On Monday, October 10, a group of Harvard students, including myself, met by the famous "Statue of Three Lies" to march collectively to Boston Common. There we would meet hundreds of other students from colleges in Boston to join voices with the Occupy Boston protesters who were camped out in tents in Boston’s financial district.
I came to the protest hesitantly. I had heard all of the news reports, and was not quite sure what to make of this small, but growing movement. I had heard of the movement’s lack of direction, organization, or even a clear theme. I had heard that the movement was nothing more than a liberal response to the Tea Party movement – that it was composed of whiney young people who didn’t want to find a job. What I saw when we reached the protest’s starting point, however, quickly dissolved these preconceptions.
Last Monday’s protest boasted over 1,000 participants from across Boston. The sheer size of the group absolutely blew me away – this was a highly coordinated effort that was able to inspire hundreds of people to action. In the thirty minutes or so between the time when I arrived in Boston Common and the time the protest began, I took pictures of the signs that protesters had made. People held up signs representing a vast array of different causes. Some of those causes were:
Abolishment of Capital Punishment, Prison Reform, Education Reform, Greater Teacher Pay, Forgiveness of Student Debt, Mortgage Debt Forgiveness, Redistribution of Wealth, Redistribution of Influence, Anti-Consumerism, Anti-Capitalism, The Formation of a Radical Democracy, The End of Bank Bailouts, The End of America’s Wars, and even The Legalization of Marijuana…
The protest left Boston Common at approximately 2 P.M. and marched for approximately three hours. The group chanted together:
"How do we fix the deficit? End the War! Tax the Rich!"
The protest reached its climax at approximately 5:00 P.M. when we met a police barricade at the Charlestown Bridge. Several people were arrested that evening at the bridge, and 140 others were arrested that night at the tent village as they attempted to expand the camp away from the initial site to form a second camp.
The protest was overwhelming, and so I took several days to process all that I saw before attempting to share my thoughts on the Occupy movement. So now, on Thursday 10/13, after having spent the night in tents with hundreds of other participants, I’m prepared to make some observations.
First, I think that it is important to distinguish this protest movement in from other similar movements of civil disobedience. This is not Egypt. This is not Gandhi. This is not King… yet. The Occupy movement, which has now spread to over 100 cities, lacks the unity and direction of those three movements, but it has potential.
Which leads to my second point: the movement should be seen, at this point, as less than a "movement" per se, and more as a collective expression of discontent. The movement is a soap-box – a sounding board where people who have historically been silenced are able to have their voices heard.
It is longing for unity – but not yet unified. What the movement lacks in unity and clarity, however, it more than makes up for in sheer momentum and passion of voice. This movement points, I believe, to the formation of another movement. The people’s voices have been heard – now strong leadership is required to turn discontent into constructive policy.
Several students from Harvard Divinity School have established a spiritual presence at the camp, and have coordinated with other seminarians and people of faith to host religious services which serve the needs of the protesters. These "Protest Chaplains" are there to listen to what the protesters have to say and to provide, if desired, spiritual counsel and guidance. Last night, I sat with a group of seven protesters in the "Faith and Spirituality Tent" and simply asked them why they were there. The protesters’ answers were varied, and each had her/his own reason for attending. But one thing united them. Each one of them wanted to be heard.
I see this as my Christian mission within the Occupy movement – to listen to the voices of those who desperately want to be heard. To work for justice. To hope for peace. To be a voice as well as a silent presence. To live in solidarity with those in whom, and through whom, I believe God is working to form a better world.
Zach Kerzee is a Master of Divinity Student at Harvard Divinity School from Abilene, Texas.