First, some housekeeping. If you want to know why I stand in solidarity with the 99%/Occupy Wall Street movement, you can click here for some reasons that convinced me. If you want a small list of what the movement might like to see as far as meaningful change, you can click here. However, just know that any movement which places people over profits, values the whole over a few individuals, is willing to start conversations and act, and is willing to use non-violent action to do so has my sympathy already.
Now, last Friday at around 6pm, my pal Scott and I took the train from Fort Worth to Dallas. We decided to participate in Occupy Dallas rather than Occupy Fort Worth because the Dallas crowd is bigger and our thought is that we could do more good initially as a larger, unified crowd. Plus, at the time, the Occupy Fort Worth group was rather small and seemingly non-committal.
While on the train, we discussed our reasons for joining up, and lamented how so few of the Christians we knew were willing to get involved. As I have been tweeting and Facebook-ing over the last few weeks, we have noticed a few varied responses from our Christian friends about the Occupy movement.
The first response is probably the expected one. Ignorance. Many Christians don’t know what the heck the movement is, where it came from, what it wants, what it is doing, or nearly anything else about it, besides what they might see on Fox news or some other news channel. Second, those who are against it. Many of these also fall into the ignorant category above, since they don’t have an accurate view of what the movement is, again, probably from watching only a certain brand of news channel. But, there are those that have equated their Christian philosophy with that of capitalism, and thus see any threat to economic-anarchy as bad. Third, there are supporters. Those who, in spirit, are sympathizers. However, for any number of reasons, have chosen to not get involved. My BFF Mike is one of these. He simply doesn’t have the time or the clarity at the moment to be able to read and research all he can about whether or not he wants to throw in with this lot, but from what he has heard, he is very sympathetic and cautiously supportive. There are others who are all on board with every thing they hear. They know what the movement is and they hope it succeeds. But they don’t want to personally get involved. Lastly, there are the ones who took the step to actually join up. That group included Scott, myself, and the Methodist chap we met on Saturday. There is one more group, but I will get to that in due course.
On the train, there was a girl sitting behind us, probably mid-twenties, with her little girl, about 4 years old. She was well dressed, and very attractively so, as if she wanted to impress someone. She was having a slight bit of trouble with her child. About half-way to Dallas, the lady asked me if she could use my phone. I hate that. I am a mild germophobe, so I don’t like people I don’t know touching the things that I put close to my head. Anyway, since once in a while I let the Holy Spirit win, I let her use my phone. After a minute, she gave it back to me, frustrated. Scott and I continued talking, and about five minutes later, she asked again to use my phone. All in all, she used my phone about 5 times during the train ride. She never seemed to get ‘hold of who she wanted. As we stepped off the train, I noticed her looking around, dragging her daughter, and I so I went up to her and asked her if she needed to use my phone again. She said yes, and so we waited for her. She once again was disappointment. It was now about 7pm and Dallas was dark. We made to leave, but my conscience would not let me leave this woman and her child alone in the middle of Dallas at night. So I asked her if someone was picking them up, and if so, would she like us to wait with her. She said yes to both, and we gathered she was waiting for some dude to come get her. We followed her all around the train station, looking for her ride, but there was no one around. I played with the little girl, whose name was Marrissa, for a good long time, and bought her some starburst to give her mom a break, while Scott went back and forth from the information counter, trying to find out train schedules for her in case she needed to go back, getting the guard to unlock the door for Marrissa and various other things.
All in all, we waited for about 3 hours. Eventually, the guard asked us who the girl was. We said we just met her on the train. Shocked, they asked us why we were trying to help her. We told her it was just the right thing to do. Then she asked us where we were staying. We told her, “in the park.” She replied, “are ya’ll here for the protest thingy?” We told her, “yep.” She then informed us that we don’t look like we belong there. We look respectable. We took it as a compliment, since neither one of us particularly wanted to look like a cliche hippy. But she was just shocked and, as a result, wanted to know more about what we were doing.
At around 10:00, the dude finally calls me on my phone and comes to get her. Homeboy walks in, must be early twenties, in a basketball jersey, looks at her and throws up his hands, like, “what?” She thanks us, and they head off. I am being judgmental, but she could do better.
We arrived at the tent camp just as things were winding down. Everyone was quite welcoming, and after a 5-block trek to the bathrooms at McDonald’s (down with corporations! Can I use your bathroom?), we began to settle in. The first thing I noticed was how hard it was to tell the difference between the actual group and the homeless folk around. Homeless folk would come up and grab food, and hang around the group at all times. It was unsettling to me, but no one ever said anything. They treated these homeless folks like anyone else. Served them, answered questions, and were even educating them on what they believed. I haven’t seen Christians in a position like that for some time. They offered us tents to sleep in, but when we went up, all of the tents were occupied, so after sitting in on a brief and spontaneous teaching session about corporate evil and non-violent activism, we unrolled our sleeping bags and nodded off under the stars. Oh! I forgot to say, the tents were in a graveyard! How cool is that? We slept outside in a graveyard!
