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Occupy the Dream: The spirit of activism

January 18, 2012|By Joseph Delisi, RedEye special contributor

2012 already feels different than past years.

With the alleged Mayan apocalypse predictions looming closer, with the future of the country soon to be in the hands of an uncertain figure, with activism and the Occupy movement shaking things up, change is certainly present on people’s minds and faces.

But here comes old man winter, in extraordinary fashion, bringing days of snow just after days of spring-like weather. Even the weather seems uncertain.

The seemingly obvious certainties, like winter, four more years of Obama, and the decline of these left-wing yahoos that compose the Occupy crowd, don’t seem so certain anymore.

That’s why some weren’t baffled when activists, politicians and clergymen alike all compiled into the People's Church of Chicago, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., in Uptown, Jan. 15 to celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems the ‘Occupy’ movement has found its home in the churches of Chicago. The ideologies and philosophies of corporate and economic injustice weren’t screamed and drummed on the frosty sidewalks of downtown. It was sung, preached, clapped and celebrated at People’s Church in Uptown to remember the legacy of the civil rights movement and its courageous icon, Martin Luther King Jr.

‘Occupy the Dream’ as it was dubbed, was a time for celebration and remembrance. But sprinkled between a gospel choir and prayers, there was pure activism. Not just young pissed off youth, but elder priests and reverends passionately joining hands with the Occupiers. This was mass politically charged with Jesus and MLK as the frontrunners of justice.

IIRON, Northwest Indiana Federation, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and the Northside P.O.W.E.R. organizations were all in attendance with members of Occupy Chicago packing the three-story church. With representatives from varying congregationsMuslim, Baptist and Christian, congress members, circuit court judges, members of township boards and aldermen all taking part in the display.

“I believe in a god of life and liberation, I refuse to believe in a god of greed,” came the words of Bridgeport Reverend Tom Gaulke, who was recently arrested at a demonstration on the South side of the city. “The law must serve humanity, when laws are unjust we have an obligation to disobey them. The hands of wall street need to be overcome by the hands of god,” he exclaimed.

At this congregation, corporations and big banks were the new evil. Openly discussed as possessed conglomerates doing the work of the devil.

Sunday, the ideologies of the Occupy movement were channeled as spiritual faiths. Identities of preacher and activist were being swapped, different creeds and races held hands together, sang together, and preached the good word of ‘Occupy Chicago’?

A confusing concept to grasp at first, but the similarities were flushed out almost immediately. The procession bridged together peoples faith in a movement, faith in their creed, faith in god and faith for justice. With past memories of the civil rights movement pulsating in the church, MLK’s issues and passions became just as relevant as they were 40 years ago.

“We still face the same pervasive ills and injustices, pushing us to the brink of social and economic collapse,” spoke Dwight Gardner, President of the Northwest Indiana Federation. Rev. Gardner, along with hundreds of other Chicagoans and Indiana citizens, came by the busload to Uptown.

After speaking MLK’s words of the past, Rev. Gardner ended with a chant…no, not ‘free at last’, rather he adopted the Occupy movement’s slogan—“We are the 99%! We are the 99%!” Chanted over an over, three stories of the church shook with energy; it seemed even Jesus was in the Occupiers corner.

The church illuminated the Occupy Wall Street values in a more spiritual and tangible way—don’t just look at your pocket book or mortgage, look at the current morality of mankind. With the ever-present question of ‘What would Martin Luther King Jr. have to say about these times?’

Unlike typical mass, here spirituality met activism. Advice such as moving your money out of big banks was followed with ‘amen’.

These organizations and the congregations are the link to political change that the ‘Occupy’ movement needs. With congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.and congresswoman Jan Schakowsky in attendance declaring their support, politicians are now listening to the cause.

The once vague and unidentified conglomerate of ‘Occupy’ now has communities and faces behind their messages.

Maybe its something the occupy movement has realized—that its not about who can scream the loudest or occupy the longest, its about how to get a foot in the door of the political system.

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