Huffpost New York
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg Headshot

The Ghost of Tom Joad Comes to Occupy Wall Street

Posted: Updated:
Print

"I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this."

- John Steinbeck on The Grapes of Wrath

"Ever'body might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that a-way to me.
Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma,
That's where I'm a-gonna be.
Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
Wherever people ain't free.
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights,
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm a-gonna be."

- Tom Joad by Woody Guthrie

On Saturday morning, I arrived at Occupy Wall Street in New York at about 9:30. The rain and cold had started early and was already in full swing.

Shortly after I arrived, a swarm of young people, all dressed in black sweatshirts emblazoned with the words, "God Belongs in My City," came upon the encampment.

One explained to me that they were on a prayer walk, going from Battery Park to 42nd Street. There were too many for me to count but their website states that about 2,000 young people participate in the Manhattan prayer walk, which began in 2009.

At Occupy Wall Street, with the cold rain coming down, one yelled, "Mic check."

And then they prayed:

Today we pray in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and those who occupy the offices along Wall Street, Main Street, and every street.
We pray as Jesus taught His disciples:
"Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Our prayer aligns with the Gospel Jesus preached:
"The Kingdom of God is at hand."
The Kingdom He's building - on earth, not just in heaven - rests on a foundational mission:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor
... freedom for prisoners
... sight for the blind
... to release the oppressed, and
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
We embrace Jesus' Kingdom vision for a renewed New York City, nation, and world that restores justice for: the poor; the incarcerated; the sick and infirmed; the oppressed, put down, and neglected; the 600,000 children who cannot read or do math at grade level in our city's schools each year.
We embrace the Year of the Lord's Favor which proclaims jubilee justice that forgives debts and restores equities.
Not only for Wall Street bankers, but for developing nations and credit dependent New Yorkers.
Let us renew a vision - both as Christ followers and as New Yorkers - to create a more just city. Indeed, a more just world... In Christ's name we pray.

As an atheist -- and New Jerseyan -- I prayed with them.

Despite the unforgiving weather, passersby -- of all ages, ethnicities and races -- still stopped to drop money in the donation box, to ask questions, and to voice their support. Several students from England, who were on a school trip, came by to excitedly say how much they loved what we were doing. One asked if we accepted donations in pounds.

As the day wore on and the weather worsened, the spirit of generosity of strangers was contagious.

Without thinking I offered my umbrella to a camper who had none. Two campers in the McDonald's bathroom stayed with me, one holding my hand when I felt sick from the wet chill. The other insisted I take the gloves that had been donated to her, claiming she didn't need them. As I crouched on the floor, trying to warm up, a woman wearing an SEIU jacket asked if I needed a coffee and made sure to tell me about the Harry Belafonte movie her union was showing for us. Never has a McDonald's bathroom felt so much like home.

Back at the camp, two women stopped and asked if I and another protester had any kids there. "No," we replied.

They had candy for us and handed over a bag of chocolate goodness. We handed out the candy, along with hand warmers, emergency blankets, and dry socks, to the brave campers inside their tents. To those two women -- If you're reading this, the candy always received the most gleeful response. Thank you.

At the comfort station people came to donate blankets, shoes, socks, and clothes, while others lined up to get the supplies they needed.

Later on, I returned to McDonald's, this time to help another protester carry hot coffee and sandwiches back to some campers. While in line, a camper from New Orleans asked if he could buy her a cup of coffee. Of course he would. He insisted on buying me a hot chocolate and giving me hand warmers. I told him I couldn't take the hand warmers, I wasn't camping out, I would be going home soon. Those hand warmers, I said, were a "hot commodity."

"They're not a commodity," he replied and opened the packet, handing them to me.

I thought about the word I used -- commodity -- and what drew me to Occupy Wall Street. We've accepted that certain rights in our country -- the right to a home, to good food, to education, to health care, to childcare, to a career, to leisure, to retirement -- are commodities to be bought and sold, are privileges awarded to those with enough money to afford them. I am a part of Occupy Wall Street because these are rights that should be guaranteed to every person simply by virtue of their humanity -- and our own.

Some have asked to know the demands, to know the plan, to know the schedule of this unfolding revolution. I don't know those answers. All I know, is that, like Tom Joad, we see inequality hanging in the air, and so, this is where we're gonna be.