I Criticize OWS because I Love it

Via Roger Wolsey
on Nov 3, 2011
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Its been said that the truest forms of patriotism and love of country are dissent and constructive criticism. If that sentiment is true there, it applies elsewhere.

I earlier wrote a blog that went viral that suggested why Christians should consider supporting and even participating in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement that is sweeping the nation –  “10 Things Christians should know & do about the Occupy Protests.”

Point # 7 was “Critique it.” My initial criticism was providing a larger perspective and showing the limitations of the current movement and how it does little to address international injustice.

As my love for the movement has deepened, I am now moved to offer further criticism with the aim of helping the movement be as effective as possible and to endear itself into the hearts of as many of our fellow citizens as we can

My critique today is one of tactics. Gandhi said that “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  By this he meant to convey that the practices and techniques of a protest movement need to match and align with its goals and intentions.  If one seeks to bring about a reign of love and compassion into the world, one can’t use violence or oppressive means. To do otherwise would be hypocritical and counter-productive.


OWS has finally made the national radar and the daily evening news. It is flexing its muscles and is responsible for getting Bank of America to cancel its new $5 debit card fees, scare off other banks from issuing such fees, and for getting Congress to potentially look at overturning the infamous “Citizens United” ruling of the USSC which turned corporations into “persons” who can use their money to purchase our government (Sen. Udall just initiated a proposed Constitutional amendment to retake control of campaign spending).

There is a real danger, however, that public support of the OWS agendas could dwindle, and even backlash against us, if we don’t take care to have our actions match our intentions.

There have been isolated instance of protesters throwing rocks and bottles at police. Not cool.  That justifies the brutal reprisals against us. We need to police ourselves and not let our fellow protesters cross the line.  We are a nonviolent movement and we need to stay that way.

Yesterday, many of the protesters in Oakland, CA went to the Port of Oakland there and effectively shut them down. They claimed to be enacting a “general strike” to help up the ante and show that the movement has teeth  – even to the point of making an economy feel our might. The thing is, it’s only a “strike” if the people in a given industry/business are voluntary and willing participants in it. You can’t just have a group of outsiders come into an auto factory or a Walmart, shut them down, and then claim that their workers are “on strike” and joining you in your cause.

Indeed, this is a hostile take-over and the very sort of dominionist power-game crap that we’re against in this world. We can’t fight fire by playing with matches. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it,

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Finally, as much I support our right to camp-out in city parks, I think the overnight camping portion of our protesting should end for now. We needed to do that in order to gain critical mass and draw attention. But at this point, we’re causing more harm than good.

At this time of the year, it gets dark by 5:30PM and stays dark until 6AM. And besides, lawmakers, corporate leaders, and general citizens passing by leave their offices by 5PM and head to their homes. It’s not like there are many people passing by to see our signs at night, and even they’d have a hard time reading our signs even if there were, it’s dark out. We aren’t really protesting and expressing our views and swaying others at night, instead, we’re merely preaching to the choir at that time of the day.

Moreover, in spite of our efforts to keep clean and tidy, we’re causing a lot of harm to the lawns and grounds of parks. I am an Eagle Scout and was taught the importance of leaving no trace behind when camping. That can’t be done if a tent remains on the same spot for days on end. Camping out indefinitely will mean costly repairs to the grounds and premises which taxpayers will have to pay for and we’re also contributing to a waste of tax monies by the nightly police presence. Those cops and SWAT team guys don’t want to be out in the cold at night and it makes it harder to win them over to our side with things as they are.

Look, I’m not a  turn-coat or an apologist for the corporate fat cats. I’m no defender of the unjust status quo. I am however, in love with OWS and want to prevent a foreseeable backlash that could eventually take place if we don’t watch ourselves.

I don’t believe in making criticisms without offering suggestions for how to fix things, so I am hereby proposing that the YMCAs, YWCAs, youth hostels, churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques near the protests sites offer space for protesters to stay at night. I’m also urging people who have apartments, houses, or condos nearby to offer space as well. Things could be set up so that each location houses people for no more than 15-30 days at a time. And frankly, a lot of us can simply commute from our homes to the protest sites each day. Or we could simply hold our protests on just certain days each week. Sure, this would mean some inconvenience and involve some work, but it’s better than watching public support for our cause erode.

