Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Lutheran Seminarian @ OccupyPhilly

This past Friday I took the commuter rail down to City Hall, making my first visit to OccupyPhilly.  On my way there I generally thought I supported what was going on, but my main purpose was to get some postcards signed...  Philadelphia is one of the hungriest large cities in America... 1 in 4 folks face food insecurity here.  Despite such an alarming statistic the city of Philadelphia also doesn't currently have an official hunger plan.  City Soup recently launched a campaign to change all that.  Over the coming weeks, members of faith communities throughout the city will sign postcards to advocate for the development of a hunger plan.  And they're going to sign a whole lot of postcards... 30,000 of them, to be exact.  As part of my field assignment with Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of PA, I was asked to support the campaign by getting the Occupy folks to sign as well.

Upon exiting Suburban Station I quickly realized Occupy was something I had never before experienced.  I've been to protests before, marching against the Iraq War in NYC and Washington, but this was completely different.  It wasn't a protest at all really, but rather a fully functioning community organized around fighting economic injustice.  There was strong infrastructure in place... a welcome tent, a medical tent, a media tent, a legal tent and food tent were only a few of the many ways the community supported it's members.  Despite a week-long occupation, the park was amazingly clean.. cleaner than many parks I've visited in Philly.  Finally, there were people not only talking, but really listening to each other all around me.

Most impressively, the folks over at OccupyPhilly were doing exactly what the city hasn't succeeded in doing: feeding hungry people.  For days police have been directing people who are homeless to City Hall in the hope of overwhelming the occupiers.  Instead of being overwhelmed, the community is simply feeding hungry people... a whole lot of hungry people.  In fact, over 1000 people are being served each meal.  That's right... Occupy has become a huge feeding operation right in front of City Hall.  Right after I learned about the feeding operation over a hundred students came marching down (I think) Market St. from Temple University... they had staged a walkout in support of the protest.  The community grew to embrace the Temple students, and continues to grow each day.

The sad part though was that people of faith were almost nowhere to be seen at OccupyPhilly, at least in an official capacity.  There was a Society of Friends tent and a Unitarian/ Universalist tent, but that was about it.  Despite Christ's work feeding the hungry, supporting the poor and serving the marginalized, Christians weren't really around.  Even if the church can't support the Occupy movement itself, it surely can minister to the community there.  I heard from one of the folks at the Society of Friends tent that pastoral care needs were overwhelming and that help was needed.  I heard from community leaders how desperately more food is needed as well.

OccupyPhilly was a truly amazing experience, an experience of the Spirit working in a community organized around fighting economic injustice.  The people there (whether they knew it or not) were living out a vocation to feed hungry people and give a powerful voice to those who have never had one before.


  1. Just goes to show, secular or not, doing the right thing transcends religion. I'm so glad you had a good experience!! I started the book exchange and I think we're at over 3,500 books swapped for FREE. I love what is happening and am so glad to be a part of it. I hope your words and good message help bring more to the cause.

  2. There is an Occupy Philly People of Faith working committee listed on the main info board but I have not been able to find out anything about it - when and where it meets etc. Do you or anyone reading this blog post know where I can find answers to those questions or make contact with the group?

  3. I think the key words are "in an official capacity." I think people of faith WERE there (clearly, because you were).

  4. Matt- Someone else mentioned that committee listing as well. Next time I'm down (it looks like Sunday), I'll be sure to ask about it.

    Phil- It was an absolutely experience. The book swap was an important resource as well so thanks so much for your contribution.

  5. Matt- Just got back from the Interfaith Working Group at OccupyPhilly. Their Facebook group can be found at I'll be updating my blog about the group as well. Thanks!

  6. Wonderful post about Occupy Philly, Dustin. If you get a chance, please check out my photo essay on Occupy, documenting weekly visits to City Hall from the time they began their occupation to the time they were evicted.

    1. Tieshka-

      Thanks so much reading and I'll definitely check it out. I'm actually in the midst of writing a fairly long paper and series of blogposts about the seminary campus and how it connects to the wider Mt. Airy/ Germantown community and I'm looking for someone to take pictures. Would you at all be interested?

      God's peace,