Thursday, December 15, 2011

The End of Occupy Boston... Or Is It?

I know this post is really late, but from the time I heard last Wednesday that the judge had lifted the restraining order against evicting the Occupy Boston encampment, I knew I needed to wait. Good things come to those who wait, because I can now report to you the things I witnessed at Occupy Boston last week. Since the eviction of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston has been the longest-running Occupy Together protest in the nation.

Following the lifting of the restraining order, Mayor Menino notified the OB community last Thursday morning that their deadline to leave would be midnight on Friday morning. Expecting a police raid at midnight, OB called an emergency General Assembly at 7 PM on Thursday to discuss their plan for how to defend the camp and learn more about non-violent resistance (e.g., what to do when pepper-sprayed, how not to appear to be resisting arrest, ect.). Realizing that it may be some folks' last hot meal before being carted off to jail, I decided to bake an apple pie and bring it down to Dewey Square. Get it? Occu-pie? Har.

Anyway, it's my mother's secret recipe which I made from scratch, so by the time I brought it downtown, it was about 9:30 PM. The General Assembly was still going and people were still hungry. They devoured my pie in a matter of minutes, and I prayed that my small act of mercy of giving warm pie "to the least of these" was giving pie to Christ as well. The GA decided not to pass anything, which really disappointed me, and then they started the non-violence training. The Protest Chaplains/ clergy gathered at the time decided to have their own meeting to decide what to do. Expecting violence on the part of police, they decided to stand in between the police and the OB participants and ask the police, "In the name of God, will you put down your weapon? Please will you consider not arresting these people?" They knew the police might not listen and decided to bless the police as they passed by, and they decided they would say a benediction for the whole camp after the police began arrests. As this plan was being made, a woman from Channel 5 News came to take a statement from the Protest Chaplains. They said, "We are the Protest Chaplains and we have been shepherding and encouraging all along." Now I know how to give statements to the press! Even though the chaplains had a designated area for those who were not able to be arrested that night (myself included), I decided this plan was not a good one for avoiding arrest, due to standing in the way of police, and went home to prepare for work on Friday.

 Somebody rigged up a projector and trained it on the building behind the GA meeting area. 
Photo from OB Facebook page.

When I returned home and turned on the TV coverage, I found that the police were not making arrests. Instead of linking arms at the core of the encampment, people streamed into Atlantic Avenue and had a massive dance party! Folks on the ground estimated about 2,000 people were there that night. I could hear the makeshift band in the background playing- a tuba, trombone, and bass drum. The party dissipated at 2 AM and the camp remained on Friday.

On Saturday morning, I awoke to the news on Facebook: OB had been raided at 5 AM, a few hours earlier. According to eyewitness accounts, there was a spirit of joviality, laughing, and wisecracking in the camp that morning. The policemen who had patrolled the area regularly addressed the protesters by name when arresting them, and the protesters greeted the Chief of Police on a first name basis. The Boston Globe reported that this was the most peaceful police raid on any Occupy camp. But not all was well that morning. One of the Protest Chaplains reported on FB that those who were not arrested included the homeless (re-named "houseless" by OB participants) people who had been taken in by the the tent owners. She said that they were wandering around the empty square and crying, telling her, "What am I going to do now?" An account on the OB main FB page said they were even crying as they watched the police arrest those who linked arms and sat in the center of the camp. I tried to imagine what it must be like to be taken in by new friends, and accepted despite the problems developed while living on the street, only to have my new home and new friends suddenly taken away. Devastating. Their loss and despair must be profound.

As I reflect on this movement that has given hope and voice to so many, I rejoice at the peaceful dissolution of the camp but grieve for my "houseless" neighbors who are now tentless also. It's back to the shelters for them, and the shelters can be rough places to be. Last week in church, we read that "every valley shall be exalted, and the rough places made plain." Who will make these rough places plain for the houseless among us? Especially now that Occupy Boston the encampment is gone?

But OB continues in a less permanent physical form. Certainly it still exists online, and the working groups (such as the Faith and Spirituality Group, which includes the Protest Chaplains) are still working. General Assemblies take place on the Boston Common now, or in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, an Episcopal cathedral across from the Common. Occupy Boston has not ceased to exist, and its voice for economic justice will continue to be heard locally and around the world.

And what does this have to do with God? Well, the Bible tells us clearly that when people are oppressed and treated with injustice, this angers God. Isaiah 10:1-4 says:
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans  your prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come...? To who will you flee for help...? For all this [God's] anger has not turned away.
Amos 8:4, 9-10 says,
Hear this you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land... I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.
Micah 2:1-3 is very relevant to those bankers who profit from selling mortgages on houses that have now been foreclosed:
Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. Therefor thus says the Lord: Now, I am devising against [you] an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time.
Clearly, God is concerned for the poor, those who have lost their homes, and those ensnared in the usury of mortgage and credit card debt. To watch the rich people of our country do this to the rest of us makes God angry. The Occupy Boston participants, while they did not all agree on political philosophy and social issues, stood on Atlantic Avenue and decried foreclosures, usury, greed, inequality, and oppression. Every day, they did something to tell the world, "Hey, this isn't right! We need to make things right!"

Even if protesters are not all Christians, the Occupy Together movement is doing something very Christian: it is calling our nation to repentance for the sins named in Amos, Isaiah, and Micah.. As Christians, we ought to cheer them on, and— dare I say it?— join them in protest. While the Occupy Boston encampment is gone, OB is continuing to help bring about God's Kingdom of peace and justice in the world today. And we can too. 

I hope and pray that one day, through our efforts and the efforts of our children, all people will have homes, fairness can be restored in our lending practices, and no one will have to use food stamps or go hungry. God, give us the strength and wisdom to make it so. Amen and amen.


  1. Just for posterity, a large number of the people arrested on Saturday @ 5am - who would voluntarily arrested, have been charged with both resisting arrest and criminal trespassing.

  2. What? You've got to be kidding me! Not one of the accounts I read on any blog, newspaper, or FB indicated to me that anyone was resisting arrest. And what determines "trespassing" vs. "criminal trespassing?" Sigh. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...