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

Trinity Sunday

For the past few months there have been actions and rallies to draw attention to Trinity Wall Street’s prosecution of eight people who stepped on “their land”. These are the eight who didn’t take ACDs (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) trying to call out Trinity Wall Street for putting business over mission. Trinity Wall Street is playing a game of chicken with dire consequences –particularly with Jack Boyle.  All this for some civil disobedience with Santa.

We all know the institutional church is dying and asking the equivalent of  its tribal witch doctors why rather than the 19,000 of us who leave each year.  The bad PR is contained by the fact that there are more important things for the faithful to think about. But in Trinity’s case it’s truly puzzling. The director of PR attends the trial every day as the surreal game of chicken unfolds. The dark stallion of bad press escaped from Trinity’s barn years ago and running wild, picks up more untamed horses for the herd.  A stampede is inevitable. (Trinity’s spin machine and St. Paul’s Chapel after 9.11.01 – in the original German)

One of these actions is on Trinity Sunday. God’s timing or OWS’s?  In the days preceding the trial I ponder what I know about Trinco and feel it’s important for those passing by to get some spiritual context for this narrative. On June 3, the materials below are handed out in front of Trinity Wall Street.

Trinity Sunday, June 3
Trinity Sunday is a big day. On this day Christians ponder the deep realities of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a mystery. The Triune God: God, Creator; God’s Spirit which inspires and moves through all creation – believers, atheists, the sentient and non-sentient; and the Nazarene Rabbi Jesus – God incarnate.

Symbols of the Trinity draw us to meditate on how Creator, Spirit, and Jesus are separate yet the same. Christians are called to contemplate how this mystery affects their lives. How they are to act, for example. The lectionary readings appointed for today include Isaiah 6: 1-8. The final verse reads “Here I am, send me!” in response to God’s call for acting on God’s behalf for justice in the world.

Today we ask how the leadership at Trinity Church Wall Street has responded to God’s question: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

To whom does Trinity’s leadership answer?

Leadership at Trinity Wall Street: A Track Record

What is it about the promising parish of Trinity Wall Street that it repeatedly chooses leadership oblivious to significant historical moments?
• A petulant and vindictive Dan Matthews fights transforming St. Paul’s Chapel into a haven for recovery workers after 9.11.01, wanting it to stay a “pretty little chapel”. Then gleans credit and awards for someone else’s vision and hard work.
• Jim Cooper simultaneously ignores not only Occupy Wall Street’s search for a winter home but actual dialog while claiming “It is perhaps one of the most important movements since the Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 50s and 60s”.
• Delays in withdrawing trespassing charges for 18 citizens, toying with people’s lives

When destiny hands the football of justice, truth, and the Gospel to rectors of Trinity Wall Street they are so consumed with minutiae and ego—or perhaps bad administrative advice—they fumble and lose the game. Why does this noble parish with so many blessings to share choose leaders with a poverty of wisdom and foresight?

Trinity – you could have been a contender.

 Trinity Church’s board in open revolt against Rev. James Cooper’s extravagant ways
By ISABEL VINCENT, MELISSA KLEIN and JAMES COVERT
Last Updated: 9:55 AM, March 18, 2012
Posted: 11:20 PM, March 17, 2012

During a Sunday morning service at Trinity Church last summer, a longtime parishioner looked around during the reading of the Gospel and counted the worshippers. By her tally, there were 49 people in the pews of the historic lower Manhattan church — a meager turnout for the storied, 314-year-old parish. She was puzzled, then, when the next week’s church bulletin reported attendance at 113.

Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Cooper, had decided that tourists who wander in and out of the chapel should be counted as well, she was told.

“That’s just a little snapshot into the way he presents everything,” said the parishioner, who was also a member of the governing board until she resigned in protest. “Everything has a little bit of truth to it but a lot of deception around it.”

Playing fast and loose with the numbers, and official church records, is one of the many complaints that dog the man who heads the richest parish in the Anglican world, a church with at least $1 billion in Manhattan real estate.

Cooper was supposed to be the guardian angel of Trinity. Instead, former board members say his dictatorial style of leadership and grandiose ambitions have fomented insurrection in the staid Episcopal community. They accuse him of undermining Trinity’s mission of good works since taking over as rector in 2004.

UNSACKABLE: Rev. James Cooper, the much-maligned yet immovable head of historic Trinity Church (opposite), blesses the football Giants victory parade in February after Big Blue’s stirring Super Bowl win.

Instead of helping the poor, Cooper’s helped himself — with demands for a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse, an allowance for his Florida condo, trips around the world including an African safari and a fat salary.

Rather than building an endowment, he is accused of wasting more than $1 million on development plans for a luxury condo tower that has been likened to a pipe dream and burning another $5 million on a publicity campaign.

Cooper, 67, whose compensation totaled $1.3 million in 2010, even added CEO to his title of rector. He began listing himself first on the annual directory of vestry members. The atmosphere has become so poisonous that nearly half the 22 members of the vestry, or board, have been forced out or quit in recent months.

“When the fox ends up guarding the henhouse, it never ends well for the chickens,” ousted board member Thomas Flexner, global head of real estate for Citigroup, wrote in a Feb. 13 resignation letter. “But this is what has happened at Trinity.”

Among the perks Cooper negotiated was a lavish home in SoHo, a Federal-style townhouse built in the 1820s with a price tag of $5.5 million.

“He chose the residence and said this shall be the rectory,” a former board member said. “Not in recent history . . . has the church ever provided so extravagant a living arrangement for the rector, but that’s what he wanted.”

Instead of concentrating on the endowment, Cooper began planning for a grand development on Trinity Place. He proposed tearing down two Trinity-owned buildings across from the church. One, a 25-story tower at 74 Trinity Place, housed the church offices, its preschool and a gathering place for parishioners.

Cooper wanted to build a luxury condominium tower, with church offices on the lower floors. He also looked at buying the adjacent American Stock Exchange and demolishing it, even though the building has long been considered for landmark status. One former board member called the plan insensitive and too big for the area. Others questioned the need for such a development, which would involve borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Another former board member said Cooper spent years studying the condo development, “not at all paying attention to the principal focus of those that hired him, which was try to solve the problem and try to make the church more of a powerful force in the philanthropy world.”

Trinity has had a long tradition of global giving and has taken credit for being one of the early opponents of apartheid in South Africa. It gave millions to the activist Bishop Desmond Tutu.

But for years, Trinity’s grant program gave out only $2.7 million annually, despite having the resources to fund more causes, a former board member said. More money was spent on church publicity in one year — $5 million — than grants. Last year, Trinity doled out grants to causes including a jobs program in Bedford-Stuyvesant and to churches in Africa.

Cooper traveled to Africa on church business but found time to fit in at least one safari, with his family along, at Trinity’s expense. The church also paid for jaunts to Asia and Australia.

The longtime and respected head of the grants program, the Rev. James Callaway, was forced out by Cooper, according to a former board member.