Trinity Episcopal Street, at Broadway and Wall Street in Manhattan, has gone the extra mile with Occupy Wall Street, but still finds itself losing a PR battle.
After months of providing support to those protesting against corruption and excessive concentration of wealth, Trinity faced one more request, which escalated into a demand, namely, that the church allow protesters to set up camp on a vacant lot Trinity owns in the financial district.
Trinity said No – not because it had lost interest in OWS, but for legal reasons that it felt obligated to observe. OWS pushed back hard, unleashing 50 protesters to scale the lot’s fence and risk arrest, among them a retired bishop in purple cassock.
Thus did linear thinking meet linear thinking on a field of battle neither can win. The old order reasserted itself all around. Trinity got caught in believing its history of supporting OWS and the logic of its legal concerns would enable it to occupy the moral high ground. OWS apparently couldn’t imagine life as a movement, but wanted to occupy space, an old-order agenda if ever there was one.
Now, after skirmishes in the media, Trinity looks like a heartless bully protecting its wealthy constituents, and OWS folks sound like petulant children wanting what they want.
Neither appearance does justice to reality. Both TWS and OWS are far more serious and in sync than this clash would suggest.
Both sides need to stop the linear thinking. This isn’t about laws, procedures, permits, or property rights; nor is it about standing up to injustice. When New York police evicted OWS from Zuccotti Park several weeks ago, the protest had a wonderful opportunity: to become a movement, to engage millions of sympathizers in a fresh dialog about wealth and jobs, to press on without the usual, self-defeating tools of power politics.
Instead, they have indulged in a property grab. Did they learn nothing from their own experience?
Trinity, meanwhile, should have seen that they, too, are a movement. Yes, they own more real estate than we can imagine. But at the end of the day, they are a church, and that means they are part of a movement that soars beyond property rights.
Meanwhile, the 1% can relax. If this tug-of-war over a vacant lot continues, the Occupy movement will be discredited here, Trinity will have lost its ability to speak truth to power, and the old order can press on toward greater concentration of wealth.
The 99%, in turn, will have been betrayed by old-order thinking that saw land and wanted to control it.