Archives for the month of: November, 2012

Briefly noted, in the December 10 issue of America:

From its beginning, Occupy Wall Street has sought to embody a truly democratic community while also responding to people’s basic needs. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Occupy has been able to coordinate an effective relief effort—hot meals, water, medicine and blankets—because of an internal culture that quickly turns volunteers into organizers and expands its reach. The movement has also worked closely with local churches. “Nearly every major distribution site is a church,” said Nathan Schneider, of Occupy Catholics. “This movement is recognizing the vital role religion can and must play in transformation in this society, both in terms of politics and the imagination.”

In addition to the relief effort, this religious imagination has also helped Occupy develop creative responses to the larger economic problems that plague the country. The Rolling Jubilee campaign, launched on Nov. 15, raises money to buy defaulted debt at pennies on the dollar and then abolishes the debt—drawing from the Jubilee tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tim Worstall, a contributor to Forbes, called it an idea “we can all get behind.”

Lending money, like building a budget, is a matter of moral concern. This is why Occupy Catholics and other faith-based groups seek to increase the usage of the terms jubilee and usury in conversations about economics. “The cruelest features of our economic system” need to “be seen for the sins that they really are,” explained Occupy Catholics. As Occupy Wall Street enters its second year, it is evident that the movement has staying power and is growing in relevance and effectiveness in addressing the nation’s economic woes.

An interview with one of our own in the National Catholic Reporter:

As co-founder and co-director of Common Law Inc., Karen Gargamelli works to prevent evictions and foreclosures and shares with the late Dorothy Day a vision of hospitality that would reduce the number of people who live on the streets.

Day used to say there would be no homeless people if families would invite someone on the streets to live with them. Our tendency is to put up a column of red flags, citing special needs of some homeless individuals and safety concerns for family members. But surely there are some circumstances that would work, bringing blessings on both givers and receivers of such hospitality. Gargamelli, 31, is promoting a project that would unite laypeople, members of religious communities and individuals needing homes.

Sr. Camille: Is this a new idea for you?

Gargamelli: No. God planted this idea in my heart years ago. I have nourished this idea for years with prayer, study and conversation.

Did any experience give a specific form to your proposal?

In 2003, I joined Dominican Volunteers USA, a program that pairs college graduates with Dominican sisters across the United States. I lived with (and to this day am very close with) three Amityville Dominican sisters. I was 22 years old at the time, and soaked up the Dominican traditions, charisms and community life. While living in the convent, I was struck by the number of empty rooms within our home. I knew others could benefit from closeness to the sisters, and I believed these rooms should provide shelter for those in need. I wondered if laypeople could be of assistance to the sisters and imagined a small, mutually enriching community.

Did you ever considering entering that or any other religious community?

I have long felt most happy when I am available to and intimate with many people rather than one person. I am happiest when I engage in regular prayer and meditation. I am most fulfilled when I am seeking justice and living simply. As for the call, that voice that is not your own but more familiar: Yes, I have heard it before, but still look for its manifestation.

What happened after that year of volunteering?

I entered the City University of New York School of Law and began volunteering at the Catholic Worker. Since 2005, I have volunteered one day a week at Maryhouse in Manhattan. From the workers, I learned about personalism and the importance of resisting institutionalization and corporatization.

And Jesuit Fr. George Anderson, a mutual friend and close friend of the Catholic Worker, told me about you.

George Anderson is an important person to many. He is important not because he elevates himself or exerts authority over others. He is important because he affects us; he changes our lives. He is a thoughtful friend, a moral priest and a gentle person. So many at the Worker, myself among them, are grateful for his participation in community life.

Did you finish law school?

Yes. Upon graduating in 2007, two friends and I launched an organization called Common Law to offer free legal education and legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers. The goal of our legal work is to increase and support community organizing and activism. In the last five years, we’ve assisted hundreds of New Yorkers, among them undocumented workers, homeowners facing foreclosure, and tenants facing eviction.

