Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Bringing Love to the Occupy Movement

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Oct 28, 2011

The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Friday, October 28, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.


The first time we held a Unitarian Universalist vespers service at Occupy Boston, I arrived hopeful and excited.  Could it be true?  A diverse group of people living peacefully together, sharing a message of solidarity, showing the way to a new hope for our nation – even our world? Were people actually living what I regularly preach we should be doing?

UUA board sm

Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees standing on the side of love at Occupy Boston.

A group of us from different congregations gathered, drawn together by the Rev. Hank Peirce’s call to ministers to participate and the Mass Bay District’s encouragement of all to come. Congregations shared the word through their own Facebook pages and Sunday morning announcements, and a ‘congregation’ of a hundred gathered at Dewey Square. All were welcome.  We offered witness to our UU values in the midst of this powerful social movement.  It was clear to me that Unitarian Universalists have much to learn from and with Occupy.

As the organization of Occupy has grown, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the integrity of the community’s work – not just to hone statements around economic policy, but to truly navigate what it means to live communally.  They ask constantly: How do we honor every person, share resources and keep the integrity of purpose and practice even under the threat of violence? It has not been easy. Navigating how to live inclusively and nonviolently in the midst of all the other stressors of life in Dewey Square has required a level of anti-oppression work that is up close, personal and challenging.

My involvement as a Unitarian Universalist in Occupy gatherings and protests is not unique.  People of faith everywhere are engaging deeply with the movement.  Others are watching from a distance, inspired but not yet motivated to take action.  And some of us may still find it ridiculous for people to camp in a public park to protest injustice.  UUs around the country are standing with the occupiers, feeding the occupiers, worshipping with the occupiers, and being the occupiers.  Others are questioning its long-term effectiveness.

People are asking for a central place to share their stories and their concerns and to create a space for dialogue.  The Standing on the Side of Love campaign wants to share what you are doing as part of the Occupy Movement.  We want you to have a place to dialogue about this new movement. Tell us what you think.

Scroll to the comments section at the bottom of this post to share your stories and comments.  Let’s start a dialogue together in community.

Standing on the side of love is what the Occupy movement is doing.   Taking shape on our city streets is a practice of building a new way — a beloved community in which all are welcome.  It is messy, joyful, deep and true work that we can’t afford not to be part of.   Standing with occupy is standing on the side of love, because the practice of Occupy itself is love in motion in our world.

Standing on the Side of Love has something to offer and value to add to the Occupy  movement, too.  We know that people of color have been disproportionately and disastrously impacted by the economic crisis.  Latinos and African Americans have the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation.  And undocumented immigrants have been scapegoated and blamed for causing unemployment!  In Boston, Occupy the Hood sprung up last weekend in Roxbury and a joint rally was held with Occupy Boston that focused on the connection between the violence in communities of color and the lack of economic opportunity for youth.   Police violence and incarceration rates for young people of color are intimately connected with the economic justice issues at the center of the movement. Now we see police attacks on one of the most diverse Occupy movements in the nation in Oakland.

As the situation grows more tense, I believe people of faith, in our yellow Love shirts, have a real role to play in witnessing for love, and insisting on loving treatment of the occupiers.  As Cornel West says, justice is what love looks like in public.

Please join me in dialogue and discernment.  Scroll to the comments section at the bottom of this post to share your stories and comments.

Let’s start a dialogue together in community.

In faith,


The Rev. Parisa Parsa

First Parish in Milton, Mass., Unitarian Universalist

PS: If you are on Facebook, check out “occUUpy,” an open forum for UUs to discuss the Occupy movement, and share their ideas, observations and experiences, and Peter Bowden’s UU Growth Blog, where you will find highlights of Unitarian Universalist participation in the Occupy movement.

28 Responses to “Bringing Love to the Occupy Movement”

  1. Parisa, thank you for your eloquent blog, and thanks to Susan Leslie, Dan Furmansky and whoever else helped make this blog site possible, since it is absolutely crucial that we Unitarian Universalists have a way to dialogue together about this huge spontaneous elemental justice happening going on now. While there are legitimate questions to be asked of the Occupy movement, the basic thrust toward a more equitable sharing of resources and the necessity for a new way of organizing ourselves together to meet the exceptional requirements of this time is right on the mark. The enormous, often unexpected, often moving outpouring of support shows that these basic concerns are widely held in a way that is inspiring and powerful. The terms of the public debate have indeed already been changed.

