Violent. Drug-using. Vocal. Filthy. Revolutionary. Many adjectives have been used to describe the Occupy Wall Street movement, but religious or spiritual is rarely among them.
Yet spirituality has been a major part of the protests since they began. It was apparent at Occupy Oakland Monday when a dozen spiritual leaders sitting in a candle lit circle were arrested by riot police seeking to clear the camp. It’s been evident in the Interfaith tents and services proliferating at Occupy camp sites around the country. And it’s long been on display at Occupy Wall Street, in New York, the so-called “spiritual home” of the movement.
Fred Pantozzi, 21, who left Zuccotti Park last week to embark on the two-week march from New York to Washington, says he was drawn to Occupy because of the “deep spiritual aspect of the movement,” which he’s witnessed at the park through meditation, Buddhist practitioners, Cherokee shamans, devotees of Krishna, readings from the Bhagavad Gita, a few who identify with Samurai, and those who call themselves “psycho-noths.”
“People have discovered transcendence there,” Pantozzi said.
A big part of Occupy’s spirituality, Pantozzi said, is felt through music. As he marched through Pennsylvania with a pencil in his cap and bamboo stick in hand, Pantozzi often broke out in spontaneous song, often singing a verse from “Red Cave” by the band Yeasayer (“I’m so blessed to/have spent that time/with my family and friends”), or from the spiritual “Go Down Moses” (“Go down, Moses/Way down in Egypt’s land/Tell old Pharoah/Let my people go”).
Back in Zuccotti Park, music was ultra-present before campers were evicted:
Pantozzi’s words weren’t the only indication of spirituality along the march. After NYPD destroyed many items inside Zuccotti Park as part of the eviction Monday, marcher Michael Glazer called police to report that his Tanakh was among the ruined items. When the marchers did not have a place to stay in Bristol, Penn., the Quaker Friends meeting house there took them in. (The Quakers are also supportive of the movement at Occupy Philadelphia, where the group has an entire tent set up at the site.)
Religious traditions have also spoken out in support of the movement. The Vatican recently released a document about advancing the common economic good that some said showed the Pope supported Occupy. Some Christians have compared the movement to the bible story of the Cleansing of the Temple, in which money chargers were driven out of the temple for their commercial activities. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship encouraged followers to get involved. A group called Occupy Judaism in support of Occupy Wall Street is gaining steam.
After protesters were evicted on Tuesday from Zuccotti Park, some petitioned Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan to make use of the land owned by the church as the new staging ground for the protest.
Pantozzi left the march Monday to go back to New York in support of Occupy Wall Street. He was arrested shortly after, for reasons unknown, according to marchers.