Monthly Archive: October 2011

Beyond Obamaism: Occupy Wall Street and the Capacity to Hope


Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

It’s been a month since I wrote a piece on Young Anabaptist Radicals about my experience of visiting Occupy Chicago. It was three days after they had started camping in front of the Federal Reserve of Chicago and 10 days after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) kicked off in New York. At the time, I wrote with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. The visit gave me a glimpse into the sense of possibility that I remember from watching the Seattle protests but also a dose of skepticism bordering on cynicism. What could such a small group of people really do?

A month later, the answer seems clear: plenty. It still seems miraculous in many ways. While announcing the death of apathy and despair in the United States (as Michael Moore did at Occupy Oakland on Friday) is probably premature, the OWS movement has gone a long way towards tearing down the barriers that prevent so many of us from working together for change.

I’d like to share a few observations building on the framework that Steve Kryss developed in his article for the Mennonite Weekly Review. He named these parallels between the OWS movement and the Anabaptist movement that sprung up across cities in Europe nearly 500 years ago:

The Anabaptist movement emerged largely among the young. It moved through the urban contexts of educated Europeans without clarity but with a clear bent toward justice for the poor.

It emerged in and around the Peasant Revolts, which threatened established governments and religious perspectives. The radical Anabaptists were sympathetic to those whose lives were controlled by overlords.

Early Anabaptism was a movement of conversing, addressing powers and protesting. It was met with ridicule and with sympathy. There were dialogues and diatribes.

I notice three other parallels with early Anabaptism that inspire me: (more…)

Occupy Wall Street: Interview with Eli Robert and Riley

Amtrak crosses the county carrying overnight passengers, strangers who engage each other as little or as much as they want. I overhear the social analysis of foreigners, business owners, union workers, environmentalists, activists and Amish. Wide seats, scenic cars, and café tables host a unique social atmosphere, literally a meeting in between places with a cross-section of the world.

Last night I returned from New York State via Amtrak, following a weekend of faith-based social justice fellowship with the Word and World mentoring program. I heard three young men relate their weekend experience of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Computer speakers played Colbert’s speech at the White House Press Dinner. Elderly voices discussed political debates in Iowa, “Those politicians are all liars” … “Well that should not attract votes the way they argue.”

Tim spotted the chance for a window into the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement from its source in New York City. We invited the activists to the café car for an interview. Eli Fender (23), from Seattle joined the camp for two weeks. Robert Smith (20) and Riley O’Neil (20) both originally from Rogers Park in Chicago (small world) both visited the camp over the weekend.

Charletta: Tell us about the movement’s shape. What are some of the tools that are important at OWS?

Eli: There’s the people’s microphone, which a lot of people know about. There’s also working groups such as the facilitation working group who guides the General assembly. In democracy you worry about where power starts welling up. So I joined the facilitation group meeting.


Canine disobedience

Since almost two months now I am working on a Palestinian farm surrounded by settlements – more on the project maybe in another article. Today I want to share with you an observation I have made about my relationship with the animals I am taking care of. All our animals have a very strong will for freedom and since it’s not only my job to feed and clean them, but also to lock them in their cages and repairing the fences, this will for freedom conflicts with my role.
But while the goats ram me with their head and the horses sometimes try to run away, or even kick me, our dogs have employed a different strategy:

They always break out of their cage either during lunch or dinner to protest the lack of food I am giving them and run around barking. So, I need to interrupt my meal and catch them. Now the strange thing happens. While sometimes they’ll run away, when I catch them, they always just lie numb on the ground and stretch their feet out towards me. They don’t try to bite me, they’re just lying there. I try to convince them by telling them it is my duty to lock them up and I’m sorry I can’t give them more food, but I can only give them as much food as possible.
No reaction.
Next, I pet them and promise them I’ll try to get extra food though I know there isn’t any.
No reaction. (more…)

Fierce and Fabulous

Who knew queer anabaptists had such great stories. When I was sitting on the South Shore Line on my way to the BMC retreat I had no idea what to expect from the weekend.

