What an exciting time some of us had this past Saturday. At the behest of First Unitarian Church LA's Minister, Reverend Rick Hoyt, UUs from around the LA metro area gathered at "Occupy LA" late Saturday afternoon. The protest is held at City Hall in downtown, surrounding the building with tents where some people have been camping out for weeks now. At the moment they are doing so with the blessing of the City Council; however, the word is that on November 18, the Council will take a vote and decide whether to do anything about it. Right now, though, they are there without interruption and indeed with protection and cordial reception by LA police.
To call it a “Protest” conjures up visions of animosity and hostile confrontation which was far from what I experienced there. In some ways it was almost a party — at the very least a ‘gathering’ -- with food and music and people walking around getting to know each other. We stopped at a booth where they were ironing symbols on tee-shirts and other articles of clothing, many saying simply, 99%. The fellows running the booth said the items would be put out for people to take in about half an hour. And everything was free! The clothes had all been donated, as had the food! Now none of this means there wasn’t a serious message: much of the music was rapping about injustice and economic oppression. But it wasn’t an angry crowd.
There were people there with other causes walking around inviting anyone willing to listen to what they were concerned about. We talked with one woman who was passionate about the evils of “Corporate Personhood”, one of the rappers was chanting for the legalization of hemp, and I was told [although I didn’t see any of them myself] that 9/11 Truth was also making a plea for their version of that infamous day in 2001. When I lived in Chicago, there was a famous park, called Bughouse Square, that depicted what freedom of expression was all about [in the 1930’s] as people stood on soapboxes [that’s where the expression came from] and exhorted all who would listen to pay attention to their ‘truth’. It’s a very American way of being and I loved being part of it!
We UU’s gathered for a while and talked about what we might do. A friend of Rev Hoyt’s who is a Rabbi had told him that they had erected a “Sukkah” [a sort of a tent] to honor the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. We were invited in and told that this was the Jewish response to the rumors that there was Anti-Semitism at the Occupy site and they [the Reform Jews] wanted to make their presence known in support of the movement. Maybe it was this interfaith welcome that inspired us, but we talked about the possibility of gathering a group of people — not just Unitarian Universalists — including many faiths. We talked about looking for a common denominator to indicate we were together, but also representing different faith traditions. I suggested perhaps CLUE [Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice] would be a good umbrella group. I hope it happens and I intend to keep talking about it.
And I’m sure you already know this, but just in case: I will definitely be urging you to come with us next time. It is an inspiring experience and a wonderful way for us to walk our talk — we stand with those who are fighting to relieve oppression!