Protests, Protesters and Protesting

It’s pretty exciting, awesome, and at times, scary, to watch the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeping across the country.  It reminds me of being a ninth grader reading about the Civil Rights era and realizing that we were talking hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people standing up for the rights of all people.  Even though I had heard about the Civil Rights movement over the years, as a young high school freshman I thought “that is exactly where I want to be when I grow up, right on the lines of protest to bring about change.” Fast forward to my first major protest in 2002.  I had participated in a few campus demonstrations in college for workers’ rights, boycotted Gardenburgers in response to a lack of a fair wage for their workers (but to be honest, I was just playing around with vegetarianism in college anyway and would eat chicken all the time) and had written letters of protest.  But in 2002, having graduated seminary, I and a few other clergy friends made poster-board signs and went into downtown Boston to protest against the upcoming war in Iraq, as the talk was escalating in Washington about going to war, and President Bush was in town to support then-gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney.

There were over 500 of us gathered at the waterfront, protesting against the war, hoping our voice would be heard and that we would get some coverage by the media.  However, after standing, chanting, shouting for over an hour, some of the voices that began to speak up were not of peace.  Some carried signs calling for violence against the government.  Some showed pictures of the President with a noose around his neck.  Some just shouted vulgar language for the heck of it.  During these moments, we clergy turned inward and prayed in silence.  We sang “This little light of mine” and found others, including many who didn’t affiliate with a religion, joining in with us.  We had moments of being able to speak about Jesus’ way of peace and why we were protesting, but often, our voices were drowned out by the more vitriolic rhetoric of a few protestors.

I’m excited about the opportunity for Occupy Wall Street to bring about change in our country, to really speak out on behalf of the poor in the country.  I hear the saying “We are the 99%” but in reality, the ones whose voices need to be heard, the poorest of the poor—the homeless children, the disabled and sick veterans, the mothers working three jobs to make ends meet—I’m not sure their voices really are being heard in all of this.  We have to be careful that when we speak up for the poor, we really mean it.  And we have to be sure that the protestors who do act in violence, who do speak out of their anger but cross over into hatred, that those voices are not the majority, that those voices do not speak for the ways of Christ’s peace nor do they make a difference for those who are really in need.

And on top of it, we need to remember that in this economic crisis there are many more homeless, poor, and orphaned people in our world that need our voice.  The voice of Occupy Wall Street must also speak out for the war orphans of Iraq and Afghanistan where much of our money to fund the war has funded the killing of hundreds of thousands of parents.  The voice of Occupy Wall Street must speak out for the tens of thousands of dying children in the Horn of Africa from starvation because we’re cutting aid programs to save money.  The voice of Occupy Wall Street must also speak out for the children of Eastern Europe and Asia who are trafficked into this country because we can’t spend enough money or time or resources or just plain attention to the fact that our country participates in human slavery.

The voice of the movement must speak to the voice of all the lost and least if it is truly to be a voice to bring change in the world.  The voice of Jesus calls us to do no less.  And while I might live in a small town far away from city life, I must speak my voice on behalf of the poor, and I must do it with or without poster board, with or without crowds of people with me.  I must do it because to follow Jesus, I am compelled to speak out for those that are often forgotten.