Occupying a religious space on Wall Street

Shortly after the Day of Rage that kicked off the Occupy Wall Street movement, I complained about the lack of coverage in general and the lack of religion coverage in particular. (See: “Prayer, song, meditation and ‘rage’“)

Well, clearly times have changed and the media are now very interested in covering the Occupy Wall Street movement. Pew reports that Occupy Wall Street protests accounted for seven percent of the news last week, up from two percent the week before.

Now, I’ve struggled a bit to understand what the Occupy Wall Street folks want. This sympathizer, writing at Forbes, says it’s universal health care and universal higher education. A sympathetic friend told me it’s not about goals but consensus and that those of us seeking answers have to be patient. Skeptics say it’s confused or about handouts.

But how is the coverage of this movement, and it’s religious aspects, being handled? Much better than it was a few weeks ago.

I wanted to highlight this Religion News Service piece that ran in the Washington Post. It’s about the group that I was curious about weeks ago — the Protest Chaplains — and it does a nice job of presenting them and their religious views (and a less good job of explaining their economic and political views):

As waves of demonstrators descended on New York City to protest corporate greed, they were met by typical sounds of raucous youth-led protests: drum beats, police sirens and shouted political slogans.

They didn’t expect to hear hymns.

Yet protestors rounding the corner of Zuccotti Park encountered dozens of white-robed worshipers singing spirituals and blessing the demonstrators while holding signs reading “Blessed are the poor” and brandishing handmade Christian crosses. …

The Protest Chaplains, a loose group of mostly Christian students, seminarians and laypeople organized though Facebook, expressed support for the movement the best they knew how: through their faith.

“In a group that had a lot of bandanas and black hoodies, we stood out,” said Marisa Egerstrom, an organizer of the group and doctoral student at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts Sciences. “But people kept coming up to us and saying, ‘You know, you are the first Christians I’ve seen at a protest … on our side.’”

We learn about the role clergy are playing in Washington, D.C., with a pastor explaining how he brought peanut butter to the protesters and was surprised to be asked to hold a worship service. New York’s protest included an interfaith clergy contingent, too. And it mentions something from Boston, too:

Ryan Adams, a student at Harvard Divinity School and lead organizer of several Jewish services at Occupy Boston, echoed Friedlander’s spiritual call.

“I think it’s very important for me, as a Jewish person, to be out here supporting this. Your identity as a protester and your identity as a Jew shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Adams said after a Yom Kippur service.

Just a nice overview of this part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman has a roundup of the spiritual side to the protests. The eminently quotable Marisa Egerstrom writes an essay for CNN’s belief section on her role with the Protest Chaplains. Huffington Post included an essay about the making of the Golden Calf/Bull pictured above.

One reader pointed out that a Washington Post slideshow had a rather limp caption for a

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators gather before a march to join teachers’ unions near Wall Street in New York.

As he wrote “But the picture clearly shows them engaged in some kind of religious activity.” And it’s true. The image shows people gathered around in a meditative posture. I would love to know more about what they were specifically doing.

Still, it’s nice to see that the coverage has improved and that stories and images from the protests are coming through.

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  • Jerry

    Thanks for the tour de force on the religious and spiritual side of the Occupy protests.

    I noticed one topic that deserved some more investigation. The golden calf was entitled The Golden Calf of Greed. I don’t think this area has been sufficiently explored in the media, but that title leads me to believe that the root of the protests is, to some degree, a protest against one of the seven deadly sins, greed, and the problems that greed causes for people.

    Yes, as in every group there are mixed motives, but, if I’m right, then the media focusing on what policies and programs people want is missing the existential point of many in the movement: that greed is out of control today and that greed is destroying the social fabric of this nation.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    But people kept coming up to us and saying, ‘You know, you are the first Christians I’ve seen at a protest … on our side.

    HOW THE BELGIUM DO THEY KNOW? Do the inhabitants of wherever these unspecified “people” come from have their religion written on their foreheads? Do they perhaps, think the Berrigans et al are not “Christians”?

    They might ask the nearest Sikh how good the great American public is at telling people’s religion by looking at them.

  • dalea

    On Monday, two days ago, OccupyLA featured Marianne Williamson who lead a meditation. The story and reaction from the occupiers is here:


    Is she a recognizably religious figure?

  • Jerry

    Someone pointed me in the direction of a Jewish Yom Kippur service that was conducted as part of OWS:

    Yom Kippur Service Taking Place At Occupy Wall Street


  • Dave

    I am chagrined at the lack of any reported Unitarian Universalist presence at OWS. New York City has enough UU churches to comprise an entire UUA District all by itself (out of some 15-20 nationwide). Ah, well, perhaps the UUs looked too normal to be taken for religous people…

  • http://protestchaplainsnyc.blogspot.com John Allen

    Please also look into the work of Protest Chaplains – NYC. We have close to 40 chaplains now working within the movement close to 24/7, providing a ministry of listening, prayer and presence to the occupiers. Facebook: Protest Chaplains – NYC Twitter: @ProtChaplainNYC