The Spirituality of Occupy

alter at occupy

Votive candles line an altar to the death of capitalism at Occupy Oakland on November 2, 2011. Activist imagination drives the movement's dissident spirituality. Credit: Alana Yu-Lan Price.

“In the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, we decided to be a nonreligious movement,” said the middle-aged man to my left. “So, if we’re going to debate nonviolence as a tactic, fine, but not as a religious ideology.”

This statement continued to trouble me for the remaining two hours of Occupy Seattle’s General Assembly. I had been serving as a chaplain in the movement and was the subject of a media stir in December 2011 after the Seattle Police brutally beat me and threw me in jail during an Occupy action. At the time of the beating, I was clad in clergy attire and crying out for peace.

I had come to the General Assembly to listen and participate in a discussion and vote on the place of nonviolence in Occupy Seattle but found myself disoriented by my neighbor’s assertion that “religious” values had no place in the movement’s dialogue. I felt muted by the insinuation that my spirituality, which is at the core of my identity, was unwelcome.

Since that General Assembly, I have come to believe that while some veteran spiritual activists are able to ignore the presence of an underlying religiophobia (an ingrained distrust of religious people/language/symbols) often present at Occupy events, there are many less-hardened spiritual and religious folks who are hesitant to join the movement because of it. The movement’s dominant rhetoric is currently devoid of the language that most powerfully motivates us, and its tone is hostile to spiritual people.

However, we cannot blame the Occupy movement for this detrimental predicament. Rather, it is the responsibility of spiritual leaders to bridge these divides by illuminating the spiritual dimensions that we see in Occupy. We must inspire current Occupiers to rethink their assumptions about the relevance of spirituality to the movement and simultaneously inspire greater participation among our own. As one voice in what I hope will be a growing chorus of spiritual leaders, I would like to name one of the profound spiritual impulses that runs deep within the Occupy movement: imagination.

Occupy meditation

Occupy Wall Street protesters meditate in Zuccotti Park on October 16, 2011. Creative Commons/David Shankbone.

The spirituality of the Occupy movement is not one that references God, the Divine, or even the numinous, but instead is found in the imaginative transcendence of the consumerist, individualistic, hierarchical constructions of the self and society that we in America are spoon-fed from birth. ...

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Reverend John Helmiere is the founder and convening minister of Valley & Mountain, a radically inclusive faith community in south Seattle. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, he is ordained by the United Methodist Church.

Source Citation

Helmiere, John. 2012. "The Spirituality of Occupy." Tikkun 27(2): 22.

tags: Activism, Rethinking Religion, Spiritual Politics   
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