Occupy as a Spiritual Act

 My rural island home in Washington State couldn’t be much further—geographically or culturally­—from Manhattan’s Wall Street.  Last fall, when the first actions of Occupy Wall Street began, the movement seemed like an abstraction to me. After hearing Madeline Schaeffer’s podcast at Friend Speaks My Mind, I’m feeling more connected to this social and economic justice effort.

Fueled by the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse and inspired by uprisings last spring in Egypt and Tunisia, Occupy Wall Street protesters brought their call for democracy to Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District on Sept. 17, 2011. Soon, Occupy groups organized across the U.S. to “protest and change the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process.” All use a consensus-based collective decision-making tool known as a “people’s assembly,” that sounds much like a Quaker Meeting for Business.
Madeleine’s audio story describes Occupy efforts in Philadelphia and the influence of Quaker faith and practice on its work. I was drawn by her first words, recounting an outdoor Meeting for Worship at Dilworth Plaza at Philadelphia’s City Hall. Madeleine and other attenders spoke of the power of that worship to assert the Occupy Philadelphia site as “holy ground.”  
Madeleine believes that the Occupy Movement is revitalizing Friends’ understanding of the connection between spirituality and action and that Quakers are providing a spiritual groundedness to this movement. In Philadelphia, that spiritual grounding is evident in tangible ways. “Supporting social change for peace and justice is woven into the fabric of Friends Center,” says Patricia McBee, Executive Director at Friends Center in Philadelphia, of their involvement with Occupy Philadelphia. The Center, just two blocks from Dilworth Plaza, has put its faith into action by offering its commercial kitchen to prepare food, office equipment and services, and space to retreat and “take a breath.”

Lucy Duncan, American Friends Service Committee Friends Liaison, coordinates a Quaker tent at Dilworth Plaza. She spoke with Madeleine of her sense that the Spirit is present in Occupy Philadelphia work and that people there are “being engaged in something much bigger than themselves.”  Michael Gagné, director of the new Envision Peace Museum in Philadelphia, believes that Occupy Philadelphia is teaching people decision-making processes that delve into conflict as part of truth-seeking and without violence. Madeleine spoke with others in the movement who look to Quakers to contribute on the front lines of occupations and direct actions to prevent them from becoming violent. As one participant put it, Quakers have tools to do this and “understand that action is a spiritual act, a transformative experience of their souls.”
Friends and others in Philadelphia are using those tools to organize the upcoming Occupy National Gathering. From June 30 to July 4, the Occupy movement will convene in the vicinity of Philadelphia’s Independence Mall for a week of direct actions, movement building, and the creation of a vision for a democratic future. On July 5, the Gathering will conclude by joining Guitarmy (guitar-playing peace activists) for a 99-mile march from Philadelphia to Wall Street. Perhaps Friend Jon Watts will be there with them singing “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Your Life,” a song that he performed at Occupy DC (http://www.jonwatts.com/2011/faithfulness-quakers-and-the-occupy-movement/). 

I’ll be 3000 miles away from the Gathering, but I’ll be singing along. 


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