How did you spend your Thanksgiving? If you are like most Americans you spent it with family and/or friends, eating a special (turkey) dinner, watching football (or sitting around socializing while a football game played in the background). Maybe you even remembered to express thanks for the blessings of family, friends, food and shelter. But for many Americans, Thanksgiving was a day like any other — not enough to eat, minimal (if any) shelter, struggling just to survive.
Some Americans spent this Thanksgiving 2011 standing on a sidewalk waving a sign in protest of the breakdown in America's economic/political system — a breakdown that has significantly increased the number of Americans (especially children) who are hungry and homeless.
Here in Spokane, a group of faithful Occupy Spokane protestors spent some (or all) of their Thanksgiving at Franklin Park, alternating between shivering in the cold as they held their signs, and sharing food and friendship in the warming tent/kitchen. Others may have spent time holding signs and waving at passersby at 'the triangle' at Monroe and Riverside. (I don't know for sure, as I did not get there.)
I confess that I did not spend my Thanksgiving at either location. I spent the day cleaning house, because for the last month I've been so busy working with Occupy Spokane and my churches that I have not had time to clean even the bathroom sink. (Let alone the rest of the bathroom. LOL!) Unfortunately, my decision that I needed to take the day off and do self-care means that I was not at Franklin Park Thanksgiving night to offer a voice of calm or reason when tired, frustrated people lost tempers and failed to treat one another with the respect that is necessary to the future of Occupy Spokane. When the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement first came to Spokane, a group of clergy and lay leaders had the temerity to gather and call ourselves “Spokane Protest Chaplains“.
We said we would walk with Occupy Spokane and offer our skills in support of the movement. But the reality is, we've not been there when the Occupy Spokane participants have really needed us. Yes, we held prayer vigils at Senator Patty Murray's office, and wrote her a letter about her work on the Super committee. And some of us have participated in some of the Saturday Occupy Spokane marches. But we have not recruited enough people, or made the time ourselves to meet the needs. As a result, Occupy Spokane is using far too much energy on damage control and doesn't have enough left to be truly effective. Our prayer vigils were witnessed by very few people, and don't seem to have had much influence on Senator Murray.
But the OWS movement has the potential to change the world. And it needs our help. It's easy to say that it's not the faith community's problem. We didn't start this movement, we didn't design it. If it turns out to be fatally flawed they have no one to blame but themselves. The fact that we did not start this movement is not an excuse for failing to support it, but a sin for which we should be confessing.
For 40 years the prophetic voice of the mainline churches has largely been silenced. And now a movement started largely by young students, recent graduates, poor, and even homeless people has taken root in America. The prophetic words that should have been spoken by the faith community are being Spokane by OWS. But those whose passion and vision have started this movement (here in Spokane as well as elsewhere) are often inexperienced in organizing or effective protest. In contrast, many of us in the mainline churches have the skills that the movement needs. And we need to offer them freely in support of this prophetic message. We can facilitate meetings, mediate disagreements, lower tensions, offer soul space in the midst of occupy space. We can organize our churches to provide hot meals, and hot beverages to protestors. We can show up in large numbers on Saturdays to express our commitment to justice for the poor, not just for the rich; for fair legal process; for an economic system that does not privilege multi-national corporations over the welfare of the American people. The main activities of our churches — Sunday morning worship and weekly Bible studies — will never transform the world.
They may nurture us for the work of transformation, but it is only when we leave our buildings and work for the values of Christ's Kindom that we are truly being the Body of Christ. The OWS movement is ALL about those values. Others have started the movement, but it is imperative that we in the church find ways to support it. We must not miss this opportunity to become relevant to the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. For mainline churches in America it may be our last chance.
Rev. Deb Conklin’s wheels are always turning. How can the church make the world a better place? How can it make Spokane better? Her passions are many, including social justice in the mainline tradition, emergence and the post-modern and missional church.