The big interfaith tent at Occupy
Oakland: Faithfully engaging the 99% A local pastor's teflections from the Oakland encampment
Fourteen members of the Interfaith Tent @ Oakland locked arms
in front of the Tent and were arrested early Monday morning as the police
raided the encampment. It is not
surprising that our words and actions have been reduced to a few sound bites
and fleeting images by the mainstream media, but there is a deeper, better
story to be told.
Our Interfaith Tent is a big tent – spatially and
spiritually. The tent has been a sacred
space of solace at the encampment, but it has also provided a sacred canopy for
an interfaith coalition of Indigenous Elders, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims
and Jews in solidarity with the Occupy Movement, locally and globally.
As someone who pastors a local church less than four miles
from the Oakland encampment, I am keenly aware of how critical it is that we
challenge the people in our faith communities to engage in soul searching
dialogues that force us not only to read between the lines and listen beyond
the partisan sound bites but also to grapple face to face with what it means to be the 99% in all its complexity and diversity.
So right after our worship service on Sunday morning, just hours before
the raid on the Oakland encampment, twenty five of us gathered around the board
room table at First Congregational UCC in Alameda, Calif., including
two people who would later be arrested.
"We are the
99%!" It is one thing to chant this
statement in a large crowd; it is another thing to embody this truth face to face. At our table we had people who have slept
overnight at the Oakland encampment, some who have participated in the Occupy
Oakland General Assembly and the General Strike, and some who got arrested last
night. At our table were an economist who works for the Federal Reserve in San
Francisco, a City of Oakland employee who works with at-risk youth, a senior
citizen who lives in downtown Oakland, and several people who work in downtown
Oakland or in San Francisco's financial district, including one person who had
the courage to admit that he works for a financial institution that represents
the high end of the 1%.
I wanted to create a safe space for all to share their
concerns, struggles, questions and hopes.
The conversation was messy and raw, deep and unsettling. There were many truths spoken and many loose
ends that could not be neatly tied together.
People listened respectfully to one another and did not try to censor
opposing points of view.
Our diverse congregation is like many, which why I believe it
is imperative for faith leaders to bring folks together to air our disparate
views and wrestle with our own personal culpability and acquiesce to an
economic and political system that benefits the few and burdens the many.
Whatever our economic bracket, we each have a stake in the
Occupy Movement. The success or failure
of the Occupy movement to enact real and lasting change will depend on whether
or not we can harness the power of that connective spirit that binds us as
human beings, despite our culturally engrained and often religiously-sanctioned
One sure sign that people of faith are called to create a
sacred space is that after the police raid on the Oakland encampment, the only
tent left standing eight hours later was the Interfaith Tent. Although the physical tent was eventually
taken down, the Interfaith Tent is much more than a physical space. It is the presence and spirit of an interfaith community bound together and in solidarity with Occupy/Decolonize Oakland. No
police force can tear it down.
The Rev. Laura Rose is Senior Pastor of First Congregational UCC in Alameda, Calif., and a participant in the Interfaith
Tent presence at Occupy/Decolonize Oakland.