UU Congregations in the DC Area Feed the Occupy Movement
Post by Justin Martin, Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and a ministerial candidate in the UUA.
Like many Unitarian Universalists, the message of the #Occupy movement and our local Occupy DC protesters resonated with me. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Showing support in person is important, but I wanted our church to support the movement in a way that would allow our congregation to work together. Several ministers in our area and other Unitarian Universalists felt that this sentiment was shared by many other people. So many of us were searching for some way to show our support for our local Occupiers and stand up for the economically oppressed in our nation.
Our faith calls us to strive for justice, and our nation’s growing income inequality is fundamentally unjust. Recent statistics show that those in the top fifth of household incomes make more than all others in our country combined and of that top fifth, most of the wealth is concentrated among the top one percent. This trend has a much larger impact on minorities. Poverty rates for those in historically marginalized communities continue to grow and are almost double the median national poverty rate. The #Occupy movement brings focus to this disparity and its goals could make significant progress to alleviate the unequal burden on oppressed communities. We naturally want to sustain their momentum and support reaching these goals. So, after putting some thought to the task of how we could best help them keep going, we decided to do one of the things churches do best: feed people. Churches use food to build community. We serve meals in times of celebration, and we serve meals in times of mourning. By sharing our food with the #Occupy community we could serve them in a way that brings us closer together.
From the outset it didn’t look easy. I went down to the Occupation to talk to them about what feeding the entire protest group would take. When I walked into the food tent I was met by three people who looked busy and more than a little stressed. I met a man named Doug who said he had been cooking for the group for two weeks. When I told him about our plan to bring meals to them Doug got really excited. Apparently keeping everyone fed as best they could was really tough and took up most all of his time. He would love to have some time to actually do some protesting, rather than just cook. He said that each night he and the great people in the cooking tent try to feed around 150 people using little more than camping stoves. I was blown away. Even with the full kitchen in our church I wasn’t sure if we could put together a meal for 150, and they were able to make it happen from a tent.
After we found out what the group would need for their meals, a call went out see who would be interested in helping. The response was overwhelming. A vast network of volunteers organized from all around the DC region, and plans went into motion to bring huge amounts of food to the Occupation site. In the end, the Unitarian Universalist churches and congregations in Arlington VA, Fairfax VA, Reston VA, and Rockville MD came together to bring meals for each and every protester in Freedom Plaza for four nights. Each night when our group brought down the food the thanks we received was amazing, and we heard from several Occupiers who said that it really brought the group’s spirits up to know that there were so many people supporting them. The food did what it was intended to to – energize the movement and support its mission.
The excitement was not limited to the Occupation site. In our UU community, the support from our congregations was inspirational. At the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, VA we were able to raise enough money to pay for all of the food that we cooked, and we still had enough left over that our minister, Rev. Erin Gingrich, was able to purchase a massive amount of vitamin C tablets that the protesters had requested so that they can stay healthy with the weather getting cold. In fact the excitement has spread to even more congregations so the greater Washington DC-area churches are going to feed the protesters dinner for another week. Right now we have plans to bring meals to the Occupy DC group in McPherson Square from Monday, November 14th through Friday, November 18th.
The massive outpouring of love that these churches have shown reflects our faith in the possibility of creating a more just and equitable society for all people. The connections our churches have made with the Occupy movement has energized both sides and created a wonderful larger community. When we share our resources and our time in this way we also share the hope and vision that lie at the heart of the Unitarian Universalist movement. There is no greater work we can do than this.