- What Has Occupy Got to Do with Feminist Liberation Theology?
“Occupy is the movement I have been waiting for.” I heard many seasoned East Bay activists say this at general assemblies, marches, and other Occupy/Decolonize Oakland events. Our graying heads added salt to the largely young activists who attended events and camped on the city’s downtown plaza from October 10 to November 15, 2011—except for October 25, when a violent police raid cleared the plaza and made Oakland an international story. Within a day of the raid, the plaza was again occupied with tents, and within a week, Occupy/Decolonize Oakland held a general strike and successful port shutdown that drew tens of thousands of people.1
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement erupted in September 2011 as a protest in response to the international financial crisis. OWS coalesced and amplified a variety of movements through solidarity actions, though, often, the solidarity seemed incredible. In one early march in Oakland, a large group of middle-aged Asian women who belonged to the Service Employees International Union appeared with the Oakland librarians, the anarchist Black Bloc group, Health Care Workers for Reform, students from the University of California, Berkeley, Dykes for Choice, advocates for transgender acceptance and immigration reform, and the Interfaith Tent @ Oakland. Women leaders of all colors, including feminist clergy and theologians, were visible and important in Oakland, and many were young women raised by feminist mothers. The generation [End Page 169] under forty has their own activist strategies and understands—as feminist liberation theologians have always understood—that the struggle for economic justice is a core issue for women.
For the November 2 strike in Oakland, and for a dozen subsequent days, religious leaders and feminists with the Interfaith Tent set up a large canopy sanctuary among the thick forest of new tents crowding the plaza. Our contribution was to teach and advocate for nonviolent practices, to hold the moral and spiritual core of the movement as sacred, to embody a nonviolent presence at Occupy/Decolonize events, to offer a spiritual space and presence and religious activities to those who sought them, and to make a visible public witness of religious involvement in and support for the OWS movement. In December 2011, we sent four delegates (two women of color, one white man, and one African American man, aged 37 to 67) to a national gathering of Occupy Faith at Judson Memorial Church in New York. In March 2012, we hosted a second national gathering in Oakland.
In the predawn hours of November 15, 2011, a police raid ended the encampment in Oakland. Sixteen of us from the Interfaith Tent refused an order to leave our sanctuary. We were prepared for pepper spray, tear gas, beanbag bullets, flash-bang grenades, tanks, sound cannons, and possible serious wounds. While our videotaped arrest did not involve police violence, we knew at the time that this second raid was part of a federally organized effort to destroy the movement. Naomi Wolf would later expose the involvement not only of law enforcement—including trained sniper assassins—but also the financial institutions that caused the fiscal crisis that precipitated the movement:
It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy that fall—so mystifying at the time—was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves—was coordinated with the big banks themselves.2
Whenever I have spoken about the OWS movement and our rather fierce branch in Oakland, I find people puzzled about the determination of activists to keep their encampments in the face of violent official opposition and possible lethal violence. But I think this determination makes perfect sense when one understands the deep creativity, imagination, joy, humor, and love that ground the OWS movement’s activist outrage, which is its sole public media face. [End Page 170]