I have to say, as the first time I have slept literally under the stars, it wasn’t bad. The only problem I had was when I was awoken at 2:30 by an argument going on. Now, my vision was hazy, but what I saw was a white, twenty-something, attractive woman with an open-back shirt accompanied by 4 Latino youths speaking in a rather “street” lingo. I’m so hip. Anyway, the boys took turns swinging on the bronze bull statues in the park (making quite a racket, and doing the one thing the police asked us nicely not to do) while the woman was arguing with two young white guys with mild facial hair. She sounded like a Ron Paul infomercial and the two guys were trying desperately to get her to leave them alone. She wouldn’t stop though, and demanded them to explain how she wasn’t right about her assertion that the economy isn’t bad because of bad laws and greed, but because there is no gold standard anymore. After she started talking about Jesus, the two young men simply walked away. Then the Latino youths and her walked away. Weird. Back to bed.
I awoke refreshed, if a little sore. And I went to explore the camp in the daylight. There was a library tent, full of various books on revolution, marxism, government greed, etc… I was impressed by the graphic novel section, which was stocked with V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, and a few others. Also, I found a few Shane Claiborne books, too. Hmmm. A Christian has been somewhere….
There was also a little tent that had the words, “Occuplay” on it. It was a tent set up for kids to play in and was attended at all times by a sort of chaperone. The need was obvious. There were little kids running around everywhere. Lots of hippy kids. Lots weren’t.
One of the tents that really impressed me was the tent that was labeled”Cancer Diabetes Cure Tent.” There was medical staff there, along with supplies to help those with cancer and diabetes. These were free services, offered by the community to those who needed it, regardless of how they could afford it. Not sure where the staff or supplies came from, but I was damn impressed.
Next to that was an art tent, where one could make their own art, protest signs, paint your body (as a few did), or pick up and use some of the art that had been created. Scott picked up a protest sign which he used the rest of the day.
The food tent was pretty large. It had a few people manning it, but anyone who wanted food could get it. They gave away whatever people wanted. There was always a place to make sandwiches and grab water, and while the coffee always took too long to brew, it was always brewing. All of the food was donated by various groups. No Churches that I know of, though.
We were informed that there was to be a march to Goldman Sachs at 1pm, so we had a while to go. I spent some time smoking my pipe while making my own protest sign (see at top of post). Afterwards, Scott and I went to the corner and held out our signs for an hour or so. It was rather hot, but we did get some attention, and lots of people taking our pictures. Almost all of the feedback I received from passersby, on foot and driving by, was positive. Lots of thumbs up and honking friendly faces. The very few negative remarks I got were telling me to get a job. I already have a job. Surely the economy won’t be helped if I get a second job and take one away from the unemployed, right? Sigh. Some people. I met a lot of really cool people, including a man in a wheelchair and long hair. i would have thought that he was homeless, but when he started speaking, I was ashamed that I had labelled him in my head, because he was clearly much more elegant a speaker and much more passionate about this than I was. One day I will learn.
Around noon, lunch was brought out by the local Hare Krishna group. They served hundreds of people for free. It was vegetarian and delicious. They gave liberally, and were all very kind. Now, I don’t know how wealthy the Hare Krishna groups are in Dallas, but surely the churches have them beat financially. But I have yet to hear about any churches stepping up to supply food of any kind or any other help or aid. Now, before you get uppity, remember what Jesus said. You don’t have to agree with these people in order to help. You might hate what they stand for and think that this movement should die a painful death. But… “love your enemies…. do good for those who curse you…” kinda has a haunting effect at the moment, doesn’t it?
At 1:00, the march was on. There was a great deal more people that showed up to march than were staying at the camp. All in all, I would say about 400 people showed up to march. I should stop here and say that the police were rock stars. Very professional, very nice. They even stopped at one point to hand out water to us as we were marching. I must admit that I though Dallas would have the most aggressive cops, but I was wrong. So far, these women and men of the DPD were as classy as hell.
Along the way, we did get a few hecklers. People mostly shouting “get a job.” I wonder if that was in a memo or something. “Make sure you use the phrase, ‘get a job’ when you yell at the protesters.” It must be coming from somewhere, because it was like a mantra for the haters. Anyway. I couldn’t help but notice that those haters didn’t stop for the woman whose tire was flat. We did, though. She had her spare installed in no time and was on her way. Made me feel good to be a part of something that generative.
