"Why We OccUUpy" (text of my Message/Sermon from the 11/27/11 Social Justice Committee Led Worship Service of the same name)

So.  What does Occupy stand for?  What are their demands?  What are they trying to accomplish?  That seems to be all you hear the media say about the Occupy movement and it kind of makes you wonder if the media has been collectively living under a rock.  The signs at the protests are clear as day.  The declarations adopted by the General Assemblies of many of the Occupy encampments are very explicit.  Wall Street, with help from Washington politicians they’ve paid good money for, are hijacking our economy and our country and taking it on a hundred and thirty mile-per-hour joyride with all of us riding unwillingly in the passenger seat.

This is why we Occupy!

This is a chart posted on a website called Mother Jones.  The title of the chart is “The Final Four Financial Institutions.”  As you can see, up until about 1996 there were dozens of financial institutions.  Then that list begins to shrink.  Citigroup swallows up all those beige ones at the top.  In that blue area, Washington Mutual and JP Morgan start swallowing up a whole bunch of banks and then JP Morgan Chase consumes Washington Mutual.  My mom knows all about this part at the bottom.  She worked at First Union when they were absorbed by Wachovia and then lost her job right before Wells Fargo took over Wachovia.  Then there’s this BIG grey area where the bank formerly known as BankAmerica devoured 12 other institutions to become the gargantuan Bank of America they are today.

This is why we Occupy!


This chart represents the average economic growth of the different classes over two distinctly different periods of time.  The five yellow bars on the right represent economic growth among the different classes from 1947-1979.  From left to right, that’s the bottom 20%, second 20%, middle 20%, fourth 20%, and the top 20%.  Notice how everyone grew together until 1979.  Then, something happens on the right side of the graph.  1980 rolls around and a guy named Ronald Reagan is elected.  Now look at the distribution of economic growth.  Those first five green bars are the same as the yellow bars going from the bottom 20% to the top 20%.  That big red crazy bar at the very end?  That’s the top 1%.

This is why we Occupy!

https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/315844_10100192652559708_18703830_46676797_435910620_n.jpgThis is Lincoln Statler from the UU congregation in Tuscon.  I met him at the UU General Assembly this year in Charlotte.  General Assembly, for those who don’t know, is the Unitarian Universalist Association’s yearly meeting of all the congregations around the world to connect, attend workshops, share ideas, worship together, and ultimately, vote on important decisions that relate to the Unitarian Universalist Association.  One of my favorite memories of my GA experience this year was sitting at a pizza place across from the convention center with Lincoln and several other fellow UU young adults and conversing over a few beers.

When Lincoln first heard about the protesters occupying Wall Street, he immediately posted on facebook trying to get people to carpool with him to New York so he could be part of this magnificent uprising for which so many of us had been waiting so long.  He was far from the only UU to be moved by the Occupy movement.  UUs from all over the country and, indeed, all over the world have been flocking to support the occupiers in their respective cities.  Many UU ministers have even been spending time at some of the occupation sites, providing pastoral care and even some holding interfaith vespers services.  

But I was never more proud of the leaders of my faith than I was when they publicly came out in support of the Occupy movement.  First, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee released a statement in support of the movement with the headline: “Occupy Wall Street Is Economic Justice.”  Then they began circulating a petition urging UUs around the globe to join them in supporting the movement.  And finally, Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, released a statement articulating his support for Occupy.  Here’s some of what he had to say:

"Unitarian Universalism embodies a long tradition of working for economic justice and workers' rights. Today is another opportunity for us to live our faith, and the Occupy protests are a first step on the road to repairing our country.

"I reach out to Unitarian Universalists everywhere to consider how you might be of service to any among us who are struggling to provide for their families, those who have been cheated and abused by financial institutions, and all those whose backs ache under a burden of debt, unemployment, and fading hope. Let the world see the power of our faith in action.”

This congregation’s Social Justice Committee has taken this charge seriously.  Two months ago, we agreed to make economic justice the focus of our work for the current church year and we will be specifically focusing on three pillars to support the goal of economic justice: workers’ rights, immigrant justice, and education.  As part of that agenda, we’ve actually been collecting donations of needed items for the Occupy Miami camp (also known as “Peace City”) and several of our members, myself included, have been very directly involved with the movement in a variety of ways.