I’m open to other suggestions, but we really need to have this conversation.


Rev. Roger Wolsey, Boulder, CO


Elephant: Roger is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity and is an active participant on The Christian Left Facebook page.  The photo at the top is of Roger serving water and snacks to protesters and cops at the Occupy Denver location.


About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


22 Responses to “I Criticize OWS because I Love it”

  1. Erin says:

    I agree. Violent behaviour is disastrous and self destructive to the cause.

  2. Tammy Lubbers says:

    This is a beautifully written and well thought out article. Thank you! I couldn't agree more about us being good examples to people and good stewards of our earth. I'll be sharing this.

  3. Great article …. having just been flamed for offering criticism of the #occupy movement, I see an urgent need for a review of tactics … encouraging a true 'be the change' perspective in all of us goes a long way toward a more effective movement … above and beyond, however, is the need to champion critique and debate as to how we can do better … thank you

  4. Dan Yavner says:

    Wonderfully said, all point valid. From a flaming liberal.

  5. furrypawpaw says:

    your point about the general strike isn't entirely on the mark as pertains to the port of oakland. the ilwu supported the action at the port. many dockworkers called in sick and those who did go to work engaged in a "slow down," another tactic used in tandem with or in place of strikes. while there certainly may have been people who work elsewhere who wanted to but weren't able to go to work because of the general strike/protests, this wasn't the case at the port.

    i absolutely agree that the movement needs to be non-violent. if ows ever decides to issue demands i think the first two should be #1 – non-violence; and #2 – publicly financed elections, from dog catcher to president, no exceptions.

  6. christian connor says:

    I whole-heartedly agree! This is a BEAUTIFULLY written article. I had the same sad thoughts when I saw the story about the “rioting” at the Oakland protest. Sometimes youthful zeal can become mis-channeled aggression. I think without some experience and critical thinking involved, ANY movement can degenerate into chaos. I is my sincere wish that this NOT happen with these protests. It is the right of the people to PEACEABLY assemble dos not mean it is the right of the people to camp out and rile each other up. It is true that the tax payers, (US), will eventually pay for any and all damage we create with this so we should be thinking about how our OWN actions may affect us in the future not only with an eye to political change but ultimately the cost to ourselves monetarily and socially. Thank you for the wonderful post and please continue to offer such uplifting and relevant social commentary!

  7. Roger Wolsey says:

    hmm… well, according to this source, the union at the Port did *not* endorse a shutdown or a strike. http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9QO

  8. Bren says:

    I agree wholeheartedly about non-violent action, but just want to point out one thing. You stated, "Those cops and SWAT team guys don’t want to be out in the cold at night and it makes it harder to win them over to our side with things as they are." Please keep in mind that most of these cops are simply doing their job, and just because they are doing their job, doesn't mean they don't agree with the intent and purpose of OWS. Saying something like "win them over" implies and generalizes cops as a whole as against OWS. This is not always the case. We need to be careful how our language builds gaps and creates divides between "us" and "them" which I understand to be the intent of all of this anyway. Thanks!

  9. AC Shagazaki says:

    Don’t give up on this movement just yet, Roger. It may yet embody our deepest hopes that it be a movement of love and justice. We cannot control every single effect any person or group involved may have, yet we must continue to strive to see it create a better world. God’s will be done: everything that has happened to now has been a part of a plan of a spirit greater than ours. May we wish only that the clouds be removed from all our hearts that we may more perfectly embody God’s will for all of us.

  10. Roger Wolsey says:

    I am by no means giving up on the movement. Indeed, I critique it because I *have* faith in it and am still engaged in it. I have the same approach to the Church and Christianity, hence my recent book critiquing the currently prevalent forms of them in the U.S. If I'd given up on the Occupy movement, I would either publicly state that or simply ignore it. ; )

  11. Roger Wolsey says:

    1. Why would I take my proposal to the General Assembly if, I will merely be told why my proposal will be rejected out of hand? Not very democratic. Rather totalitarian in fact. Your rhetoric betrays a certain level of lack of consensus building and idealogical rigidity. Aren't we supposed to be against that sort of thing?

    That said, I have shared my ideas in person at the Occupy in Denver to various fellow participants, but not at the Assembly. I may consider it, despite your warning that it'll be rejected out of hand.

