University of Southern California

Center for Religion & Civic Culture

Occupiers Get Religion

Image of Occupiers Get Religion

Occupy Wall Street now occupies more than the iconic New York City financial district. In the past month, the movement has spread across the U.S. and the world, to our phones as apps, to pop culture on MTV, has gone viral on the internet - and now religious elements are making their way onto the scene.

Occupy Wall Street protests corporate greed and economic inequality, and is not a religious movement. The activist group Adbusters started the movement with a September 17th event in lower Manhattan that has since grown into a worldwide protest involving more than 900 cities and has become a place for some spiritual collaboration.

  • Chicago-based group Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization that educates, and mobilizes the religious community, offers an interfaith prayer service guide for occupation protests and Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregation discussion guides.
  • Jewish new media activist Daniel Sieradski hosted a large Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service for protesters in New York City earlier this month, which he called Occupy Yom Kippur. Sieradski has continued with his efforts, called Occupy Judiasm, with next Jewish holiday: Occupy Sukkot, which is being practiced in 12 cities.
  • Marty Dagoberto started Occupy Sacred Spaces at Occupy Boston. Inside one of the Sacred Spaces in Boston, a Buddha statue sits near a picture of Jesus, while a hand-lettered sign in the corner points toward Mecca, the AP reported.
  • Muslims have gathered to support the movement in New York and have held Friday prayers. AMCLI alumna Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab-American Association, is among them. "We as Muslim New Yorkers are here today because we are in solidarity and support of Occupy Wall Street," said Sarsour.
  • The Protest Chaplains, a group of mostly Christian students, seminarians and laypeople organized though Facebook, partnered with the Occupy Boston community to erect a "Faith and Spirituality" tent in early October. The tent hosts yoga workshops, Muslim prayer celebrations and even a Yom Kippur service that drew more than 125 Jewish attendees. Marisa Egerstrom, member of the Protest Chaplains and a Ph.D. candidate in religion at Harvard, wrote an op-ed for CNN about the group.
  • Just blocks from where the protests began in New York, Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church opened its doors to protesters as a place of rest and a meeting and group space.
  • In South Carolina, a rabbi joined an African Methodist Episcopal pastor, among others, to help organize protests in Florence, including the Justice First March and Rally earlier this month.
  • Judson Memorial Church in New York City has collected the signatures of 235 faith leaders on a petition to support the movement.
  • Clergy from across the faith spectrum voice their support of Occupy Wall Street in this report by the Odyssey Networks.
  • The organization Faith in Public Life has worked with Catholics United, Judson Memorial Church in New York, and a range of faith leaders to join the movement. Earlier this month, they helped bring a golden calf to an Occupy Wall Street interfaith service and rally to symbolize the idolatry of greed.
  • Rev. Brian Merritt of the Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C., is a vocal supporter of Occupy DC and gives supporters spiritual guidance and peanut butter sandwiches, and often serves as a spokesman for the group, reported the Center for American Progress.

It seems the spirit of activism - and faith - is alive in this movement.