Thinking about the Occupy movement

By Rev. Frieda Gillespie

“I should really join the Occupy people because …” Have you been hearing people interviewed on the news say something like this lately? I think I must have heard it said on TV or around my town dozens of times in the last two months — usually by someone frustrated by something, a coupon that wasn’t accepted at a minimart, or anger at National Grid over how long it took to get power back.

I’ve also heard the question “What is it they want, anyway?” probably as many times. I’ve heard the scoffing and skepticism about whether such demonstrations result in any meaningful change. The goals of the Occupy movement — to raise awareness and effect change in the injustice that exists in our economy — are very near and dear to us as Unitarian Universalists. Many UUs in the area have gone into Boston to show support for the movement there, and UU ministers and lay people have gone regularly to give vespers services on Sunday afternoons.

How has this movement moved you — or not? I am particularly struck by their process. They are working hard to come to consensus and include all points of view, trying to be the change they want to see in our economy. They have resisted hierarchical organization — which has been said to be one of the reasons they cannot succeed, since there is no central institution to make demands.

These are very bright, mostly young people who are willing to give a great deal of themselves for what they believe. Their power is in their persistence, and Occupy has become a symbol of standing up against the tyranny of greed and power gone uncontrolled. So far, they have accomplished keeping the issue of economic disparity in this country in the public conversation. But does that conversation ever reach the halls of the financial institutions that brought our economy down? For that matter, has it reached the senators and representatives making budget decisions on our behalf in Washington? It certainly doesn’t appear so.

Change happens very slowly, and this grassroots movement is more likely to affect the hearts of ordinary and diverse citizens than any in positions of power. Still, “speaking truth to power” has far-reaching effects, and over time changes the very culture upon which the powerful must depend to do the things they do. To a great extent they operate with the freedom we give them.

In this season of light returning, opening hearts and souls to love and peace, may we take heart and be inspired by these young and young-at-heart activists.

I wish all of you a light-filled holiday season!