    In the Washington, DC area, four UU congregations mobilized themselves to feed Freedom Plaza for four evenings last week. Reston, Arlington, Fairfax, and Rockville each took a night, receiving a rousing ovation at a recent gathering of faith communities looking for ways to be of support to Occupy DC.

    This is way too important a movement for us UUs not to be well informed and wisely helpful as we see fit. Democracy is indeed breaking out here, as it did in the Arab Spring. The oligarchs may be different, but the response is the same.

  2. Dave Burwasser says:

    For medical reasons whose details are not germane here I’m physically unable to participate in Occupy, but I am overjoyed at the news of UU participation, especially Standing on the Side of Love — it’s a “natural.”

    Blessed be!

  3. Bob Bender says:

    Occupy Fort Lauderdale

    Involvement/Local History

    Sat Oct 8 – Attended initial GA – 200. Consisted of individuals testifying. Significant young cohort – under 35.Wife Patty was the only testifier to talk about Medicare, social Security, Medicade and War.

    Sun Oct 9 – GA2 – about 100. Broke down into Groups – Outreach, Direct Action, Media, Legal, Facilitation (Later added Mission, arts and Culture, Liaison). Elicited press

    Tues, Oct 12 – Direct Action Group – 15, cohort (5?) from Food Not Bombs.

    Sat, Oct 15 – First Demo – Convene at federal courthouse, then march. – 500 –ve4ry spirited. Benefited from good Sun Sentinel coverage. I accounted for a handful from mass blasts to my contact lists.

    Small group occupies and camps out at Bubier Park for 2 nights. Evicted. Welcomed for one night by Pride Center, then evicted –insurance concerns.

    Tuesday, Oct 18 – Direct Action Group – about 25

    Sat, Oct 22 – 2nd public demo – about 160. Marched to Bank of America, Board of Education, City Hall. Solidarity Singers, Labor support Chorus of which we’re organizers, sang and were well received.

    Youngest cohort has thinned out.

    Sun Oct 23 – Outreach – 15 – 1st meeting since Oct 8 – well organized.

    4th or 5th GA – 50 – less than 2 hours, efficient,

    Wed, Oct 26 – outreach Group met at donated office – good meeting in spite of provocative guest- about 15

    Sat, Oct 29 – tomorrow – Our small labor (trio-quintet) is a bit bolstered with a younger (50?) guitarist so we’re blending his music with our Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie songs of the 40s – hope it’s as good as last week.

    Reminiscent of civil rights movement – Newark-Essex (NJ) CORE, 1962-63 – High energy, moral passion, and enthusiasm, spontaneity and optimism.

    OFL – Transparent – open entry to involvement at all levels. Spurred by regular press attention


    Has already affected national agenda, inserting Economic Inequality.

  4. lisa jacobsen says:

    OccupyChicago is now being forced to march in circles by the CPD [via the Mayor's office] because the city’s crack team of lawyers have decreed that anybody holding a sign is “not the public” and as such, is subject to different laws than govern “actual pedestrians.”

    This breaks my heart, as the UUC/Woodstock, Illinois drove 2+ hours into the city on Monday to deliver food, supplies, blankets, clothing and our IMMENSE GRATITUDE to the Occupiers for the consciousness they are helping to raise around the world.

    This kind of thinking … this kind of behavior … this kind of persecution … this kind of twisting of our basic freedom … is EXACTLY what Occupy is about.

    love you
    love me


  5. Terry Reeves says:

    Bisbee, Arizona had a support rally for the Occupiers of Wall Street and now the country/world. I was very proud to be able to hold a sign and represent the community of Bisbee and the state of Arizona and the Unitarian Uiversalist Church of Southeastern Arizona, in support of people everywhere who are standing up for justice and equality. I’m truly proud to be associated with this movement.

  6. Kate Lore says:

    I have been deeply involved with the Occupy movement in Portland, Oregon. I march almost daily, attend those dreadfully long General Assemblies, and sit on the Occupy Portland Finance Committee. My church supports the movement in various ways and we almost always carry our SSL banner with us. The spirit of empowered unity is exhilarating for the most part.

    Still, after the marches and special events conclude, hardly anyone from the religious community sticks around long enough to deal with the complex dynamics going on in the camps (competing visions of anarchists, socialists, democrats, libertarians) competing communication styles (J versus P on the Meyers/Briggs) and competing needs (the infirm, the folks with mental health issues, folks without homes, etc . In this regard, I feel a deep need to connect with other UU clergy. I yearn for some other UUs with whom to reflect theologically.

