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

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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

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.

Episcopal So-Called News

During General Convention 2009 everyone going in and out of the center was greeted by the usual gang of idiots. I’d say they were biker types but that would give bikers a bad name. Just big-bellied, bearded dudes in tee shirts carrying signs about hating “homos” and that anyone going into the building was going to hell.

The appearance of the Phelps Family and other hatemongers is more of a tradition at GC than the seminary cocktail parties where they try to drum up donations from alums.

So I stole an idea for an action I’d heard about. I started a Sponsor-a-Protester campaign. I asked if people wanted to pledge cash for the Protest-a-thon occurring right in front of them. With the help of Utah’s enthusiastic youth group , $120 was raised in less than 25 minutes. We had a blast. People pointed out the angriest–and by now they were angrier than hornets rousted from a nest–protesters and hand the cash over while waving to the protester. We thanked them for their work – they were raising funds for a home for LGBT teens who needed a safe haven. There were about 100 people laughing, donating, joining in.

This would have gone on for hours, but I was approached by a factotum of GC wearing collar and eye-searing shirt that really should be featured on Bad Vestments . He insisted I stop. Naively, I thought he was concerned about my personal safety.  Since I was still a Bishop’s Wife, I followed orders.Turns out I was one step ahead of the law – the protesters had called the police on me.  It’s possible the factotum with collar was trying to control the press.  A Bishop’s Wife arrested during General Convention would certainly get a squib…somewhere.  Too bad. I would have very much liked to appear before a judge in Orange County on charges of soliciting for charity.

The next day’s General Convention news had not a word about that. Outreach, mission, activism is only newsworthy if it has the corporate stamp of TEC. Individual prophetic action is not recognized.

Which brings me to an additional gift from the trial of Trinity Wall Street versus Occupy Wall Street. It confirms what most of us knew all along: That Episcopal News Service, Episcopal Cafe, and Episcopal New Yorker are simply the Pravda/Fox News of TEC. (Well, Episcopal Cafe is kind of the MSNBC wing of the church. But ye fans of MSNBC, remember it is owned by GE.)

A retired bishop and a priest recently active in the Diocese of NY are facing incarceration at Rikers at the insistence of a parish in Manhattan and there is no coverage. Two members of the clergy and there’s not a word about it. None. It’s not surprising, just affirming.

When an institution sets up a PR instrument to talk to the world, what happens is a filter of mendacity.

So what does it say about Katharine Jefferts-Schori that one of the first things she did when she moved into 815 Second Ave was have ENS on the same floor so that it sitteth at her right elbow?

Happy Easter! Expect the Unexpected

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood. Henry Miller

My transition from sleep to wakefulness comes as a result of a solid internal clock –courtesy of age – and the ambient sounds of the world around me – birds, the Latino radio station from the man delivering newspapers,  the family stirring. On Easter morning the hotel alarm buzzes me awake at five in order for my husband and myself to attend a sunrise service.

The location of the service is St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Hyannis.   The staff at the motel can’t recall where it is located.  It’s not in the telephone book and online references are fuzzy.  Through the Massachusetts diocese home site we get a street, but no no parish profile or web site. Programming this spare information into the GPS we set out before sunrise on a literal quest for the sole Episcopal church in this town.

Navigating a warren of roads that pass darkened summer homes closed in off-season, we happen upon a police officer who escorts us, headlights on, past the skeletons of privet hedge to the dead-end street where St. Andrew’s stands high on a bluff next to a local beach and yacht club.

We don’t know what to take in first : the location of a church that must have a dramatic view of the Atlantic once the sun is up or the fact that there is barely a place to park.  The road dead ends at a local private club with a capacious parking lot but it is barricaded in off-season. And most likely barricaded in-season to the hoi polloi.

St. Andrew’s is closed as well. At least the doors to the building are closed.  There is a gathering of 60 or so eager to witness and reconstruct in our own humble way the event that shattered the world.  Easter fest 2010!  We wait on a small patch of ground next to the stone building.

