Mennonites join Occupy movements
Chapters of Occupy Wall Street carry specific goals for local contexts.by Anna Groff
Mennonites all over the country have joined Occupy Wall Street (OWS) through their local Occupy groups. From small cities like Lancaster, Pa., to the headquarter of the movement in New York City to faraway Albuquerque, N.M., the movements carry unique goals specific to the context and population.
Occupy Wall Street: Sandra Perez, of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, spent time in Zuccotti Park and continues to follow the movement. She says a group from her church found ways to support OWS—through standing in solidarity at the gatherings and donating money to the movement.
Julia Danner (far right) at a workshop about the BDS movement in New York City. BDS is campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel with hopes to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Photo provided.
One individual set up a charging station at Zuccotti Park to power laptops and cell phones through a self-contained solar system using a milk crate, a solar panel, a battery and an inverter.
Barbara Render, 43, of Brooklyn, N.Y., attended the interfaith service at Zuccotti Park on Nov. 20, 2011, the same day as OWS’s Intergenerational Day. She also attends Manhattan Mennonite.
“I thought the speakers were very diverse and enthusiastic about getting the 1 percent to pay their share and stop burdening the 99 percent,” she says. “I saw a good number of minorities represented. I hope that all people of different races will come out and disrupt Wall Street in any nonviolent means that it can, such as protesting.”
Matt Dean, a student at Union Theological Seminary, joined “Protest Chaplains NYC”—a group of chaplains serving the community of protesters.
He says he is committed to individuals who are “victims of violence, whether that violence be economic, police brutality or forced cultural estrangement—in the cases of the homeless and mentally ill.”
Julia Danner, 20, participated in a march on the Brooklyn Bridge last October that resulted in an unplanned arrest. Danner is the daughter of Michael Danner, pastor of Metamora (Ill.) Mennonite Church. Danner, of Stony Point, N.Y., is affiliated with Metamora Mennonite Church.
“While I would have gladly, and likely would still, choose to be arrested for the cause, at that point in time, the arrests that were made were made as a result of the NYPD’s trapping us on the bridge,” she says. She stood in handcuffs for over three hours and then was put in prison until 2:30 a.m., but charges were not pressed.
The second event Danner participated in was a disruption of an event held by Birthright Alumni, a Jewish organization that provides educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults.
Danner is Jewish and feels called to speak to her own religious community, “specifically in relation to the Palestinians who have been and continue to be victimized by the Israeli Occupation and Birthright’s role in the perpetuation of anti-Palestinian propaganda,” she says.
Occupy Chicago: Kara Bender organized an action in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2011, through her work as a community organizer with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, an organization of older adults working for social change.
On Nov. 7, 2011, more than 600 individuals joined the No Cuts march and rally in Chicago organized by Kara Bender of Reba Place Mennonite Church. Photo by SEIU worker.
Bender attends Reba Place Church in Chicago and is a member of the Reba Place Fellowship Community.
The action, which Occupy Chicago joined, called on public officials not to cut funding to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Protesters also intended to bring awareness that funding cuts would disproportionately affect low-income women and seniors of color, Bender says.
The action included a 600-person rally and short march to downtown Chicago, where they met up with 48 others who participated in civil disobedience by stopping traffic. Twenty members from Reba Place Church attended, and six, including Bender, were arrested and ticketed but not jailed.
Leading up to the action and arrest, Bender led civil disobedience trainings and informational sessions at Reba Place Church, part of a six-week series on peace work.
Tim Nafziger and Charletta Erb of Living Water Community Church have also been involved. Nafziger has helped start up Occupy Rogers Park, which had plans to meet at Living Water on Dec. 17, 2011, as the church hosted the other Occupy groups from the Chicago area.
Occupy Pittsburgh: Inspired by a Sunday school class on discipleship, Marilyn Bender wondered if anyone involved in Occupy Pittsburgh identified with Jesus’ teachings on possessions, greed and generosity. She decided she would go downtown to hear the thoughts of those gathered at the camp.
On Nov. 20, 2011, Scott Hoffman and Phoebe Sharp, also of Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, joined her and brought sub sandwiches to share. The man that led them around the camp was a Christian.
He told them “there were many different faiths represented in the camp and they try to be respectful and learn from each other,” Bender says.
Around 50 individuals were gathered at the camp, and a number are veterans. The veterans shared their feelings of frustration at the “illegal wars” and the economy, Sharp says.
“I was struck by the visual juxtaposition: the tents of the camp are literally dwarfed by the tall buildings, such as U.S. Steel Tower and the UPMC building,” Sharp says.
However, the guide said that some of the responses from downtown workers have been positive. In fact, a few workers from the banks and other businesses have joined the protesters for lunch.
Occupy Lancaster: Nick Martin, 22, says Occupy Lancaster’s main goals include encouraging individuals to support small businesses and shop locally for the holidays.
“We don’t have a huge movement of thousands of people that will turn out for rallies, so we have to find ways to encourage people to act in ways that reflect the movement at large,” he says.
Martin organizes Occupy Lancaster (Pa.) events and leads the media and publicity work for the movement. Martin’s church, Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, has opened its space for several Occupy events, including general assemblies, town hall meetings, trainings, a press conference and more. (A general assembly functions as the governing body of OWS.)
Martin says he feels supported from Mennonites and other faith groups in Lancaster and thinks that is something special. “In a lot of places people are afraid to ask Christians to come out and support an event,” he says.
However, some individuals feel challenged in knowing how to get involved. Even if someone does not attend a general assembly or a rally, they still may donate food for the camp or offer their space for an event or forward an e-mail, he says.
Occupy Albuquerque: Andy Gingerich, 28, says the movement in Albuquerque, N.M., works to address issues unique to New Mexico. For example, the movement is now referred to as “(Un)occupy Albuquerque” due to the reactions from a number of New Mexico’s indigenous individuals who said the term “occupy” carries negative connotations, as their communities were occupied by the U.S. government for many years.
Gingerich, along with several other members of Albuquerque Mennonite Church, participated in some of the movement’s events. Some individuals marched in the city’s Day of the Dead event to connect with Hispanic families. Others rode the city buses to hear concerns from poor and underemployed individuals. Home foreclosures offer a pressing issue in Albuquerque, as many foreclosures occur in the lower income areas of the city, he says.
While the action and events slowed down this past month, a group continues to meet regularly and stay connected online.
“[OWS] is action-oriented, where you go out and demonstrate, … but more than that it involves organizing,” he says. “It is people that are just finding a new way to connect with each other. There is a lot of power in getting together and naming the problem.”
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