  7. Again the time calls for a reminder that we believe in the power of the people over the government. We are facing economic hardships where the 1% are smothering the helpless poor. Corporate greed was enabled by our elected representatives, laws to economically enslave home buyers were enacted by Senators and Representatives and put into law by our Presidents. The “Occupy” locii need to be on Capitol Hill, on the White House lawn and at every local office of our Senators and Representatives. Democracy survives only where Responsibility reigns.

  8. Joel Trupin says:

    I am in awe of the Occupy movement across the country and the world. Keep it peaceful and keep it up!

  9. Mardys Leeper says:

    I have visited Occupy Philly twice, and worn my flaming chalice proudly. Members of our congregation have gone as well, and our minister has made many visits and worked with Occupiers and other clergy. I and other members of the Justice Ministry Team see value in supporting this effort to fight economic injustice in America. Both our minister and I have published letters to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer citing inaccuracies in news reporting surrounding Occupy Philly. Thanks for sharing information about involvement of UUA and Standing on the Side of Love.

  10. Rev. Colin Bossen says:

    My congregation took up a collection of supplies for Occupy Cleveland and several of us have been participating on and off. I have been out of town much of October and so haven’t been able to be as present as I would like but starting this weekend that should be changing. On Sunday after services I am going to the initial meeting of Occupy the Hood in Cleveland to see if there’s ways to connect the congregation there. I’ll also be at some of the GAs next week.

  11. Dominic Lampasi says:

    Recently I was fortunate to go to NYC to feed the protesters with a wonderful group called iEat Green. iEat provided the food & I got to deliver/ serve it with other iEaters… Well see the solidarity out there made me realize this how all things can change for the better if we all come together to form solutions.
    Yeah the rich corporate giants keep taking a bigger piece of the pie & controlling our elected officials, but I feel one

    SOLUTION can make a difference, that Being a sales tax on all new trades of any Non-401k stocks & mutual funds. The tax can vary possibly according income/ amount of trades or not & the details can be worked out with Brokerage firms as well computer traders. I believe even a 3 to 4% tax will help us all!!

  12. Retired from the corporate world, active with a non-profit and with a small business, and at 68 years of age, I’m a UU who with my wife has been attending Occupy Delaware GAs. While the cynics speak of “unwashed hippies” demanding “redistribution of wealth”, I’ve witnessed quite the opposite. These GAs are attracting about 100-150 folks who are a diverse mix of quite sincere and very well informed men and women of all ages, descriptive of a variety of local ethnic and economic constituencies.

    We engage politely and respectfully in a leaderless process that is emboldened by a level of professionalism that is undeniable and compelling. The desire to project love and respect in face of those who may have other competing agendas, is a constant theme of our conversation. Thank you for creating this forum to help unify and bring our worlds together.


  13. Ann Harrison says:

    I am so excited and hopeful about this protest. Our group here is having a hard time since the University said they could no longer stay in the park nearby. 30 were arrested. The good news is that several University professors have voiced concern and are talking with the President and having teach-ins. And the other good news is that the protest goes on! We have many homeless – particularly Native Americans who are in the group. It is amazing how the group is working with them as many are alcoholics but they are part of the 99% and maybe examples of how we have ignored them.

    David Korten in his book “Agenda for a New Economy 2nd Edition is right on with some ideas on building a new, just, loving economy. Some of us are studying it and hopefully many across the country will join us in putting it into action.

  14. Linda Hodges says:

    First Unitarian of Oakland is two blocks down from Occupy Oakland and I’ve been down several times to take food and lend support. I really feel that the Occupiers are living our UU values in real time — with their bodies, hearts and minds. The level of organization, harmony and community democracy is simply astounding.

    Michael Moore came to speak after the police raid that happened here. He energized the crowd and stood in solidarity with the movement.

    “Corporatized” democracy, which allows the legal siphoning of resources from the 99%, must give way to Community Democracy.

    As a UU I will work for this change in my church and in the world – especially right now at Occupy Oakland.

  15. I am a seminarian in Washington, DC and have been volunteering as one of the Protest Chaplains at Occupy DC. We have folks of all faiths listening to people’s stories, praying with people, and holding worship services of all kinds in the park.
    Last week, the UU churches in the area committed to bringing dinner to the park for all the occupiers. Each night was sponsored by a different congregation.
    Every time I go there, I am impressed by the peacefulness of the gathering, and the cooperative nature. It continues to grow, and it continues to be a model of how we can be at our best.
    It’s getting colder, but the people are undaunted. And there’s always room for one more.

