Occupy Wall Street protesters have been kicked out of New York City's Zucotti Park and organizers are struggling to keep the movement alive by pleading with a downtown church to allow them usage of an empty plot of land. However, the church has refused, and now protesters and their supporters are accusing church leaders of being “controlled” by the powerful financial institutions that sit on its board.
On Thursday, Dec. 15, approximately twenty OWS supporters gathered in front of New York City's historic Trinity Church, located one block away from Zucotti Park where the OWS protest originated, to ask Trinity Church authorities to allow OWS to use an empty plot of land that the church owns for an assembly and protest like the one disbanded by the NYPD in November.
Trinity Church, also known as Trinity Wall Street, which is said to be one of the largest landowners in Manhattan with reportedly over $10 billion in real estate holdings, has been supportive of OWS in the past by allowing protesters to enter the church for rest, counseling and to use the restrooms. However, the church is drawing the line at allowing usage of a plot of land approximately one mile north of the sanctuary.
Trinity released a statement explaining its refusal, saying that although the church “has probably done as much or more for the [protesters] than any other institution in the area,” allowing usage of the land “would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”
In the statement, Trinity warned that here are no facilities or “basic elements” for protesters on the property and, with winter coming up, the “health, safety and security problems posed by an encampment here, compounded by winter weather, would dwarf those experienced at Zuccotti Park.”
Despite the concerns raised by Trinity Church, the Rev. Michael Ellick of the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, criticized the administrators for being "hypocritical."
"The story of Christmas starts with Mary and Joseph's search for a home," Ellick said in a press release. "It's thus especially ironic, and tragic, that Trinity Church -- one of the largest landowners in New York City -- refuses even a tiny, unused piece of its vast land to OWS, which points to the same spirit of transformation that Jesus represented."
"This is truly a theological line in the sand," added Ellick. "The gospel is about real-world transformation, not cosmetic charity. How is it that Trinity's real estate is worth over 10 billion dollars, and all they can do for Occupy is hand out hot chocolate?"
Laura Gottesdiener, a member of OWS, told The Christian Post that Trinity has a duty to keep free speech alive, which she said is being oppressed in today's political climate.
“I understand property rights and as a country, we love our property rights,” she said. “We also seem to love our first amendment rights, and I think right now they are in direct conflict. Right now, in New York City, even in public parks, you can't gather in groups of large people...so if we can't assemble and exercise our right to free speech and assemble on public land, we have to turn to private land. That's why we're appealing to organizations and institutions like churches that have traditionally been safe havens for things like freedom of speech during times of political oppression.”
By refusing OWS use of the land, Gottesdiener said that Trinity is being part of the problem of power being “concentrated in the hands of the few.”
“Right now, I see Trinity aligned with Wall Street because Citigroup, AIG and Brookfield sit on their vestry board, as well as lot of other institutions that have changed our economy and have contributed to this privatization problem.”
She added: “What we're trying to do is show that power is all connected and right now it's concentrated in the hands of the few...We're concerned with where the church is going if their vestry and their decision-making bodies are controlled by Wall Street.”
However, Trinity Church disagrees with OWS framing the land usage issue in political terms.
“Calling this an issue of 'political sanctuary' is manipulative and blind to reality,” the church said in its statement. “Equating the desire to seize this property with uprisings against tyranny is misguided, at best. Hyperbolic distortion drives up petition signatures, but doesn't make it right. Those arrested were not seeking sanctuary; they were seeking to be arrested. Trinity will continue our responsible outreach and pastoral services for all. We appreciate the many expressions of support we have received from so many in the community.”
Despite Trinity's refusal, over 12,000 members of Faithful America, an online community, have signed a petition urging the church to allow OWS usage of the land for protests.
One signer of the petition wrote: “In Jesus' name, I pray you will offer sanctuary to Occupy Wall Street.”
During the gathering in front of the church, a small nativity scene was set up by OWS sympathizers, with a sign referening the Nativity account from the Bible: “There was no room for them in the inn, but with $10 billion in real estate, Trinity has plenty of room. #OccupyFaith #OWS.”