Occupation 2.0: Occupy Wall Street Challenges Neighboring Church, and Capitalism

A fence surrounds the vacant lot near Duarte Square, just next to the Holland Tunnel in downtown New York City, the signs fixed to it prohibiting trespassers from entering its confines. Inside the fence, though, there is nothing but a dirt lot. Nothing but a dirt lot has sat there for years, and nothing will sit there for at least a year more. Then, according to Trinity, the real estate corporation that owns the lot, a luxury skyscraper will go up. The third largest real estate owner in the city, Trinity isn’t even nearly through the zoning obstacles it needs to overcome before construction can begin. In the meantime, no one is allowed to use the lot, which Trinity insists on keeping vacant.

The problem is that Trinity is also an Episcopal church, its flagship building – the church itself – gracing Broadway just at the lip of Wall Street. And as a church, it is expected by people of faith to serve as a charitable organization. So when Occupy Wall Street became homeless, a sensible route for Trinity to take might have been to offer the lot for temporary use, at least until the weather gets warm again. Not only did Trinity not offer the space, it flatly denied the occupation’s request and remained recalcitrant throughout negotiations, even as protesters began hunger strikes, even as local clergy united in pleading with Trinity to relent, even as Bishop George Packard, Chief Chaplin of the Episcopal Church, joined the suit.

Nature abhors a vacuum, though, and all things vacant tempt those who occupy, and so Packard, the clergy, the hunger strikers and the rest of Occupy Wall Street decided to ignore the signs on the fence and scale the steel wire. One year after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight (after the devastating confiscation of the vegetable cart he was not permitted to sell from), on the birthday of Bradley Manning (whose alleged whistle-blowing was so un-permitted that the man was made to suffer months of torture before even being charged), Occupation 2.0 began.

And ended. Trinity called the cops who, clad in riot gear despite the complete lack of threat of a riot, shoved and tossed peaceable protesters out of their way in pursuit of the lot’s occupiers. There, they arrested the clergy, the hunger strikers, the occupiers and all, including Packard. What a sight to behold: a real estate corporation/Episcopal church, sending what the 12th richest man in America calls his “army” in to bust the church’s Chief Chaplin.

The afternoon was full. People’s Puppets performed a version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol featuring Mayor Bloomberg as Ebenezer Scrooge. The People’s Library was wheeled out of storage and set up in the square adjacent to the lot. Speakers, laptops and radios amplified WBAI’s broadcast from every direction. And then the march began, two large wooden stepladders concealed by the bodies carrying them, and the bodies offering the carriers cover, and the third layer of bodies concealing the inner two, body after body preventing the police from glimpsing what was to come. Once back at the lot, the ladders went up, and Packard, dressed in purple priest’s robes, a cross dangling from his neck, led the way over.

The sun set, and the evening got cold. Their comrades thrust into police vans, the occupiers gathered in Duarte Square, next to a statue of anti-imperialist social democrat Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic. And they began to chant: “A- Anti- Anti-kapitalista! A- Anti- Anti-kapitalista! A- Anti- Anti-kapitalista! A- Anti- Anti-kapitalista!”

There are adherents to the theories of Bakunin and Marx and Fourier and Luxembourg at Occupy Wall Street, but these modern political ideologies are not required for anti-capitalism. After all, it was an ancient Nazarene carpenter who enjoined the masses that “It is easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”