NO matter how you feel about OWS, the early morning raid on Zuccotti Park reveals several things.
1. Freedom of the press is a thin illusion. Thousands of reporters were barred from covering events in the park as they unfolded under the guise of “protecting” journalists from harm. [Even if you admit this were the case for journalists on the ground, under what pretext do you prohibit news helicopters from “violating the park’s airspace?”]
We deploy journalists in active warzones facing enemy combatants, but we can’t allow them into a public park across the grass from fellow Americans. If public officials are to be believed, our fellow Americans, unarmed and half-asleep at 1:00 a.m., are more dangerous to reporters than Iraqi and Afghan insurgents with automatic weapons.
2. This isn’t going away. That was clearly not the thought of Mayor Bloomberg and other NYC officials when they reversed course and allowed the OWS protesters to remain in the park a couple of weeks ago. They underestimated the resolve of the people of this movement.
The OWS movement has been widely criticized for lacking clear goals and focus, but its hard to criticize its staying power. And last night’s sweep of the park shows signs of providing focus and clarity rather than dissipating it. The web is alive with reports of smaller gatherings around the city as people plan next steps, meet with NYC civic leaders and prepare for a previously planned gathering on Thursday to mark the two months of OWS.
In fact, a NYC judge has reportedly just issued a restraining order saying that OWS protesters can return to the park immediately and has scheduled a hearing for later today. This is far from over.
In short, this is likely just the beginning of OWS. And the criticisms of lack of focus may not remain for long. Popular movements often lack focus, clarity and leadership early on; that was true of the civil rights movement in its early stages. Even unity within these movements is hard to achieve at first; that was true of the suffrage movement.
3. Be prepared for the pictures. The pictures will turn the tide. They did in the civil rights movement and in the Viet Nam War. They may very well do so here.
To date, we haven’t seen the dramatic pictures out of Oakland or New York in the mainstream media but now that reporters are being excluded and sidelined by the authorities that may evolve. If journalists begin to see themselves as outsiders looking in, their attitudes and tactics will change. Reporters can be a very agreeable bunch – but they react negatively and decisively to being pushed out and pushed aside like they were earlier this morning.
4. The line between public and private is more confusing than ever. At this point in our history, your bank account, your cell phone records and your internet activity have all been determined to be public. And a public park (Zucutti Park is technically own by Brookfield Properties) has been determined to be private.
5. This will become more polarizing the longer it goes on. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has happened with every major movement in our country’s history. Whether OWS has the staying power to ultimately be classified as a “major movement” along side others is still open for debate, but this will further divide an already divided nation.
In the first two months since OWS began I’ve seen friendships erode and end. I’ve seen civil conversations erupt into shouting matches. We’ve only scratched the surface of what could be coming if our past national experience is any indication of what lies ahead. If that’s true, there is a national crisis in the making that will require healing. [And we haven’t healed from the other national crises yet!]
6. People of faith have a special responsibility. I am a Christian; and as part of that tribe I believe we have a special role and responsibility. We have the responsibility to set aside the lens of nationalism, classism and allegiance to an economic system. We have the responsibility to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask “Where is the Kingdom of God?” Our task is to seek out where God is at work … and then join God in that work.
That sounds easy and simple. It is not. That is why I use words like “thoughtful” and “prayerful” a lot. The more confident and quick to respond you sound, the less confident I am that you know what you’re talking about.
I believe that there are places where God is at work in “Liberty Park.” And I believe that there are places where God is at work on Wall Street. I do not believe we can lionize every OWS protestor any more than we can demonize every NYPD officer. Both are far too easy.
Pray quickly. Speak slowly. Act deliberately.