Can you explain your strong desire to provide safe harbors for endangered people?

Since the very beginning of my faith journey in New York, my country has waged war in the Middle East. The war has been a backdrop to my entire adult life. I believe God is calling me to acknowledge our daily destruction, to make peace and to bring healing.

How does a war waged so far away influence your life choices?

In the last few years, I’ve met Iraqi refugees passing through Maryhouse Catholic Worker. Some have shared stories of destroyed homes and homeland, family members murdered or kidnapped. Many of the Iraqis living here in America are further traumatized by isolation as they struggle to grasp our culture and language. I am well aware that my daily routines — consuming oil, paying taxes — contribute to this violence.

The problem seems overwhelming. Doesn’t it make you feel powerless?

Hospitality makes sense to me. Recently, a young Iraqi woman with whom I’d been corresponding came to New York to apply for asylum. I’ve welcomed her into my home and my life, trusting that God can carve a “Christ room” out of a studio apartment in Queens. She now lives and helps out at the Catholic Worker. We have continued to deepen and enjoy our friendship.

That seems to place a heavy burden on a small space! What would you do if you had a bigger place?

There are many other refugees living in isolation — older single women, mothers and their children — who could form community with her and with lay Catholics and vowed religious. We have so much to learn from each other!

Do you have more of a plan?

I’m specifically seeking to rent a few rooms (for myself, my friend, and perhaps one or two more people) in a convent with a community of vowed religious. In time, I should like to build an intentionally small community with no more than two or three lay Catholics and no more than five others in need of home and community. I am seeking a religious community willing to join me in this ministry.

Karen, what was your own home life like?

Although my nuclear family is just four people, my understanding of family included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Our Italian-American heritage and identity was important to the entire family, and our Catholic faith ordered our way of life. The liturgical seasons were meaningful; Lent and Advent shifted our daily lives. My brother and I were altar servers (I was among the first girl servers at our parish) and both of us served on the parish council. My father was a construction worker and my mother, a Catholic school teacher. We never went without, but I knew it was only because my parents were extremely careful with their (hard-earned) money and focused on providing for their children.

What schools did you attend?

I attended St. Mary School in Branford, Conn., and Hopkins High School, a secular but private institution, in New Haven. I purposely sought a university that could provide me with rigorous theology and philosophy courses and attended the Jesuit Loyola University, Chicago. I credit the Jesuits for linking the works of mercy with activism. As described above, I also attended CUNY School of Law — my first and only choice because of CUNY’s radical roots and continued focus on public interest.

Did you have any heroes, heroines or role models while you were growing up?

As a child, I loved the saints: Lucy, Catherine of Siena and Elizabeth of Hungary. Because Yankee baseball was not far behind religion in our house, I also admired Don Mattingly and, later, Bernie Williams. Two movies (surprisingly, Disney creations) were childhood favorites and influential: “Robin Hood” and “Newsies,” a tribute to paperboys who went on strike in 1899. The message of those films — that people united can overcome even the meanest and wealthiest of despots — excited me. The films’ emphasis on organizing and mobilizing fit so well with the concepts repeated throughout my childhood: resurrection and teamwork.

And now?

I nuzzle my way into the communities with the people I most want to emulate — the Catholic Worker, my Amityville Dominican sisters, networks of housing activists here in the city. My mother and my law partner can always set me straight, neither of them complainers nor willing to suffer fools.

What is your image of God?

I can conjure the form of Jesus readily. Mary (who secures my faith) looks like a statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in West Haven, Conn. The Holy Spirit has been felt — a flush of warmth in my chest or a rush of clarity of mind. God the father is a tricky one — most often, in my mind’s eye, too vast for form. There have been moments, however, when I saw him as an old Italian man with a cap, feeding pigeons or taking a stroll.

Has it changed over time?

