Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Help the most vulnerable in our society"

This Sunday during announcements, I mentioned that there would be a vigil at Senator Kerry's office.  Here is more information, from UUMassAction: "Help the most vulnerable in our society! Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has an important spot on the 'Super Committee' that will be coming up with legislation to address the United States debt. Many voices in the public debate are targeting those who are most vulnerable in our society to take the brunt of these budget cuts. UU Mass Action, Promise the Children and UU Urban Ministry are calling on Unitarian Universalist across Massachusetts to tell Sen. Kerry to stand with us in love; stand strong: Demand shared responsibility. Protect Medicaid and Medicare; don't shift costs to states and the seniors, people living with disabilities and children who rely on these programs."

Join us at Sen. Kerry's office on Wednesday, October 26th at 5 p.m. One Bowdoin Square, Tenth Floor, Boston, MA 02114.

Whether or not you can come on Wednesday, please consider singing this petition.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"OccUUpy" Boston

Unitarian Universalists, for the past two Sundays, have had UU Vesper services at Occupy Boston.  I didn't make the first one, but I was there (along with three UUCiA members) this Sunday, October 16.  There was a wonderful homily by Rev. Parisa Parsa and great music by Matt Meyer.  Rev. Jason Lydon also led prayer.  All in all, a very moving service.  There will be another UU Vespers this coming Sunday, October 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Dewey Square (across from South Station).  Join us!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Boston, October 10 and 11...

Yesterday, October 10, I decided to go see Occupy Boston in the afternoon, before my Veterans for Peace meeting in the evening (in Cambridge). I was impressed and inspired by the peaceful demonstration that I saw.  (This picture to the left is one I took during the day.  You can see the Gandhi statue on loan from the Peace Abbey, as well as the tents.  The picture to the right is one I took of the Veterans for Peace flags that we had at the Assembly, and after.)

Later on, I went to said Veterans for Peace meeting. We heard during the meeting that "they" (police? mayor?) wanted to shut down Occupy Boston. We ended the meeting early and went over together. We got there around 7:45-8 p.m.

I was very impressed watching my first General Assembly. It was very peaceful, very democratic. The Occupy Boston folks (mostly from the Millennial generation) were something to behold. They welcomed us "old timer" veterans very kindly when we came, and they seemed happy to see us.

I just have to note that this Occupy Boston protest was the first protest that I've participated in, in my entire lifetime, where NONE of the people driving by us shouted negative or lewd things... the first time NONE of them made lewd gestures. People either drove by and did nothing, or they drove by and honked, and/or waved, and/or shouted something supportive and/or cheered.

(Photo to the left: I am proud to stand with my Veterans for Peace friends... photo by Iraq War veteran Rachel McNeill.) There were all sorts of rumors all evening and into the night about the police, and what was (or was not) going to happen.  Most of the night the word was that the police would come at midnight and close down the camp, possibly making arrests. Midnight came (and October 11 began), and midnight went. No police making arrests... just some police here and there as far as we could tell. (And the protestors were very reasonable about the possible upcoming confrontation, saying things like, "Remember -- it's not 'us versus them'... it's 'us versus us' -- the police are the 99% too!") 1:00 a.m. came. Same thing, no police. Still lots of rumors flying around, but no one knew if the police were coming. Some thought yes, many thought no.

My contact lenses were popping out of my eyeballs (I didn't realize I'd be up at all hours protesting when I left the house, or I would have worn my glasses -- and more comfortable shoes!), so I called it a night at sometime not long after 1 a.m. (I was personally convinced at that point that the police would leave us alone... ) Some other Veterans for Peace folks left at various times throughout the night too, but many stayed.

I walked from South Station to my car in the Boston Commons garage, a little afraid that it was unsafe to walk alone at night in the big city. I saw a few police here and there, but just enough to make me feel a little safer -- I didn't see a big gathering forming. I got to my car just fine, and drove all the way back home (about an hour).

On the way home, after about 30 minutes I made a pit stop.  I checked Twitter to see if there were any updates from Occupy Boston and the Greenway expansion controversy.  I read several tweets saying that the police had come and were "beating up" the Veterans for Peace.  My heart sank.  It turned out that the police came maybe about 20 minutes after I left. The Veterans for Peace who were still there were in the front line, and were the first ones treated roughly (pushed down and choked, and dragged off, from two I've communicated with) and arrested by the police. Apparently after that, the police went into the rest of the Occupy Boston crowd and arrested the other peaceful protestors. (See video below, posted by an Occupy Boston participant on Youtube.)

I came home safe, feeling guilty that I left just a bit too soon, as it turns out... but feeling lucky too. I've never been treated roughly by police and arrested before, after all. I feel horrible for my VFP friends and the other protestors who were treated harshly.  (Addendum: After talking to more friends from VFP and others who were there, it seems that there were a wide range of experiences in terms of how the police responded.  In many cases, the police were very low key and not aggressive at all.)

I'm still sort of in shock. I can't believe it "went down" like that -- that is, I can't believe the mayor told the police to intervene and make arrests. It really did NOT have to be that way. I'm thinking of my VFP friends who were arrested, and all the other protestors arrested... It must have been traumatic! I'm thinking of the police, too, and wondering how they feel about it all. As a veteran, I know the feeling of being told to do something you don't feel quite right about... and the police are definitely part of the 99%.  I am grateful for police; I really am.  They do a lot of good, and I've mostly had very good experiences with police in my lifetime.  It was a sad situation for all concerned, really.

Addendum: Below is an excellent video of the evening's events.

"What Democracy Looks Like: The View From Occupy Boston" from Michael Gill on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy Hope...

Just last March, I wrote in the congregational newsletter that I had that early Quaker song in my head: “Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing!”  The reason that hymn was stuck in my head was the historic revolutions against oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria during the spring.

But autumn is here, and as some have noted, the “Arab Spring” is turning into the “American Fall”.  I must admit, the song running through my head this time isn’t a hymn.  Instead, it’s the words of Bob Dylan:  “The order is rapidly fadin’ / And the first one now will later be last / For the times they are a-changin’.”

There are a few social actions in the works this fall, including “Stop the Machine –Create a New World” (starting in Washington, D.C. on October 6), organized by social justice leaders around the country.  The action will highlight “human needs, not corporate greed”.    

But as potentially momentous as “Stop the Machine” is, the social action that has taken just about everyone by surprise has not been organized by “the usual suspects” at all.  I’m talking about the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which has grown into an “Occupy Together” movement all over the USA, including “Occupy Boston”.  According to the declaration, “… the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors…. no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.  We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people… run our governments.”

Who organized this movement against “Corporatocracy”?   It’s hard to say!  It’s a leaderless, de-centralized action.  But what does seem clear is that it is largely the Millennial Generation making it happen.  I keep thinking about the things I learned last year when researching my sermon on the American generations – about how the Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 2001) tend to be good at working collaboratively; interested in issues of economic injustice; and civic-minded (see Howe and Strauss).  The “Occupy” movement so far does not have set demands.  It will go on indefinitely, seemingly a whole new kind of protest.  No one can say exactly where this is going; “the wheel’s still in spin / And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’”, to quote Dylan again.  But I must say that it gives me hope.  

In the upcoming days and weeks, I hope to visit Occupy Boston to show my support and deliver supplies.  In the meantime, I just signed up to join a virtual march that is happening today to show my support. You can join the virtual march too:  click here to find out more.