November 3, 2011

I Criticize OWS because I Love it

Its been said that the truest forms of patriotism and love of country are dissent and constructive criticism. If that sentiment is true there, it applies elsewhere.

I earlier wrote a blog that went viral that suggested why Christians should consider supporting and even participating in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement that is sweeping the nation –  “10 Things Christians should know & do about the Occupy Protests.”

Point # 7 was “Critique it.” My initial criticism was providing a larger perspective and showing the limitations of the current movement and how it does little to address international injustice.

As my love for the movement has deepened, I am now moved to offer further criticism with the aim of helping the movement be as effective as possible and to endear itself into the hearts of as many of our fellow citizens as we can

My critique today is one of tactics. Gandhi said that “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  By this he meant to convey that the practices and techniques of a protest movement need to match and align with its goals and intentions.  If one seeks to bring about a reign of love and compassion into the world, one can’t use violence or oppressive means. To do otherwise would be hypocritical and counter-productive.


OWS has finally made the national radar and the daily evening news. It is flexing its muscles and is responsible for getting Bank of America to cancel its new $5 debit card fees, scare off other banks from issuing such fees, and for getting Congress to potentially look at overturning the infamous “Citizens United” ruling of the USSC which turned corporations into “persons” who can use their money to purchase our government (Sen. Udall just initiated a proposed Constitutional amendment to retake control of campaign spending).

There is a real danger, however, that public support of the OWS agendas could dwindle, and even backlash against us, if we don’t take care to have our actions match our intentions.

There have been isolated instance of protesters throwing rocks and bottles at police. Not cool.  That justifies the brutal reprisals against us. We need to police ourselves and not let our fellow protesters cross the line.  We are a nonviolent movement and we need to stay that way.

Yesterday, many of the protesters in Oakland, CA went to the Port of Oakland there and effectively shut them down. They claimed to be enacting a “general strike” to help up the ante and show that the movement has teeth  – even to the point of making an economy feel our might. The thing is, it’s only a “strike” if the people in a given industry/business are voluntary and willing participants in it. You can’t just have a group of outsiders come into an auto factory or a Walmart, shut them down, and then claim that their workers are “on strike” and joining you in your cause.

Indeed, this is a hostile take-over and the very sort of dominionist power-game crap that we’re against in this world. We can’t fight fire by playing with matches. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it,

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Finally, as much I support our right to camp-out in city parks, I think the overnight camping portion of our protesting should end for now. We needed to do that in order to gain critical mass and draw attention. But at this point, we’re causing more harm than good.

At this time of the year, it gets dark by 5:30PM and stays dark until 6AM. And besides, lawmakers, corporate leaders, and general citizens passing by leave their offices by 5PM and head to their homes. It’s not like there are many people passing by to see our signs at night, and even they’d have a hard time reading our signs even if there were, it’s dark out. We aren’t really protesting and expressing our views and swaying others at night, instead, we’re merely preaching to the choir at that time of the day.

Moreover, in spite of our efforts to keep clean and tidy, we’re causing a lot of harm to the lawns and grounds of parks. I am an Eagle Scout and was taught the importance of leaving no trace behind when camping. That can’t be done if a tent remains on the same spot for days on end. Camping out indefinitely will mean costly repairs to the grounds and premises which taxpayers will have to pay for and we’re also contributing to a waste of tax monies by the nightly police presence. Those cops and SWAT team guys don’t want to be out in the cold at night and it makes it harder to win them over to our side with things as they are.

Look, I’m not a  turn-coat or an apologist for the corporate fat cats. I’m no defender of the unjust status quo. I am however, in love with OWS and want to prevent a foreseeable backlash that could eventually take place if we don’t watch ourselves.

I don’t believe in making criticisms without offering suggestions for how to fix things, so I am hereby proposing that the YMCAs, YWCAs, youth hostels, churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques near the protests sites offer space for protesters to stay at night. I’m also urging people who have apartments, houses, or condos nearby to offer space as well. Things could be set up so that each location houses people for no more than 15-30 days at a time. And frankly, a lot of us can simply commute from our homes to the protest sites each day. Or we could simply hold our protests on just certain days each week. Sure, this would mean some inconvenience and involve some work, but it’s better than watching public support for our cause erode.

I’m open to other suggestions, but we really need to have this conversation.


Rev. Roger Wolsey, Boulder, CO


Elephant: Roger is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity and is an active participant on The Christian Left Facebook page.  The photo at the top is of Roger serving water and snacks to protesters and cops at the Occupy Denver location.

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