A little ways into the march, I did meet another Christian. I could tell he was a Christian because of the sign he was holding up. Of course, I don’t begrudge him for putting religious things on a protest sign. I did, after all. But his wasn’t a protest sign. It was a message from God. I know this was a message from God because, as luck would have it, I was able to sit next to this man on the way home from Dallas. More on that lovely experience later. His signs read, “Jesus says: I never knew you Get away from me.” and “Condemned to die because of sin.” I tried to engage him a few times to no avail.
Once we got to Goldman Sachs, we looked pretty impressive. It was there that I met the other Christian at the rally (besides the messenger). He was a Methodist chap, and the back of his shirt read, “Separation of Church and Hate.” Well done, sir. As the rally got going, there was a bullhorn present and anyone who wanted could grab the mic and start talking. I didn’t see anyone refused, no matter how dumb they sounded. And I’ll be honest, there were some stinkers. There were many times I wanted to go up and talk, but I honestly just chickened out. I made Scott promise to shove me forward next time. There were union leaders, anarchists, teachers, organizers, and a few loose screws who got up to talk. My “favorite” was the guy who kept saying, “I don’t mean to sound racist, but…” and then immediately would say something racist, lol. My favorite moment at the rally happened behind the scenes. Scott and I were right behind the speakers and the “messenger” was holding up his Godhate sings for all to see. A gentleman next to us saw the sign and immediately looked around indignantly. He said, “Do you see that? He is some kind of religious zealot! We have to stop him. Grab his sign. He is going to ruin things!” He finally went up to one of the folks who was loosely organizing things, and again started saying, “do you see that? we have to stop him!” The organizer, wearing a sweet Guy Fawks mask, just said, “Freedom of speech, dude.” The upset man said again, “but he will spoil our message.” The reply: “Freedom of speech, dude.” Once again, the man said, we have to get that sign down. The organizer lifted the mask from his face and said, “Freedom of speech, dude.” And left the bewildered man with nothing more to say. Scott and I agreed that was hardcore.
As we walked back to the park, we shouted various phrases. “We. Are. The 99%.,” “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out,” “People’s needs, not corporate greed,” “End the war, feed the poor,” “I got Jesus, yes I do, I got Jesus how ’bout you?” Just kidding about that last one. As we marched, I realized that I left my cool jacket and my sleeping bag out in the open. I was concerned. When we got back, I was sweaty, but thankfully, there were more people who had donated very yummy flavored water to help quench our thirst. I grabbed my jacket and my bag, and said my farewells, since I had to teach at church the next morning.
As I went back to the train station alone, I had some time to think. I was very pleased that I had participated. This was not a monolithic thing. There is a reason that there are mixed messages coming out of these groups. They have no ultimate authority. They are strictly egalitarian. Everyone is equal. Therefore, they all have different opinions, and the movement doesn’t suffer for it, it is better off. The way they decide to do something is through a vote. They have “general assemblies” twice per day, and they vote. I am frustrated that there are no Christians involved for two reasons. One, it makes it seem like we don’t care about the 99%. The loudest Christian voices are coming out in support of either the status quo, or the corporations, banks, and politicians themselves. Second, if no Christians are involved, they will have no voice in this movement, for good or ill. They will be, like we are to nearly everything else these days, simply irrelevant. That is not acceptable to me.
As I got on the train, I was soon followed by the messenger, who sat next to me. I engaged him in conversation, but I was sort of thwarted by his very thick German accent. He often did not understand certain words I was saying. He explained to me that he was not a missionary, and he didn’t want to change anyone’s mind. He simply was told by God to tell people that vengeance was coming. It is really a shame, because he was really a sort of nice, humble man one-on-one. I probably could have had a great conversation with him, except that another gentleman started talking to him, too. His starting line was, have you heard of Yahweh-shua? The messenger simply couldn’t understand what the guy was trying to say. The guy said that Yahweh-shua was Jesus’ original Hebrew name. He said there was a conspiracy… blah blah blah. Finally, they both start talking about the gays and how everyone is going to hell, and they start getting on fabulously. I simply can’t ramp up the energy at this point to argue with the messenger in broken English and the Pentecostal Yahweh-shuist from the wannabe messianice Jewish congregation. So I moved.
My phone died on the way. I got off on the wrong stop going home. My brilliant wife saved the day. My daughter was glad I wasn’t arrested. She wants to come with me next time. My wife made me promise that we would train our kids in experiencing Jesus as much as social activism. I started to argue my case that they were one and the same, but I saw the look that told me to stop.
I went to bed happy. Christians, pull your head out. Now. Don’t sit on the fence any more.