Typically, the “Spirit Biographies” will profile the spirituality of someone in the Lehigh Valley. But this week, my work took me to New York City, and I thought this was a great opportunity to profile the spirituality of two people at the Occupy Wall Street event. The participants of Occupy Wall Street – along with sister events in cities across the country, including Allentown – has been much noted, talked about reviled, praised, and mocked. So who are they, what do they really think?

I went down there to find out. I walked through Wall Street itself first, which was packed with police. Since 2001, there has always been a large police presence on Wall Street, and with good reason, but the number of vehicles and officers there this week really takes one’s breath away. The NYPD’s motto is “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect”, and most officers really lived that motto. I know there has been much attention given to episodes of police brutality – and I’m sure there are bad apples in every bunch – but given the kind of stresses they are under, it’s impressive watching them carefully do their work in the heart of the world’s always-simmering melting pot.

Then I arrived in Zuccotti park, main scene of Occupy Wall Street. I was there a little before noon. The mood was relaxed, thoughtful, and festive. Lots of people there: protestors, curious tourists, reporters bearing various devices, police, WTC construction workers on their lunch break. There were very creative signs on display. Here’s a video of some of them, that gives a flavor of what the park’s atmosphere is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaihNYwXTeE

Below are brief excerpts from two interviews of people I spoke to at the event.

 John

John, as you can see from his sign, is a 63-year-old combat vet. He lives a couple of hours from New York City. He runs a small business that, in his words, “pays more taxes than General Electric.” After watching the protests develop for a couple weeks, said he told his girlfriend, “hey, we need to go to that!” So they both drove up for the day. John decribes his spirituality, with a genial smile, as “Bu-Jew-Ca Pagan” (Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, Pagan). He described how his spirituality affects what he’s doing.

How does your spirituality influence your activism?

It has to be calm, it has to be steady, and it has to have a little bit of hope to it – otherwise, the despair takes you over. And I’m a combat Vet, I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life. And if you focus right on that, then you get suicidal. Because then you start taking it on yourself. But if you try to help other people, and just do what you need to do and keep doing it steady and slow, then there’s some hope in it.

And this is most hope I’ve seen in a long time. I was at yesterday’s thing, there had to be twenty to thirty thousand people. And it was amazing to me, with that many people – union people, students, gay, lesbian, everybody. And they were really enthusiastic. And that’s hopeful. Really hopeful…

Whatever’s good that comes from any religion, I sort of glom onto it. And Ignore the bad. Because I’ve been with Jesuits, Buddhists, other Christians…I went back to Vietnam in ’97,and it was an amzing trip. Because they’re so calm, they don’t even hold anything against us.

What’s it like to be here, having been in Vietnam?

You mean here, right here?

Yeah, I guess so.

I think right now it feels hopeful. I’m just happy to be in this little oasis of people that recognize that we’re in a pile of shit. I mean, we gotta do something, as a people, and not just sit at home and piss and moan about it. We gotta do something. So I’m here, and I see lots of other people here, and yesterday there were 20,000 people here.

Jesus

I knew a man holding a sign saying “Even GOD hates Wall Street” would have something to say about spirituality and protest. He gave his name as “Jesus”, but added quickly, “not Christ though”. When I asked him if he believed Christ was here somewhere, “Oh yes, the Holy Spirit. Yes.”

How does your faith call you to be here?

As a Catholic, first and foremost is to render worship to the holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy  Spirit – and to love your neighbor as yourself – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

And I’m here protesting the wicked institution of called Wall Street. I’m not referring to any individual, but the institution as a whole. I think the people on Wall Street are guilty of pernicious crimes against humanity, and since the US Justice Department will not prosecute them, I would like to see maybe the world court or the international court of the UN issue arrest warrants’ for the heads of the companies who have caused so much suffering, poverty, deprivation and misery to millions of people, billions of people, and they’ve been getting away with it for 60-70 years now. Every 10 years, there’s a new money crisis in America stemming with its origins in Wall Street. You know, there’s the junk bond scandal, the savings and loan scandal, currently the securitized mortgages scandal stand where they bundled together hundreds, thousands, millions of toxic mortgages, and sold them off to unsuspecting investors…

All 50 states are suffering because of the greed on Wall Street, everyone from the children going to school who no longer can receive lunch program, all sorts of cutbacks, to even inmates in prison – we are all suffering because of the greed of Wall Street.

And there’s a huge prison business, isn’t there.

Yeah, yeah, that’s another aspect, there’s a prison business that Wall Street is gung ho to implement across the country, private corporate prison operations. But for the most part, we’re dealing with the pernicious, nefarious, insidious, irretractable  bastards on Wall Street that are that are hell-bent on making money at everyone else’s expense.

What got you personally to say, “I need to be involved in this.”

Well I’m a social justice activist, and this is a major social justice concern. Both political parties are courting the Wall Street money-men, and there’s been no real prosecution. There’s been a few prosecution off Wall street of bankers, but they usually under-prosecute it. So that’s my concern.

And how does your Christianity influence how you approach this?

Well, I’m a sinner, we’re all sinners. But I’m trying to bear witness, and just point out the horrible, pernicious crimes that are going on in Wall Street. That’s why we’re here.

 

Well, that’s all for this Friday, but stay tuned – next week, real, live Leigh Valley residents! If you know of someone you’d like to see featured here, or would like to be featured yourself, please  post a comment or email me at lehighvalleyspirituality@gmail.com. Thanks!

Advertisements