Two years ago, almost to the day,
I biked down to Zucotti park to see what all the fuss was about.
Protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement
had been camped out there for just about three months.
The cold was setting in,
the city was getting impatient,
and the cops were increasingly armed.
I was, at the time, a bit skeptical of the movement.
They seemed un-unified and unlikely to garner attention
from those whose policies they sought to change.
“If I, a sympathetic liberal, don’t take them seriously,
I asked a friend,
“why would Wall Street take them seriously?”
“Just go take a look,” he told me.
And so I did.
I found I had been looking with the wrong eyes.
Remembering it now, I'm sure that my uncertainty about the movement
was composed less of a political critique
than a fearfulness that I wouldn’t fit in.
That I couldn’t belong to their unruly collective.
I arrived at the park for the first time
in the middle of what turned out to be
one of the rougher protests that occurred during their time there.
I saw a protester get his face smashed with a night stick.
Somebody took a picture and he was all over the tabloids the next morning.
What I noticed first off
was that the police force on site
was wildly disproportionate
to the threat the protesters presented.
Cops were suited up in riot gear,
their clear plastic shields lined up against a bunch of peacefully-intentioned
librarians, drifters, students.
“Are we really that threatening?”
It would seem that we were.
Reading passages like this one in Isaiah,
I feel drawn in by the poetry of the words.
I feel drawn in by the promise of the restoration
of everything that that has collapsed,
the healing of everything that is broken.
The promise that, somehow, all shall be well,
and everything will be right in the end.
And yet so much of the time,
everything seems so very wrong.
Around us, everything is unequal.
A few feast while the rest go hungry.
The protesters are swept from the park without ceremony,
and I am left wondering who to believe:
the prophet’s promises?
Or the writing on the wall?
Occupy became a kind of promise.
I began to see what happened there,
not as a vision of how the world should be run, necessarily,
but as a glimpse of a possibility of a different way.
Occupy was like a hole punctured in the everyday
that let a new kind of possibility stream in.
It was like a vibrant dream that,
made our reality seem stark and greyscale.
The prophet Isaiah is making a promise
to a people who have returned home after exile
to a city in ruins.
They rebuild but find that their reconstructed future
does not compare to their remembered past.
They rebuild, but find that some are feasting while others are going hungry.
“You shall build up the ancient ruins,”
Isaiah tells them,
“you shall raise up the former devastations;
you shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”
It’s a promise of everything to come:
everything that God is doing,
and everything that the people of God will do
in light of that promise.
The hungry shall be fed,
the captives shall be released,
debt shall be forgiven
and the city shall be rebuilt.
The promise: that there will be justice and righteousness.
The prophet has made a promise.
But what he doesn’t tell us so clearly
is that we might have to wait.
Columnist Tim Kreider wrote four pieces on the Occupy Movement
that were never published.
I want to read from the last essay in the set, entitled,
“Occupy Wall Street was an attempt to circumvent [a] hopelessly corrupted system, to try something new, something that couldn’t be appeased or bought off, appropriated or compromised...I liked going there for the same reason I like going to libraries, concerts, or church: it was a place where large numbers of people were gathered to devote themselves to an enterprise other than the pursuit of money...
It all ended the way we probably always should have known it would. Mayor Bloomberg, whose legendary obsession with safety and sanitation is evident to anyone strolling through West Harlem or Flatbush, ordered the park cleaned out as though those people and their possessions were so much unsightly litter. It’s a depressing spectacle I’ve already seen too often in my lifetime—the side with uniforms and guns winning yet again. They win every battle. Except I notice they never win the wars. The uniforms and guns have been lined up in a solid phalanx throughout our history against the labor movement, the integrationists, the antiwar protesters...Yet today we have weekends and child labor laws and a black President, and Vietnam and Iraq are acknowledged by all but those most adamantly in denial to have been horrific crimes and blunders. The iron rule of Power and Money is like the law of entropy: absolute and inflexible, its ultimate end the death of everything. Justice is more like life: a fragile, crafty thing that has to resort to ingenious dodges like sex and evolution, memory and books, to circumvent destruction. Maybe it can’t win in the end, but it is also, apparently, ineradicable.”
Kreider, who I happen to know is a atheist,
uncannily echoes Isaiah 61 in his essay.
“Justice is more like life,” he writes,
Justice is like a shoot springing up in a garden,
the writer if Isaiah tells us.
Or maybe it’s more like a weed,
pushing through the pavement,
stubbornly impossible to root out.
That thing that Kreider writes,
about losing the battles but winning the wars.
Perhaps that notion is the very thing
that keeps me coming back to this table.
The utter impossibility that the world continues to keep unfolding,
despite the all odds,
and despite utter impossibility,
despite riot gear and guns and pepper spray...
It is the same confounding backwardness
that we see throughout the gospel stories.
Of a king born in a feeding trough.
Of a criminal whose execution restores the world.
If I was to trace the pattern of God’s work in the world,
I would follow the work of a God of the weeds,
eroding the foundations of greed and oppression
with an insidious,
system of roots.
Roots that can crumble concrete
and take down skyscrapers.
The prophet Isaiah
writes that justice comes
like the earth bringing forth shoots,
and as the nights begin to grow longer
and the days colder,
I know that for green shoots to spring from the earth,
we have to wait.
Even God has to wait sometimes,
for the world to be ready to germinate something new.
As Bonhoeffer wrote
from his cell in prison,
“For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world,
we must wait.
It happens not here in a storm
but according to the divine laws
of sprouting, growing, and becoming.”**
Advent is a season
characterized by waiting.
Waiting expectantly for God to break into our lives
like a hole punctured in the everyday.
Waiting for the world to be turned upside down once more.
It’s a season of remembering all that lies dormant.
That though we may not see it
or feel it,
or know it,
God is binding up our broken hearts,
even through the frozen earth of this season.
God is unlocking the prison gates
and beckoning us to walk through the door and be free.
We shall always hold ashes
in the cupped palms of our hands.
But twining around us, up through the asphalt,
is a tangle of weeds.
And the weeds are blooming.
*A collection of Tim Kreider's work may be found on his website.
**Letter to fiancee Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, December 13, 1943.