those who have visible power in the church hierarchy to change things. They have too much self identity and comfort tangled up in the status quo. Take the recent kerfuffle over private property between Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street.  The Bishop of New York and the Presiding Bishop both chose private property over people, the latter clumsily asking Occupy Wall Street to “put down their arms” – not even stepping into the ministry of wisdom – and the NYPD exercised their typically brutal response.  Who was acting in holiness?

“If you consider the holiness that is God’s,
you can be sure that everyone who acts in holiness
has been begotten by him.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
in letting us be called children of God!
Yet that is what we are.”

We are the 99% in the pews or out. Whose church? The church of the children of God!