  16. John Gubbings says:

    It seems to me that if yellow t-shirts and SSL banners are to be in an OCCUPY location, that accompanying Ministerial leadership is essential. This requires some degree of organization and planning to get bodies together.
    Individuals showing up in T shirts or a few with banners are representing themseves as individuals, well and good, but if we support as an institution, it again seems to me having a minister as spokesman and leader is needed.
    I would like to support a UU presence at the DC OCCUPY, but at strategic times and with articulate faith leadership, and more in the role of the “silent witness” program in PA.

  17. After an Interfaith Clergy march on Monday, Oct. 24th in solidarity with Occupy San Francisco, I met a protester wanting my help with three things: a backpack, a ride, and a few nights respite from sleeping on the streets. What went through my mind is the Buddhist practice of saying yes if possible. I promised to look in my garage, and see if I had a backpack, and we exchanged numbers.

    I reflected after spending a little time solo in the Occupy camp outside the protection of the couple hundred strong clergy group, how uncomfortable it would be to show up and wade into this protest. I am firmly one of the 99% who believe that corporate greed, hate, and delusion are signs that there are no checks on corporate personhood, and these issues need to be addressed in our current system. Singer songwriter Betsy Rose, drew a parallel between the Buddha’s teaching of how we struggle with the worst of human nature, and corporations that go unchecked in promoting greed (banks), hate (military), and delusion (media). While I recognize that not all banks, not everyone in the military, or all corporate media fall in this category, I see truth in her illustration.

    I later called the occupyer, and found out that this protester would indeed love a respite from sleeping in the middle of a city. With not a little anxiety, I agreed to a pick up at a nearby train station. I saw after a very short time how much I could learn from his integrity, his compassion and commitment to nonviolence, and his discipline.

    As I discussed the Occupy movement with my committee on ministry this morning, I was reminded that each city’s Occupy movement takes place within a larger context of that city’s relationship between government, police and protesters. One young adult expected to see younger UUs active with the Occupyers, and other demographics of our congregation helping more behind the scenes – sending food, or other supplies, engaging in the general assemblies, and showing our faces in the marches or other events.

    I am affirmed in my sense that it takes a big commitment to put your body on the line in this protest, and those of us who are glad to see it happening can be supportive in tangible needed ways if we have the courage to reach out and find out what is needed. We may find inspiration for our commitment to democracy, new ways of communicating, or the discipline it takes to put our values into action.

    I too am deeply grateful for the blog in order to reflect with other UUs on our engagement with this movement!

  18. Larry Siegel says:

    Because I am working, but also because of my age and health considerations I haven’t been able to stay overnight at an Occupy location. I have been to Occupy Trenton in NJ twice and spend several hours there each time so far. It is a small group, but dedicated to what they are doing.

    I don’t have much patience or respect for those who stand on the sidelines and who are dismissive of this movement. Social movements ARE hard and not easy.

    It took the suffragette movement almost a hundred years for women to get the vote. It took hundreds of years for the civil rights and gay rights movements to make changes. It took 10 years for the movement against the Vietnam War to grow to the size it did and that we WITH the draft.

    Being dismissive is the lazy mans excuse for not doing the work that needs to done and I don’t respect it.

    “All truth passes through three stages.
    First it is ridiculed.
    Second it is violently opposed.
    Third it is accepted as being self-evident.” Schopenhauer

    A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Rev. Martin Luther King

    In the end civil rights were achieved, Ghandi got England out of India, Apartheid was ended in South Africa and the Arab Spring has had success and is on going. WHAT WILL YOU DO TO MAKE THIS MOVEMENT A SUCCESS?

    “…And that — that brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!

    That doesn’t mean — I know it will be interpreted to mean, unfortunately, by the bigots who run The Examiner, for example — that doesn’t mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not letting anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!!

    - Mario Savio, University of California at Berkley, December 2nd, 1964

    One thing is for DAMN sure – if you don’t ACT nothing will change and THAT we can’t afford.

  19. Madeleine Cousineau says:

    I’ve visited Occupy Boston three times, the first for the UU Vespers on October 23, the second to bring a large pot of vegetable stew, and the third for the one-month anniversary on October 30 (“Let us eat cake!”). The best part was the Circle Dance.

    I wish I could do more to support this movement, but physical limitations and work prevent it. It was difficult finding the time to prepare the stew and physically challenging to carry it to the site from a distant parking space. But if a large number of people were to prepare food just once, we could help keep this movement going. I am so grateful that those hardy souls are persisting with camping out in the cold to represent the rest of us 99%.

