Occupy Faith: the Interfaith Tent at Occupy Oakland

Hate crimes? Robbery? Violence against police? If you Google “Occupy Oakland,” you might miss another deeper story, the story of Occupy Faith, the Interfaith Tent, now metaphorical, though no less strong, that has supported and borne witness to Occupy Oakland since October 24, 2011. Nichola Torbett,Director of Seminary of the Street (“At the intersection of radical love and justice”– my favorite neighborhood!) told me about the origins and activities of the Interfaith Tent which are myriad and moving.

Interfaith Tent at night (photo by Alexandra Childs)

Occupy the Present

Meditation, counseling, nonviolence training, singing, dancing, sharing food and clothing with those who needed them, creating posters -”Remember MLK, radical nonviolence…” “Peace creates kindness creates peace.” “Occupy the Present” and “Occupy Your Own Heart with Love and Compassion” – were all Occupy Faith activities. In Ms. Torbett’s words, they came to “provide a critical spiritual presence that honored and welcomed all religious traditions and people who were non-religious.”

But it wasn’t all warmth and joy

The beating of Iraq veteran Scott Olsen was a decision point for Occupy Faith. Following that incident, they formed a Planning Group and “helped to articulate concerns such as police brutality … to city officials…”November 15: fifteen Occupy Faith members were arrested for civil disobedience against the second police raid to dismantle the encampment. November 22: an interfaith canopy was set up but the city wouldn’t issue a permit. January 4: police came in, arrested eight Faith Occupiers, and “confiscated our umbrella, banner, and altar.” Ms. Torbett recalls, “I was threatened by the police several times and was finally issued a citation for having the umbrella on the plaza [Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza] without a permit. I narrowly avoided arrest on the night of January 4, when riot police again descended on the plaza.” February 20: Occupy Faith people joined the Occupy 4 Prisoners rally, chanting, “Inside. Outside. We’re all on the same side.”

Apache prisoners Wikimedia Commons

Changed Lives

Journalists harp about narrow legislative results as if the whole Occupy movement were nothing more than a lobby, but the greatest effect of this movement, long-term and profound, may well be on the lives of participants. Here’s a moment Ms. Torbett described: “…we’re sitting in the circle, and it’s me; Hooper, who is a disabled Vietnam vet who visits every day; another guy who worked on Jean Quan’s mayoral campaign: two people who just got out of the psych ward (someone dropped off a whole load of folks, still in their armbands); a sweet guy who was meditating quietly and always seems a little stoned; a seminarian and his partner; a woman who is a homeless Vietnam vet; and another guy who is so drunk he can’t stand up, and we’re all sharing our greatest spiritual challenges that have arisen being part of this movement, and then one of the psych ward folks asks us to join hands, and even the drunk guy reaches his hand out feebly from where he is sprawled, and the guy leads us in prayer to end all wars and to protect everyone in the circle and make sure we are safe and have enough of everything, and it just makes me want to weep, it’s so weird and beautiful.” She added, “The changes we are yearning toward are so much deeper than anything that can be accomplished just by changing who is in office.”

Living Out Our Religious Convictions

Prophets02_(Kirillo-Belozersk Wikimedia

Another example, from Ms. Torbett’s Facebook blog: “at last night’s Occupied Ash Wednesday gathering, the one person present who had no substantial connection to Christianity was blown away by Isaiah 58, and at the end, said something like, “Oh my god, this is so beautiful! If your book says this about ‘raising your voice like a trumpet,’ and ‘shouting out loud about the rebellion of the people,’ and ‘feeding the hungry,’ why isn’t this plaza packed with church people?” Those of us who are Christian just looked at each other sheepishly.” Take a look at this beautifully-done YouTube of Occupy Faith at work:

Come to Berkeley March 20-22: A National Gathering of Occupy Faith Groups, Registration only $20

Berkeley GTU Wikimedia Commons

The public may be distracted by the missteps of a few protesters currently in the spotlight but Occupy Faith in Oakland is not finished by any means. Reverend Rita Nakashima Brock (founding co-director of Faith Voices for the Common Good) has sent out a call for every faith tradition that’s been involved with the Occupy movement to come to the Ecumenical Center at the Graduate Theological Union from noon Mar 20 to noon Mar 22. Ms. Brock wrote, “Anyone can attend, but we are limiting delegations to three, for purposes of providing financial support for travel and free housing in people’s homes, as well as voting if we need to do that at some point. Registration ends March 9.” (At the end of this blog is a registration form.) So far, representatives from Buddhism, Christianity, Unitarian Universalism, Judaism, Paganism, and Hinduism/Yoga have peopled the Interfaith Tent planning group in Oakland, and Muslims also participated though none are yet in the planning group.

How I’d like to go myself. I’m thinking hard about it. If you attend, please post your impressions or email me! I’d love to do a follow-up blog on the conference itself. Until then, peace, paz, Namaste, salaam, shalom, amen, and may the Force be with you.

Following is the registration form and information:

Contacts: Sandy Gess sjgess@earthlink.netor Rita Brock 510-459-5123



Hosted by the Interfaith Tent at Oakland

MARCH 20-22, 2012, 2401 Le Conte St. Berkeley CA 94709. Registration fee: $20

(Please return this completed form via email to Rev. Sandy Gess, sjgess@earthlink.net)





Phone (preferred):________________________________________________________________________________


Occupy Group/City:______________________________________________________________________________


Faith Affiliation:__________________________________________________________________________________

Housing: contact the Easton Conference Center (http://cdsp.edu/about/easton-hall-conference-center/make-reservation) across the street from the meeting site. Or reserve a hotel room at the Berkeley City Club in downtown, (http://berkeleycityclubhotel.com/hotel-rooms) one mile away on the south side of the Univ of CA campus.

Meals at the cafeteria at Pacific School of Religion

__Lunch March 20 ($10)

__Dinner March 20 ($15)

__Breakfast March 21 ($5)

__Lunch March 21($10)

__Dinner March 21 ($15)

__Breakfast March 22 ($5)

__Lunch March 22 ($10)


PLEASE FILL OUT THIS SECTION IF YOU ARE A DELEGATE: (Financial support and free housing is available to delegates who are attending the entire time of the gathering):

____I am a delegate

____I need free housing (please let us know below if you cannot use a couch or floor-mattress and will need a bed or private room)

____I need travel assistance of (est. amount)___________

(please bring receipts for travel with you to the gathering for reimbursement.)


Payment: Registration of $20 + any meals checked above (total with all meals $95)


TOTAL PAYMENT_________________

(Mail checks payable to Faith Voices, 1703 Clemens Rd. Oakland, CA 94602)


Please let us know if you have any special needs, such as accessibility or dietary restrictions:

DEADLINE: Email registration and mail check no later than March 9.


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