However, when I speak of the parallels between Occupy and Unitarian Universalism, the conversation doesn’t start and end with social justice.  Occupy is, as much as anything else, a movement of compassion.  We are tired of an economy that treats many of us as second class citizens.  We are tired of seeing people go hungry and homeless in one of the richest nations in the world.  We are tired of a world where people don’t care for one another and have no sense of community.  Beloved community, too, is as much at the heart of Occupy as it is at the heart of Unitarian Universalism.

One of our faith’s most cherished documents is what we call our “Seven Principles.”  You can find them on the back of your Order of Service followed by the six sources of faith.  The second principle speaks of “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”  That’s certainly as much a founding principle of Occupy as Unitarian Universalism.  The seventh principle speaks of “respect for the interconnected web of existence of which we all are a part.”  Living together as one human race.  Recognizing that we ARE all one.  Living together in beloved community and taking care of everyone because we can and because they are all truly our siblings.  Our sixth principle speaks to “the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.”  It’s nice when something comes along to remind you what that looks like and if you pay attention, the Occupy movement will do just that.

Finally, our first principle invokes “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  What more fundamental principle could there be?  What is Occupy fighting for if not that?  Every person has value; middle class and lower class workers and immigrants and the unemployed deserve the same rights as millionaires and billionaires and until that is what they receive, we will continue to Occupy.  As they say, none of us is free if one of us is chained.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Occupy movement is that it is a movement driven by young people.  Certainly there are people of all ages, but there is definitely a distinctly youthful energy driving these protests that marks one more step in my generation’s journey toward our ultimate seizure of power from the old guard.  It’s the same energy I felt emanating out of the UU Young Adults at this year’s General Assembly and which I took home with me and have been doing my best to infect the congregation with ever since.  It’s the same energy I hope will propel even more of us to attend next year’s special Justice General Assembly in Phoenix in order to put our faith into action and truly Stand On the Side of Love.

Standing On the Side of Love--while we’re on the subject--is the Unitarian Universalist Association’s most successful social justice campaign and the ultimate embodiment of our first principle in action.  They advocate for immigrant justice, workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, and so much more.  If you want to find out more about them, the website is on my shirt!

Now, it’s no secret that Occupy does not support ANY politicians, Democrat or Republican, however I hope they can forgive me for invoking these words spoken by President Barack Obama: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”  There is no greater truth embedded in the very fabric of the Occupy movement than this.  “We ARE the ones we have been waiting for.”  And now we don’t have to wait any longer.

The world is changing.  We ARE unstoppable.  Another world IS possible.  A world where we all live in beloved community.  A world where we respect the interdependent web of existence by loving and caring for each other.  A world where we’re in this together, where labor has as much value as entrepreneurship, and where everybody has enough and nobody goes without.  Why do we Occupy?  Because we know--not believe, know--that this world is possible.  

I’ll leave you with the poignant words of author Kate Danley:

“What They did not want you to ever find out is that your generation, the generation born between 1980-1995, actually outnumbers the Baby Boomers. They knew that if you ever turned your eye towards political reform, you could change the world.

They tried to keep you sated on vapid television shows and vapid music.They cut off your education and fed you brain candy. They took away your music and gave you Top Ten pop stations. They cut off your art and replaced it with endless reality shows for you to plug into, hoping you would sit quietly by as They ran the world. I think They thought you were too dumb to notice.

Indeed, I thought They had won.

But I watched you occupy the capital of Wisconsin. I see you today as you occupy Wall Street. And I see a spark, a glimmer of the glorious new age that is yours. A changing of the guard, a guard that has stood for entirely too long and needs your young legs to take his place.

I watch you turn away from what is easy and stand up for what is right. I see you understand we as a society are only as strong as our weakest link. I see you wise beyond your years. And I am proud. Give ‘em hell, kids. You are beautiful.”

Amen and blessed be.


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