Occupy Dallas: Thanks for Your Witness

 “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

Just a short blog today to publicly thank the folks at Occupy Dallas for organizing a march in support of the Dallas Police, and to offer some brief reflections on it.

As you may have heard, 23 members of Occupy Dallas were arrested Tuesday, in front of a downtown Chase Bank location for blocking customer access to the bank. They were charge with disorderly conduct, and held overnight.

I recognize that not everyone will be supportive of that kind of direct action, and might question that tactic. But one of the long and proud traditions of American civil dissent is non-violent protest that ends in arrest.

As some will recall, I’ve marched with Occupy Dallas several times now. (Two previous blogs here and here). Tuesday, I visited the camp for about an hour, just as people were returning from the arrest scene, just to listen to folks and help them process what had happened that day.

While I was not at the Chase Bank, by all accounts it was peaceful and non-violent. Those involved accepted the fact that their actions might lead to their arrest, and they spent the night in jail. And as I was leaving the camp to go to my home Tuesday night, some of the Occupy “brothers and sisters” were preparing to walk back over to the Lew Sterrett  jail, to sleep outside, holding vigil, in honor of their jailed colleagues that night.

It’s clear to me those who were arrested were:
— Drawing attention to their cause.
— Engaging in a non-violent direct action
— Accepting the consequence of arrest, should it come.

So, that was Tuesday.

But it’s what happened today that I found most remarkable. Every day at noon, the Occupy Dallas folks engage in some kind of protest or demonstration.
Today’s demonstration?

A march in support of the Dallas Police Department.

That’s right, people who were arrested less than two days prior, marched through the streets of downtown Dallas, ending at DPD headquarters on South Lamar. They shouted chants and held signs, in support of the Dallas Police. Here‘s how Channel 5 covered it beforehand. (I’ll add more links later if there’s news coverage later today…)

They held signs in support of higher police pay, against slashing police budgets, thanking the police for their protection in the downtown park.

And, most effectively, they made the point that the police are also among the 99%. Far from being “anti-police,” they are supportive of the police, and understand that officers must enforce the law, even as members of their group choose to break it.

I must say, I was deeply impressed when I heard that this was their plan today. So I headed downtown and joined them, “in solidarity.” It was mid-day, and so the crowd was much smaller than either the day-one march, or the Saturday marches.

The route went through downtown –across Main Street, and then back down Lamar, crossing into “SouthSide”– ending on the steps of Police headquarters. It was extremely peaceful, and police officers on bikes accompanied us the entire way.
 (BTW, just before we got to DPD, I stopped for a moment to chat with Bill Wisener, front of “Bill’s Records.” As many will know, Bill’s a legend, and I’d heard he’s been sick lately. He was our front, smoking a cigarette (anybody surprised?) and watching the protest go by. So I stopped to say “hey.” Get better soon, Bill!)

Outside DPD, listening to stories of the some of the arrested

After a brief speech in front of Police headquarters, the Occupy folks looked over to the side of the entrance plaza, and there were half a dozen officers on bikes. Most of them had followed the protesters through the streets of downtown.

So, as a group, the Occupy Dallas folks moved in front of the officers, who stood motionless in position, making for this really beautiful shot:

I then captured a little video of the scene:

 Indeed. That is EXACTLY what solidarity looks like. And it was a beautiful thing.

I wanted to support this particular march by Occupy Dallas, because I believe they conducted according to the best of the non-violent tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Like Occupy Dallas, Dr. King understood that participating in non-violent direct action might lead to arrest. He encouraged his followers to be ready for it. Let we forget, this Christian minister and Civil Rights leader chose to be arrested many times, to protest the injustice of his day.

That’s what Occupy Dallas was doing Tuesday –protesting economic injustice– when some of their group chose to be arrested. Again, some may not agree with this tactic. But it’s certainly a defendable form of free expression in our nation, and I understand the societal issues that led them to make that choice.

What’s most moving to me, however, is to see them supporting the very folks who arrested them two days ago.

By citing the words of Jesus at the beginning of this blog, I do not intend to suggest that the police and the Occupy folk are “enemies.” In fact, I would bet both sides would reject that label. But, certainly, it’s been a week of conflict between the two. So, to see them shouting slogans of support for the police department shows that they understand the police were, in fact, simply doing their job.

And, let me briefly also thank the police too. As we see disturbing images from Oakland today, it’s important to give thanks for the restraint and professionalism of the Dallas Police. Some months back, I had an interesting discussion with a friend about a possible “limit” he saw to the effectiveness of non-violent protest and principle. This friend suggested that, in certain societies –especially with authoritarian regimes or a lack of free speech and assembly laws– it is could be argued that non-violence, as a strategy, cannot work. Or, at the very least, that a commitment to it might involve the willingness to accept injury or death.

I think that’s a cautionary point worth remembering. The rights to assemble, protest, picket, and even make the choice for civil disobedience to written laws, are all a part of our society’s fabric. Oakland and other places have pointed to far more unfortunate outcomes, reminding us that no behavior –on the part of marchers or police– are ever guaranteed ahead of time. Professionalism, training, and sticking to principles are crucially important for everybody.

Thus far, the DPD is clearly respecting the rights of free speech and assembly, while also enforcing the law; as is their calling. So, although this blog started out, intending to thank the protestors for thinking up this march, the police are also acting in a way that makes me proud of my city.

When I got back to my office, I found a book waiting for me that a Northaven member had promised to bring by, when he learned I’d been marching with the Occupy Dallas folks.

It’s a copy of a book by Dr. King, written late in his life. In his final years, Dr. King came to understand that economic issues were as important as racial ones. Poverty and economic justice, Dr. King suggested,  had as much to do with the future success of whites and blacks alike than racial justice alone.

That’s a big part of what I’m hearing in the “Occupy” movement. In fact, it’s sort of like a return to the late 1960s, when Dr. King was increasingly organizing marches to support the poor. This current movement is mostly made up of good hearted folks who desire to see more fairness throughout our economic system for all of the 99%.

Dr. King also understood, powerfully, that actions in love had far more power than actions in hate or anger. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was running through my head today:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

I commend Occupy Dallas for today’s march, and hope others, within the movement and our society, will be inspired by their witness.

(As always, if you like this post, then “like it”  or “share it” on Facebook by clicking the box below, or send it to your friends…so others can see too…and leave a comment…EF)  

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

2 thoughts on “Occupy Dallas: Thanks for Your Witness

  1. Thank you for your support of Occupy Dallas. I have been reading your blog posts and it is heartening to see other people of faith also supporting the Occupy movement. I was down there several times working and donating supplies, and I hope after the recent fiasco they will regroup, as the Occupiers have done elsewhere. I, too, find the Occupy movement a source of inspiration and hope.

  2. I feel certain that they would. When I left them last night, about 6 pm, they were meeting to decide what their next moves would be.What I fear is that they not move away from a stance of non-violence. I've been strongly encouraging them to continue on the path of non-violence…but they are angry right now. Understandably so.I think they will, but it's hard to know how humans will respond in every situation.

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