    2. Why does the movement have to involve sleeping outside at night in order to be a long term one? The Civil Rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the ant-Vietnam war movements didn't require that.

  12. Roger Wolsey says:

    I studied that letter, and many others, with Dr. Vincent Harding when I was at the Iliff School of Theology. Dr. Harding is an African American Quaker who was one of MLK's speech writers. I am a convicted adherent to the nonviolence being an essential component of both effective social change movements as well as to authentic Christianity. Where exactly will Terry be speaking?

  13. freya kahlo says:

    There are some factors that make it hard to control the actions of Occupy protesters. First, and this is a good thing – the movement is growing larger and contains a large variety of people of varying political beliefs – from anarchists to former tea partiers. Those people have varying tactics, that's just a fact.

    Some of the vandalism that has happened in recent days was allegedly done by anarchists who may or may not be part of Occupy groups. Recently people involved in Occupy Oakland have been claiming that undercover police were embedded into the Occupy Oakland group before the rock-and-bottle throwing incident that cause the riot police to move in. People are claiming also that the undercover police officers started the violence.

    Another factor is that most larger Occupy camps now have a large percentage of homeless people in their midst – they have been attracted to the relatively safe camping space and free food. Of course, with the homeless comes addicts and untreated mentally ill people. Most Occupy camps have established policies to let those people stay in the camp and feed them, unless they cause trouble. Most of the chronically homeless people are not really participating in the protests, I would expect over time that may change. NYC police have been overheard directing people causing a nuisance elsewhere to "take it to Zuccotti Park". Police have left Zuccotti Park and other Occupy camps to largely police themselves, so protestors aren't able to get rid of all potential troublemakers, they have to deal with them in the best way they can.

    The point of all this? I don't think we can critique alleged actions of Occupy groups as if they are one cohesive movement. At best they are a collective of many people and groups, some of whom have long gone without a public voice. Many of those people are very angry, some people are probably dangerous. There is bound to be more vandalism and violent actions coming out of the protest, as I'm sure there will also be more unwarranted police violence towards peaceful protesters. Revolutions are bound to be messy, there will be collateral damage. I hope it's a minimal amount, and certainly the more peaceful people who get involved in the Occupy protests, the better. However, if people are scared off from joining due to some actions with which they don't agree, the movement will almost certainly degrade into more anarchy and violence. Occupy is a complex movement and the camps are now serving multiple functions.

  14. Roger Wolsey says:

    1. I am not in favor of any form of revolution if it involves violence. I don't even think the American Revolutionary war satisfied the criteria for Just war theory. That said, I am in favor of nonviolent, civil disobedience, and non cooperation, etc. But the larger goal is to sway the masses to come on board to support us, if we do things to cause them to turn away, we have lost. And there IS TOO MUCH AT STAKE to risk that. (capital letters to mirror the ones in a previous post on this thread)

    2. You bring up an interesting point. The way you've framed it, the occupy folks are "allowing the homeless to reside in the parks they're occupying" (if they behave), but in reality, in many cases, the homeless people were in those parks first and it is they who are having to allow the Occupiers to be with them — or be displaced by them.

  15. EvanRavitz says:

    7 of 8 states with publicly-financed "clean" elections got them via state ballot initiatives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_elections The most fundamental reform is NATIONAL ballot initiatives, with improvements like Oregon's new Citizen Initiative Review. The best project to get them: http://Vote.org

  16. Roger Wolsey says:

    Thank you for clarifying that Evan. I wasn't aware that there was another Senator Udall!

  17. Synchronicity says:

    at the Boulder Band Shell

  18. Roger Wolsey says:

    I hear you, but if you think the problems we face now are huge, think of how much more huge they will be if we lose the goodwill and support of the majority of the citizenry. Right now, the larger public is increasingly supportive of us, however, the public is fickle and it doesn't take much to lose favor with them. The sole reason that OWS has been successful is because the powers that be (corporations and Congress) sense that the wider public is sympathetic to our cause and leaning toward it. If we lose their favor, then we lose our source of leverage.

  19. Roger Wolsey says:

    All of this said, here's a cartoon that provides a healthy dose of perspective: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=101503727

  20. Roger Wolsey says:

    Thank you for the invitation to attend. I was most impressed with Terry Marhsall's speech. Good man. Very inspirational.