When I was younger, I pictured myself before the throne of God, asking for blessing and a commission. These days, I’m interacting with God on the journey — in a boat or on a donkey, walking in the desert. I get a kick out of these spiritual images and visions: I can barely swim, never rode an animal and have more or less stayed in the tri-state area, in our marshy and wooded terrain. Yet God so clearly presents to me as navigator. (Dare I say co-pilot?) There is not a specific form with me on these mental excursions, simply a presence.

Do you have a favorite scripture passage or parable?

I am always startled by Ecclesiastes 1: 2-11. Vanity of Vanities! Nothing is new under the sun! I am reminded that the struggle for justice (food equality, race reparations, housing as a human right) and personal and interpersonal struggles (loneliness, jealousy, insecurity) are ancient struggles. None of this is unique to our age or to us as individuals.

Does your appreciation of it affect your life?

I am reminded that I cannot be goal-oriented, or I risk the endless run on the hamster wheel. I must ask God for a bigger vision, a longer understanding.

Where do you worship?

When I am with family, I worship at St. Mary Church in Branford, Conn., where I am from. When I am in New York, I worship at St. Francis Xavier.

How do you pray?

I try to follow this simple formula daily before collapsing into bed and nodding off: praising God; acknowledging my failures and any harm I have caused; thanking God for the many blessings I have received; and asking for mercy for myself and others. As a treat, I attend Taizé prayer services. Song is such a physical way of praying; it can distribute prayer to our whole bodies.

What do you look for in your friends?

Most of my close friends are powerful women of faith, working to bring about justice and peace. I seek the ones who like to laugh at themselves and their mistakes.

What changes do you think would improve the church?

The big three: women’s ordination, recognition that gay love is love, and a restoration of equilibrium — the same attention to “protecting life” and “fighting for the poor.”

What would you like your life to be like five years from now?

I’d like it to include a home where an intentional community thrives: prayer-driven, offering hospitality, working for social change and, occasionally, watching the Yankees.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D’Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audio book is available through the book’s website, storiesofforgiveness.com.]

http://ncronline.org/node/39971

In America magazine:

This guest blog comes courtesy of Susan Wilcox, C.S.J., the director of campus ministry at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of Occupy Catholics.

For much of its existence, the Catholic Church has taught a profound suspicion of usury—that is, predatory lending which turns the borrower into a victim. As recently as 1745, Pope Benedict XIV warned in an encyclical that usury “assumes various forms and appearances in order that the faithful, restored to liberty and grace by the blood of Christ, may again be driven headlong into ruin.” Even the present Pope Benedict has called for “a renewed commitment on everyone’s part effectively to combat the devastating phenomenon of usury and extortion, which constitutes a humiliating form of slavery.” At a time of ongoing financial crisis, Catholics must remember that lending money is a matter of moral concern; we are forbidden from engaging in debt arrangements that foster an unjust debtor-lender relationship.

Catholic teaching about debt is relationally oriented. Loans that are unfairly weighted and prevent access to life-sustaining food, shelter and health care are immoral and illegitimate. This is why Catholics have worked for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. Yet here in the United States, we have been conditioned by consumer culture with a veil of shame, to the point of thinking that debt is solely personal, rather than communal or relational. We often blame the poorest among us for problems created by the powerful. Thus, in the context of today’s worldwide economic collapse, there is something backward about the idea that it is the debtors who should be asking for forgiveness. In a moral universe, should not the 1 percent beg God for mercy while the 99 percent ask for forgiving hearts?

And what might it take for the 99 percent to be able to extend such forgiveness? In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, volunteers at the information table told me that Wall Street workers sometimes treated the table as a confessional to ease their guilt. But confession and forgiveness, by themselves, are not enough to change an immoral social order. Only when we the 99 percent strip away our shame, reclaim our essential dignity and resist nonviolently together will we bring about the justice that true reconciliation requires.