“The BMC”, as it is commonly called, is short for The Brethren Council on Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Interests. I know the name is long and very forgettable but the people who are part of the BMC definitely aren’t . This year the BMC celebrated 35 years of fierceness and fabulousness. That’s nine years longer than I’ve been alive. Some of the people I met this weekend were advocating for LGBT inclusion before I knew I was gay and even before I was born. For over three decades these people’s voices have been silenced by both Mennonite and Brethren denominations and yet they keep working, keep advocating, and most surprisingly they keep laughing.

The laughing part is what most surprised me; these people have some painful stories to tell but they also have some absolutely hysterical ones. Everyone had stories to tell and so many of these stories resulted in hearty laughter. Whether it’s an awkward coming out story or taking a family picture in plain drag, these queer folk have some amazing stories. (more…)

Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed is the spirit that the poor possess

Living 10 years in Latin America, where one inevitably encounters poverty and is therefore affected by it, has shaped my life, my priorities, and my thinking.

What’s more, I was lucky enough not to live at arms length from those who were poor. Our family and the work of my parents had us building relationships with those who were poor. I got to listen to, had friendships with, and walked side-by-side with those who were struggling with poverty. These experiences and relationships have changed my life. Now, being formed by these relationships, I find myself continuing to walk with those who are poor. This has led me to work in prisons, homeless shelters, and in communities in South Africa where my hope is that I can be in solidarity with those whose lives are spent struggling against that which systemically causes, creates, or keeps people in poverty. This is, after all, a struggle for justice.

One reality, however, that continues to cause confusion, especially among Christians, is the question of whether the gospel message deals with economic or material realities. One verse that has caused much confusion is Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This verse begins one of the most powerful and revolutionary “sermons” or teachings ever articulated. (more…)

Women, War, and Peace: In Palestine, Afghanistan, and Liberia

October 6 marks the 10-year anniversary of the United States’ war in Afghanistan. In response to this event and the stories of woman in war zones around the world, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) in the United States plans to rally “women and thoughtful men” around the U.S. to proclaim that this war has gone on 10 years too long and demand “not one more death allowed” and “not one more dollar spent” on this war. They join the thousands who continue the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and direct-democracy actions in New York and many other cities and towns across the U.S.

The anniversary of this war marks the years of my journey doing feminist anti-war organizing (with WAND, Mennonites, and others). It is a formation that began in the early days of this war in 2001 when, as a senior at a Mennonite high school, I became pen pals with a young woman who lived in Nazareth. She spoke Arabic and English. I spoke English and Spanish. We didn’t know anything else about each others’ realities. Through English-language letters over the next year, we began to paint a picture of daily life across the world for one another.

I never imagined that 10 years later there would still be a U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
I never imagined that 10 years later I would live in Jerusalem, not far from Nazareth. (more…)

becoming Mennonite

Last year I had an opportunity to visit eight Mennonite communities in the United States. I talk about it as my get-to-know-the-family tour (I haven’t been a Mennonite for very long). I am discovering that we are quite a diverse denomination. I ended up writing a series of reflections for The Mennonite Weekly Review about my experiences in these different congregations (see the column, Life of the Body).

I ended the column with a summary reflection about what it means to think of Anabaptism as a living tradition in which we can participate by being part of the Mennonite church (among other Anabaptist denominational bodies):

An Anabaptist vision that is simply an essence distilled from various histories turns our tradition into a corpse. Anabaptism as a system of principles ends up killing the past. Once we have a system, we no longer let the twists and turns of our present life give us new ears to hear what we may have missed before. Within a living tradition, old voices are made new as we let our ever-changing world open us to displays of faithfulness from different times and places. Anabaptism comes alive when we locate ourselves within cultures of worship that become spaces where stories can echo back and forth through the ages. (“Faith that lives“–not my chosen title)

Anyhow, that’s were I’ve ended up, at least for now. If you are interested in further thoughts in this direction, I put together a booklet of my reflections. It’s available at the website of the church I’m a part of: CHMF, Mennonites. But I’ll also post it here, if you’re interested:

Isaac Villegas, Life in the Body (2011). (click to download the whole booklet in pdf form)

Below are some passages from the booklet, if you want to get a taste of it to make sure its worth your while. (more…)