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

 

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

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.

Community Service

Today George began community service for the audacity of trespassing on Trinity Wall Street’s vacant lot.   The other 7 defendants were all assigned to picking up trash in parks despite gifts as teachers, medics, counselors, one master carpenter, (Will Gusakov) one excellent comedian (Ted Alexandro), and  a talented  young artist (John Carhart).  Asking activists to perform community service is like throwing Brer Rabbit in the brier patch.

During these times of crushing heat and financial ruin I wonder how the local churches are serving their communities.  One of the local parishes was shut up tight all day Sunday – the floor show was over – and all I could think about was how the clergy lobbied to get air conditioning in the sanctuary so they wouldn’t be so hot under their robes. How cool – thermally and spiritually – it would have been if the sanctuary was indeed that during this heat wave. A place for those who have no air conditioning could take a time out and experience mutual aid. Put in some books, board games, have a few volunteers to share their skills. Why isn’t the institutional church more concerned with doing community service rather than “doing church”?

With Trinity Wall Street inhabiting a capacious expensive booth touting its good works, General Convention continues, the attendees getting heady about the  Marks of Mission (remember how excited the Episcopalians got about 20/20?),  New York City goes through a record-breaking heat wave,  and Mark Adams serves his time behind bars on Rikers Island. We have received phone calls from retired clergy – people who have nothing to lose had they spoken out during the exactly 6 months after D17 and the sentencing date of June 18th – telling us not to judge the church based on James Cooper’s behavior. He is an embarrassment – they are outraged at the persistence of the prosecution and Trinity’s overt collusion with the DA, Bloomberg, and the NYPD.

Yet this is one of those rare times when had the TEC leadership had been as persistent as Trinity and released statements regarding Occupy, the prison and legal system, worked the “cocktail party” social circuit,  it might have made a difference in a young man’s life.  Mark will always have a criminal record. 80% of those who go to Rikers return.

James Cooper and his staff are intentionally spreading disinformation by telling the handful of Trinity Wall Street parishioners that Mark is not serving time for trespassing and criminal mischief committed on December 17, 2011 as related to Duarte Square but for priors. This is not the case and all those who attended the trial can tell you the real story. John and Molly’s show on Breakthru Radio offers an accurate assessment.

Trinity Wall Street and James Cooper – preserving the sanctity and rights of chain link fence. Solidarity!

Posts from the  fans of General Convention and TEC through email networks, on Facebook, and Twitter indicate the institution is just not getting the point. The answer is more program, look to the mitres for wisdom and training that is not necessarily there, lobby for a piece of the budget pie. It is all unsustainable, insular, and delusional.

So what gives this Episcopalian hope? Some of the extraordinary seminarians who acknowledge that they are the precipice of a new era,  self-train, “skill-up”, and don’t plan on working their way up the company ladder of promotion.  The members of Occupy who work the streets, share skills, stand in solidarity with the poor, and put their energy behind mutual aid. The plans of Occupy Faith who know this is it – either the church goes down in a hospice/spa environment or it goes out fighting, dying in order to be reborn. (Now where have we heard that story before?)

And the entries in the blog Support Mark Adams which shows us all how we can BE church to each other without a single resolution passing the House of Deputies.