Tonight, after the “Pro-Queer Life” Conference at Union Theological Seminary, I have spent the evening in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, participating in the Occupy Wall Street protest that is showing surprising staying power (since 17 September), and gaining increasing media coverage, especially after some 400 arrests today. The protest coordinators have a website here. A video of Prof. Cornel West speaking to the protestors recently is here.
Tonight, there were a few hundred people gathered to listen to an update on the day’s march and arrests, to hear from protestors from New York City and around the country, and to inspire those gathered with reminders about the purpose of the protest. What is that purpose? It seems to be a loosely focused but deeply felt sense of frustration at the way the U.S. economy is not serving human beings but instead corporations and Wall Street.
The protestors seem drawn from different ethnic-racial identifications, ages, and walks of life, though a significant number seem to be college students. Some of the speeches (of 3-5 minutes each) tonight were anticapitalist, some were more moderately reformist toward the economy, some were motivated by antiwar commitments, some were advocates for Native Americans, some were labor organizers, some were speaking up for teenagers and their concerns, but what they all shared, from what I could tell, was a commitment to a criticism of capitalist greed.
Critics will no doubt condemn this protest as unfocused, thematically and strategically. But what has been so interesting over the past couple of weeks is the way that Occupy Wall Street is making itself such a symbolic movement of dissatisfaction with what theologian Harvey Cox has called “the market as God.” People are chanting, marching, placarding, camping out, leafleting, and standing as witnesses for a different economy, one that serves the flourishing of all, especially those “losers” in the global economy, instead of exploiting and furthering the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Part carnival, part consciousness-raising, I like it that there seems to be fairly wide latitude for people to find their way into the economic focus from many different political (and I would presume religious) commitments. (No doubt some are serving as chaplains or spiritual advisors, formally or informally, for this movement, and if so, I would be interested to hear from you.)
If you're in the New York City area and sympathetic to these goals, please consider adding your body and voice to the protest. Whether or not this action is immediately politically effective, such protests can have long-term spiritual and political effects, when they embody visions of a possible future that influence the larger social imagination, and when they sculpt the desires of the protestors themselves for the better. In these ways, resistance can become symbolic action, protests become like religious ritual -- and in those ways, even more important.
UPDATE: The New York Times reports the number arrested yesterday is about 700.