Why I'm Joining the Occupation
The term "occupy" is winning me over because it puts an ironic spin on one of our most questionable national habits—occupying other nations: occupying Iraq, occupying Afghanistan, supporting Israel in occupying Palestine. Like kingdom of God, it turns that familiar language on its head.
The term "occupy" is also winning me over because it's about presence, making our presence known and felt in public spaces. These public spaces—from economic markets to political processes—have been colonized by powerful corporate elites (the 1 percent, or maybe the 10 percent), elites driven not by an ethical vision but by the relentless demand to maximize shareholder return. The 99 percent are realizing how destructive this colonization of public spaces has become, and by simply coming back—by re-inhabiting public spaces—we are demonstrating that we see what's happening and we are not going to tacitly comply with its continuing.
After our local occupation last Saturday, a smaller group of us stayed around to hold an informal planning meeting. It was a good process . . . and reminded me of how different grassroots democracy looks when compared to public politics. Demonizing and vilifying the person you're sitting next to—it won't play. Neither will dominating and filibustering or attempting a "live" impromptu version of political attack ads. Learning to differ firmly and graciously, acknowledging the concerns of an alternate viewpoint, searching for common ground, asking for clarification rather than assuming the worst possible interpretation, agreeing to seek greater understanding through honest private conversation after the public gathering . . . these are among the skills and virtues needed to make grassroots democracy work. They are seldom demonstrated or even valued among our political elites. Could that tell us something about why the Occupy movement is needed?
Nobody knows how the movement will play out. Lots of folks will wait on the sidelines and maybe dip their toes in later on. But I'm in, and I would encourage others to join the occupation. I'd especially encourage Christian leaders to do so . . . not as a representative of your church or denomination, but as a human being . . . not to co-opt or control, but to contribute and to learn. As someone who's had a lot of control (more than I realized) for a lot of years, I'm finding it a wonderful gift to simply be a participant, one voice among many, learning and listening and learning some more.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.