  20. Elizabeth Case says:

    We are grateful for the show of concern and cooperation so far and after what has happened here in Denver with clashes between demonstrators and the police resulting in injuries and arrests, I would like to encourage us UUs to witness for Non-Violence and to inform those of the demonstrators apparently uninformed about history that they should also become a strong and effective movement for major change guided by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as well as the Anti-War demonstrators in the ’60s. Blessings and Peace,

  21. Rev. Robert Murphy says:

    Occupy efforts have developed in several towns on Cape Cod and local Unitarian Universalists continue to be active. In particular, there’s a lot of Unitarian Universalist activity in demonstrations in Falmouth…. Interesting point: We’ve had some large demonstrations but all of our demonstrations consist, overwhelmingly, of people who are past the age of sixty. Lots of gray hair…. No surprise. It’s very difficult for young people to find good jobs, and to build careers, in our region and the cost of living on Cape Cod is very high. Young families move away and the people left behind grow older. We worry about the future of health care, the future of aging, and the future of Social Security…. On two occasions, automobile drivers have shouted at the people in our demonstrations, “Get a job!” The occupy marchers just laugh. Yeah, sure. We have folks in their 70s who would love to have a job. Do you know any possible employers?

  22. Parisa Parsa says:

    Many thanks for the wonderful reflections and comments here!

    UUMA members, please note that a new forum has been established on the UUMA web site for conversation about clergy presence at Occupy: https://uuma.site-ym.com/forums/

  23. Information for interfaith clergy attending 11/2/11 General Strike and Day of action in Support of Occupy Oakland

    1. There will be a tent called the “Sacred Space Tent” that will be the
    clearinghouse and meeting place for clergy related info and events.
    The tent will be interfaith and non-faith welcoming. It will have a
    very high flag or other identifying markings. It will be staffed from 8
    AM – 10 PM by a clergy person of some faith tradition. If you are
    interested in helping staff this group show up early to sign up for a
    time slot.

    All Clergy should gather at the Sacred Space Tent a half hour before
    the three march times (9 AM, 12 PM and 5 PM) so that we can all march
    together and multiply the effect of our presence. Those meet-up times
    at the tent are:
    -8:30 AM
    -11:30 AM
    -4:30 PM
    These are very important meet-up times and should be spread as widely as possible through all of your networks.

    3. There will be trainings going on all day Tuesday, Nov 1 for anyone
    (clergy, lay, etc) who wishes to learn more about non-violence and how
    to embody the principles of Gandhi and King in the actions that we will
    be participating in on Wednesday.

    Finally, we ask that you not
    only come on Wednesday, but that you bring as many people with you as
    you can, spread this information through all your networks and contacts!

    Thanks and Peace,
    Rev. Jeremy D. Nickel

  24. Occupy Ogden, Utah had their first rally today with about 80 in attendance. About 10 people wanted to start camping tonight but had nowhere safe or legal to go. They asked if they could camp on our church lawn and use it as a base camp at least for awhile. We are in the downtown area and our members and myself were very visible at the rally in our yellow shirts. It is snowing here, so camping takes real dedication. Our board president called all the board members and, except for the one who could not be reached, all responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” My guess is that the rest of the congregation will be just as supportive.
    Standing on the Side of love and Justice in Ogden Utah,
    Rev. Theresa Novak

  25. Karen, Emma's Mom says:

    I’m so proud of my college student, and her friends, some of them other UU kids, at Occupy Los Angeles actions every Saturday. Thank you to all the UU adults out there who are supporting them and the other UU Occupiers.

    It’s a lot colder here in Minneapolis. I want to try to bring some warm food to the folks who are still out there tomorrow… Walking the talk.

  26. Jane says:

    I have chosen carefully the times I have gone to Occupy Boston because, as an undocumented immigrant, I cannot afford to get arrested. So why take the risk? Because “one has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms open,” because that which I have given up to live here is only worth it if I participate in all the ways I can, and so that I have integrity when I say that we are all worthy of love, dignity, respect and happiness. I want us all to encourage each other to speak up for the best of our country’s values, instead of allowing the worst to rule, whether that be in our families, schools, religious institutions, media, or government. I want UU’s to be strong, *public* voices that hold us to our best values and which say that those which are espoused by the far-right, fundamentalists of any religion, and bigots of all stripes are unacceptable.
    I am so proud of the folk who are risking peace, risking justice, risking love.

  27. Garskof says:

    The Occupy movement is all about economic justice and should resonate deeply with the UU movement. Not everyone can “occupy” in support of Occupy. We as UU’s must find ways to support the Occupy movement both economically, and symbolically. It is my hope that UU’s across the nation turn their focus on Occupy, finding ways to support and reinforce this important new movement.

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