The service begins with a lone trumpet leading the hymns.  Everyone sings along.  The invocation and prayers are direct – nothing precious or overly intellectual.  As I say the words out loud in community I feel changed, lighter inside, a greater sense of understanding which quickens commitment.  It is terribly cold on this bluff by the Atlantic and I am not dressed for it.  My husband takes off his jacket, wraps me in it, and holds me firm and strong.  We had argued on the way here. In his loving, intimate action, there is proof of resurrection and healing. I think – no I know – this one of the best Easters ever.

The homily is short and one of the best ones I’ve heard. Here’s what I remember: Expect the unexpected, particularly when the unexpected exposes Christ in others.

The prayer that follows the homily begins like this:
God of such amazing surprise, put a catch in my breath today. Put wings on my heart.

This Holy Week, on the dune and ocean landscape of New England, the site of new buds on thorny bushes has caught my eye. There are rows of these dotted about the small patch of ground next to the closed Episcopal church.  

The church building is still dark as the sun rises over the cold Atlantic. The Church turns to see the morning fog begin its dispersal, chatting about where to go for  a warm breakfast and cup of coffee. Continuing the fellowship.

This worship was hosted by a confederation of Baptist churches in surrounding towns.  The participating pastors will be going off to their respective churches for indoor Easter services. One announces that there will be six baptisms that morning.

In the light, it becomes clear why no one knew where the church was: those who attend it want it for themselves. It is a seasonal church, intended for the people with summer homes. Most likely it is a summer cure for a priest who gets a small stipend, a place near the beach, an honorary membership at the yacht-beach-tennis-dinner club, and regular invitations to cocktail parties.

Peeking through the front window we can see that it is well-appointed: crisp volumes Lift Every Voice and Sing side by side with the 1982 Hymnal.  Although it is possible the volumes look crisp because they are held for a few minutes each week, 4 months out of the year, by people who are used to taking care of nice things.

The week before Easter the House of Bishops met at Camp Allen in Texas. Part of their time together included two days spent on the Emergent Church.  From what I’ve heard there was an amusing awkward tone to all this as the Emergent Church is anti-hierarchical as well as anti-institutional.  The bishops listened to presentations and were given a book to take home so they could read about about the Emergent Church.  The book has two introductions: one by Katharine Jefferts-Schori and the other by Rowan Williams.  The other chapters are written by people who, while insightful about the enormous transition going on in Spirit and Faith as well as the dissolution of the institutional-hierarchical church,  rely on its financial resources for their livelihood.

The bishops were also given two CDs with examples of Emergent Church music.  The music, skillfully executed and even occasionally sincere, was intended for soloists and bands.  Not a single song that could be sung by a congregation on either recording.

The readers of this blog are too wise for me to have to explain the irony of all this.  But two caveats for any bishops or canons or program people trying to understand and evolve:  First, buying the program is not the program.  If you need this verified, ask the hard-working and resourceful director of your formation program.

Second, there is an army of clergy in your diocese deeply invested in the status quo of their seminary training and the reality of parish politics.  The House of Bishops may meet as an International Entity but church is local.

In a culturally synchronous moment, Holy Week was the week that Priest Barbie became a fetishistic fad among certain Episcopalians.  The Facebook page garnered thousands of fans.  Priest Barbie showed up with a bitchin’ liturgical wardrobe, including a miniature sacristy at her imaginary Malibu parish.  People thought a plastic priest with an anatomically impossible figure, the most hated and tortured toy in recent memory, was a hoot, a role model, and a signal of the The Episcopal Church’s “coolness”.

Can’t we stop pretending?

It is a natural human inclination to stave off the difficult but necessary aspects of transition with totemic figures, programs, and magic thinking. During Easter we not only honor Jesus, but the lifetime journey of mindfully, reverently nurturing the Christ in ourselves and others. Miracles not magic thinking. The truth – the Word – is so very near us.  It’s in night blossoms, and buds in thorns, the narratives of our prophets, matriarchs, and patriarchs, our relationships. There are portals of sacred transformation among us.

The Emergent Church has been around for two plus millennia. It is not “out there”.  Unless the leadership of The Episcopal Church considers a confederation of Baptist ministers leading the faithful to worship at dawn “out there”.