Given that lawyers for Occupy Dallas and the Dallas City Attorney are meeting tomorrow, I have written Mayor Rawlings to express my own views, and I thought I would share them here…EF
Dear Mayor Rawlings,
For some weeks, I have been visiting the “Occupy Dallas” encampment in an attempt to offer spiritual advice and counsel to the persons there. Knowing that city attorneys and lawyers representing the group are meeting in the morning, and given the increasing tension between the city and the “occupiers,” I feel the need to write you tonight.
First, I’d like to compliment the city on its handling of the movement so far. Secondly, I’d like to strongly urge you to continue the current course of action. And finally, I’ll offer a few brief thoughts on the movement itself.
Before all this, I urge you to consider the place that the “Occupy” movement is likely to eventually have in our society, our future history, and your legacy as mayor. My own view is that we are in the midst of a churning social movement that is likely to be remembered for years. Whether or not the occupiers themselves are individually remembered, whether their encampments are remembered, they have already changed the nature of debate in our society, regarding issues of economics and social justice, and their movement is very likely to be remembered positively as a catalyst to broad social change.
Given this, Dallas City officials, and officials in every American city, have a choice on how they will be remembered by history. I therefore urge you to carefully consider how decisions you may make in the next few days will be seen in the light of this longterm and historical view. These decisions will be a part of how you, and every other American mayor in our time, will be remembered.
With that caution out of the way, I would like to congratulate you on how the city has handled the “Occupy” movement up to now. The willingness to negotiate with the group has set Dallas apart from many of the other occupy movements nationwide. I have heard many friends around the country compliment Dallas on its measured response thus far. All of that credit goes to you, city staff, and police. Thank you.
And I want to challenge you to consider that by allowing the agreement to run its course through mid December, Dallas still has the chance to set itself, head and shoulders above every other major American city, in terms of its willingness to tolerate challenging social dissent without dramatic violence.
Continuing the agreement will set Dallas apart in a way that, in the long lens of history, past these next few weeks, will bring great credit to you and your administration forever.
Occupy Dallas is clearly a part of a broad-bases social movement taking place in our nation today. Perhaps many people do not share their tactics. I certainly do not agree with every one of their goals. However, many people do broadly share their concern about corporate greed, government corruption, and the need for justice for average Americans.
For example, a majority of our membership at Northaven United Methodist (you visited our church during one of the many mayoral debates during the campaign) would support the justice-based themes of the “Occupy Dallas” movement. Several of our members, myself included, have joined them for their marches these past few weeks. (I was especially proud to march with them in their march supporting the Dallas Police).
Dissent, protest, and even non-violent civil disobedience is a powerful part of our American tradition. As General Colin Powell said recently of the “occupiers,” this kind of protest is “as American as apple pie.”
Despite high-profile incidents which everyone deeply grieves, I believe that “Occupy Dallas” has remained faithful to the broad outlines of their agreement. Being a nonhierarchical movement, I urge you to understand that compliance in every single instance will be extremely challenging to them. Being a group that, almost by definition, challenges authority, this should be expected.
But during my many visits to the camp, I have found it clean, sanitary, and orderly. In fact, I regularly camp for weeks at a time myself, and I find their camp to be far more orderly and clean than most campsites. And I have found a sincere willingness on the part of the majority of the campers to abide by the agreement, and to work with the city. This may not be what you are hearing, but it certainly what I have observed.
As you have no doubt heard, there are a certain number of homeless persons who have blended in with the original protestors, and this has remained huge security challenge for the group.
But I believe they continue to act in good faith.
Finally, as a pastor, let me urge you to consider the “unintended consequence” that clearing the camp group might actually bring about. As you may have seen in other places around the country, cities that have taken action against “occupiers” have discovered that the movements have actually *grown.* After the encampments have been taken down, city officials have seen them re-sprout, have seen arrests skyrocket, and observed the total number of demonstrators dramatically increase.
My strong belief is that any “crackdown” against “Occupy Dallas” would net a similar result. The small number of tents you see now would likely be replaced by far angrier, and numerous, replacements in their wake. I urge you to consider this likelihood as you assess the city’s response over the next few weeks.
Recognizing that none of these decisions are easy, that you have broad public safety and fiscal issues to consider, I do not at all take lightly the pressures you are under. So, I continue to pray for you, for the City Manager, and for the City Council. (And I am copying them on this message tonight…)
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to be of any assistance. I would be pleased to talk in person with anyone about this, and can provide a cell phone if that would be helpful. God bless you all.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Eric Folkerth
Northaven United Methodist Church
11211 Preston Road
Dallas, TX 75230
(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)