Susan Wilcox, CSJ Brentwood, NY

January 17, 2012 The Fourth Month Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street


First of all we’re there.  I find myself tripping over generations of students, associates, and co-ministers.  There is Robert, a 40 something faith leader educated by the Erie Sisters or Kathryn, a 30 something Occupier, graduate of Mt. St Joseph, Chestnut Hill, or Jeff, a 20 something occupy organizer who taught at one of our schools in Brooklyn.  Whenever I introduce myself with my affiliation, Sister of St. Joseph, it always evokes someone or two or three to approach me!  Isn’t this often the case in social justice circles?  I’ve come to see the charism as a button for action, installed through exposure or teaching by CSSJs that has been activated by the critical nature of the times and the call of the occupation strategy to building a better world.

Building a Better World

Central to the first Occupy Wall Street encampment was the arena of giving around the kitchen table.  Feeding anyone in line free of charge was viewed as fundamental.  And while, sometimes the call went out to order pizzas delivered to the park, at its most productive, the kitchen’s aim was to serve highly nutritious “real” food as opposed to processed food.  This kitchen served as transformational space creating opportunities for anyone to engage in giving beyond ego, drawing hundreds to ask, “How can I give?”  The giving included culinary experts giving of their knowledge, neighbors dropping off food goods, churches bringing water and people cooking at home and bringing it into the park.  The needs were tweeted and posted on the website daily and people responded magnanimously.  The kitchen, a powerful symbol for CSSJ’s and for feeding the movement towards a better world. 

From Representational to Participatory

In the last few decades, have we not seen our own Chapter of Affairs structures transition from elected delegates to self-selected delegates?  We intuitively know that if our goals are to be aligned with those enacting them, there must be inclusivity and participation.  One of the key ways of organizing for occupation is held in the General Assembly Process.  The process is designed so that there are facilitators not leaders and anyone that shows up can “get on stack” to lend their voice to the democratic process.  The GA is critical to the Occupy movement because overcoming economic injustice and building a better world requires participation.  And as we know well—participation requires patience, listening skills, and highly skilled facilitators.  But guess what—in this process anyone who shows up for the facilitation working group can be apprenticed as a facilitator.

Not a leaderless movement but a movement of leaders

Much has been reported about the Occupy’s reluctance to put forth designated leaders.  I recognize this as the same impulse within our charism for a mature heart, peaceful but ready.  Fr. Medaille, congregational co-founder writes in the early Constitutions (English translation, 1969) … that no one be received who would not have qualities appropriate to one who might be superior of the entire community.  This horizontal notion calls everyone into participation and servant leadership to whatever level they are called.  There is a sweet-ness truly present but have no sentimental illusion about a horizontal approach.  Its design is to confront and break down dominator hierarchies that oppress and hold our world in bondage.

Note, July 14, 2012: Some minor revisions exist from the original blog, but major revisions exist in the Occupy movement. Committed Occupiers continue to create, plan and organize at the grass roots level around home foreclosure, debt, and state violence while the dominator hierarchies (commercial, financial, political, judicial, media) referenced in the piece have made substantive gains in their suppression efforts.