Opinion: Faithfully engaging the 99%

Opinion: Faithfully engaging the 99%

November 16, 2011
Written by Gregg Brekke

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 self-interests.

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. 

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