Churches Help Occupy Movement Survive Crackdowns, Winter
By Josef Kuhn
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) As Occupy camps nationwide deal with police
crackdowns and the inevitable onset of winter temperatures, religious
communities of all stripes are stepping in with offers of shelter and
Soon after police forcibly evicted the original Occupy Wall Street camp in
New York's Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15, many of the protesters began sleeping
and gathering in local congregations, including Judson Memorial Church in
"The eviction ... really shifts what happens here, and it really boomed the
movement, because immediately there was this network in place that
we'd developed of communities throughout New York that were willing to
open up their doors and house the movement," said the Rev. Michael
Ellick, a pastor at Judson Memorial.
Ellick and his colleagues got involved early on, marching to Zuccotti Park
with a golden calf fashioned to look like the iconic Wall Street bull statue.
Ever since, phones have been "ringing off the hook" with churches,
synagogues, mosques, temples and monasteries wanting to get involved in
some way, he said.
Various religious groups have held services at Zuccotti Park, which in turn
have "re-radicalized" their congregations, Ellick said.
"Initially it was just sort of a few churches who work a lot together on
these issues," he said. "Now it's actually a pretty hefty power base in New
York City," Ellick said.
A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News
Service found that less than a third of Americans say the Occupy
movement represents their values, but the police evictions seem to have
boosted religious support for the movement.
According to Ellick, more than 1,400 faith leaders from around the country
have signed a pledge of solidarity with Occupy protesters, many of them
jumping in only after police cleared Zuccotti Park.
On the other side of the country, a network of religious communities
sprang up in Portland, Ore., to support Occupy Portland after police
cleared the camp on Nov. 13.
Since the eviction, the city's First Congregational Church and First
Unitarian Church have hosted meetings of the movement. While many of
the campers search for places to stay, First Unitarian has been housing
their gear and the media tent, making the church Occupy Portland's
About 25 clergy and religious leaders spent the night before the eviction
at the camp, praying and providing nonviolence counseling. The Rev.
Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, was one of them.
Currie said he found the number of young people who thanked or prayed
with the religious emissaries "astounding," especially because only one in
four Oregonians identify with a faith tradition.
"A number of people expressed surprise that we were there. They did not
realize that the church had an interest in these issues," Currie said.
Although surprising to some, many of the Occupy camps now have some
kind of faith outreach group, prayer tent or meditation class.
About a dozen Christian activists have started an ecumenical "Occupy
Church" at Washington's Occupy K Street encampment in downtown
Washington. The Occupy Church holds a prayer service every Saturday at
noon and is trying to establish a full-time, rotating chaplaincy for the
Unitarians, Muslims and Jews have also held worship services at the
encampment in McPherson Square. Mimicking the New York protest,
Jewish occupiers set up a tent in the square in October for the harvest
festival of Sukkot.
In addition to spiritual ministry and space to assemble and sleep, religious
communities have provided the Occupy movement with material support
such as food, clothing, tents, blankets and heaters.
A new interfaith coalition calling itself "Occupy Faith DC" hosted a free
Thanksgiving meal at a historic Washington church for about 300 of the
protesters, including a small group that had just marched in from New York
"We understand and we are in total solidarity with you," James Lee, one of
the chief organizers of Occupy Faith DC, told the diners.
Occupy Faith DC is preparing to distribute a rapid response contact list of
faith-based groups and individuals who are willing to stand in solidarity
with the occupiers in the event of an eviction.
The list may be needed soon. The day after Thanksgiving, park rangers
issued notices about safety and sanitation concerns to the occupiers of
federally owned Freedom Plaza, a possible first step toward an eviction.
"Churches traditionally do charity pretty well," Ellick said, "and this is a
moment where that charity gets transformed into justice work and they
can start to see that there are underlying causes here that we need to