Strike Debt is a campaign, grown out of Occupy Wall Street, that seeks to build a movement of debtors by highlighting predatory lending practices while promoting debt resistance and mutual aid. The task these activists have set for themselves is a profoundly theological one; they are attempting to transform how people think about what they really owe in life and to whom.

Strike Debt began with extensive research on debt resistance, resulting in The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which is now available for free in print and online. The manual is meant to be a participatory collection of research, strategies and tactics that will grow in future editions. Strike Debt members have made a special point of reaching out to religious communities like the interfaith network Occupy Faith and Occupy Catholics, of which I am a part, to help understand and frame their work from a theological perspective.

Drawing on the concept of the debt-forgiving jubilee from the Hebrew scriptures, Strike Debt calls its latest project the “Rolling Jubilee.” Defaulted loans will be purchased for pennies on the dollar, just as collection agencies do. But then the debt will be abolished. Activists plan to begin with abolishing medical debts, which are often forced on people with no other choice because of catastrophic illness. The idea has caught fire, winning the unlikely praise of Forbesand TIME Business & Money, and it has already raised enough money to abolish more than $2 million in debt. The Rolling Jubilee is designed to result in a bailout for the people, enabling us to free our communities from debt just as the government does for Wall Street and the country’s most powerful corporations.

Meanwhile, Occupy Faith is undertaking “A People’s Investigation: The Human Cost and Moral Implications of the Financial Crisis.” In the spirit of the truth commissions that followed South African apartheid and the civil rights movement, API is gathering stories from people who have fallen victim to many forms of predatory lending—from medical debt to credit cards, from municipal debt to student loans. These stories reveal how usury thrives in an individualistic society where employers reap rewards for paying less than a living wage. So far, API participants report the healing they have experienced from being listened to and from the knowledge that their story is contributing to something purposeful. The purpose of API, after all, is not only to collect stories of debt trauma but to publicize them as a resource in the struggle for a more just public policy.

Those of us in Occupy Catholics, inspired by the Occupy movement’s prophetic stand for economic justice, have been expressing our faith through creative direct action since last December. We have washed dirty feet, as Jesus did, and we have been arrested for sitting in the way of Wall Street. We help bring fellow Catholics to Occupy and Occupy to fellow Catholics with the conviction that our religious tradition is coded for justice. Most recently, inspired by the work of Strike Debt, we are speaking from the depth of our tradition to oppose usury as it is being practiced today—and we invite you to join us.

During this Jubilee Year of the Second Vatican Council, can we reclaim the spirit of the original jubilee of the Bible? Can we reclaim the debts that really matter and discard those that erode our relationships? In the words of a recent global call to debt resistance, “To the banks, we owe you nothing. To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything.”

– Susan Wilcox, C.S.J.

Monday’s New York Times suggests that even the one percent, the leaders of Wall Street, have been effected by the power of Hurricane Sandy. Certainly millions of middle class people have suffered dislocation, as well as loss of electricity, homes and their sense of security. What has been less discussed by the media and political leaders is how poor people (words hardly mentioned during the elections) here and around the world, whose daily support base is already fragile, have been the primary victims of Sandy and climate change in general.

In New York City, the residents of low income communities, such as Rockaway and the Lower East Side — most of them people of color, along with many elders and children — were first of all disproportionally vulnerable to the fury of the storm and then found themselves in dark streets and apartments and stranded in high rise buildings without elevators, without food or water and without the same level of timely aid as the more affluent areas. Happily, noble volunteer groups such as Occupy Sandy have stepped into the breach, a tribute to the ingenuity and generosity of the Occupy movement.

Even less known is the toll that Sandy took on the already struggling Carribean area before it touched on the U.S. mainland. Beautiful Santiago, the second largest city of Cuba with 500,000 people and 650,000 more on its outskirts was slammed by a Level 5 hurricane, which flattened its homes, schools and hospitals. They still have no electrical power after two weeks, while parts of New York City lit up after four days. Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, was also devastated.

On September27, almost prophetically a few days before Sandy, several Carribean and other heads of state made an urgent appeal to the next UN Climate Change Conference to be held on Nov. 29 in Qatar. They challenged the UN, in light of the failure of many of the past climate gatherings, to finally create concrete plans, strategies, financial aid and binding treaties to address the climate crisis, especially as it impacts the developing nations.

In their statements, these leaders insisted that their people are already the victims of global scorching:

“The islands of our planet are at war against climate change, warming temperatures and rising seas… Entire nations… may cease to exist as a result of our inaction.”

These are the voices of the poor — of the lowest percentile of the 99 percent — calling out to us. They are telling us that the climate policies of the richer nations and of the energy corporations do not represent their interests or the interests of Mother Earth. Sandy is a dramatic reminder of the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did not do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did not do it to me.” ( Matthew 25)

Fr. Paul Mayer, originally published at The Huffington Post.

A rising sea of change is flowing across the conscience of America and the world as we realize that we have the potential to change our economic paradigm towards a more inclusive model, one which includes all people. More and more people who have been given enough social, emotional and material freedom realize the present system doesn’t work for the have’s nor the have nots. The predominantly young people in the Occupy Movement have taken the lessons they have learned from our present inefficient and inequitable economic system and cast them, with a tremendous breath of altruism, into the hope of creating a more just economic paragon. These new leaders who stand for economic equality are continually searching for new ways to work towards a more equitable economic system. They want those who have less financial stability to have a chance to actualize their full potential and those who have more to be happy and fully engaged with all humanity. It has not gone unrecognized that this push toward less greed to help address more need is in keeping with the teaching of Catholic Social Justice as defined by Vatican 11.

One of their latest ventures is the Rolling Jubilee a debt bailout of the people by the people. This Strike Debt initiated project has set up a fund to buy defaulted medical debt for pennies on the dollar – just like debt collectors do. But, instead of collecting on this “debt,” they are going to abolish it.
This extraordinarily magnanimous gesture by a group of people who see that there future rests on the betterment of everybody’s future is a testament to their greatness in this often divided country. They come from an assortment of faith backgrounds or from a lack of faith, however, they share the common belief that love is our binding force. Who can argue with this noble aspiration. There is nothing wrong with there appeal to idealism realized. I have had my opportunity to raise a family and I stand behind these young people who are willing to put their livelihoods on the line for a better world. I stand behind these young people with fear and trembling knowing the harsh realities of living within an economic system in which many people have cut their souls out in the name of corporate greed and rationalized it by isolating themselves from the poor while living ‘the good life’. The wealthy often dish out huge sums of money to charities in a thinly veiled effort to assuage their own conscience and convince themselves they have the right answer to the solution of poverty. The actualizing of real change where we all care for one another takes hard work and often back breaking toil. It is not a world of feel good service. It is going to take change on everyones part. In my book they have already accomplished their dream. Let us all learn from them. We can all support the Rolling Jubilee as a vote of confidence in the Occupy Movement and the younger generation who have been so profoundly affected by our collective mistakes. You can be sure I will be donating!

THE PEOPLE’S BAILOUT
Strike Debt of the Occupy Movement will launch on November 15th with a telethon called “The People’s Bailout.” There will be roughly three hours of music, comedy, education, magic. Confirmed guests include: comedian Janeane Garofalo, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead, actor/director John Cameron Mitchell (‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’), comedian Hari Kondabolu, David Rees of ‘Get Your War On’, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and more. The telethon will be at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City and will be streamed live at http://www.rollingjubilee.org. Tickets are on sale here.

Our goal is to raise $50,000, which will allow us to abolish more than $1,000,000 dollars worth of medical debt. 100% of donations will go to buying debt. If we raise more, we’ll buy more debt. Donations can be made online at rollingjubilee.org.

– Bernice McCann