10 Right Ways to “Occupy”

How to take personal action toward economic change, minus the picket signs.

There is value in protest. But protest doesn’t always look like taking up residence in a tent city, standing on a street corner with scrawled signs. (Although, I admit it: I like that, too.) Yes, the Occupy Wall Street protests have ignited a much-needed discussion about our economic systems ... but now what?

I am a simple living wannabe. I have a mortgage, three tinies and a habit of wandering aimlessly through Pinterest as a cheap form of therapy. But I also want to be a part of a new economy by living a better and more redemptive truth with my money.

As I wrote for RELEVANT recently, if there is a greater purpose to Occupy Wall Street, then perhaps it is this: A call to repentance and change for us all. Perhaps this is our time, as the Church, to speak boldly about the worth and value of people, made in the image of God even in our economic systems. As Fr. Richard Rohr wrote, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.

Here are a few actions that I would like to hold up for your consideration and conversation as we seek to make economic choices that affirm our personhood in Christ and our countercultural values.

1. Fire your bail-out bank and move your money to a credit union. The credit union model is the most ethical system I've found yet to handle our finances and ensure that we are part of a movement that puts people before profits. Credit unions are typically local and unique to your community.  Every member is able to vote on major decisions, the board is elected by the membership, profits are reinvested back into the communities where we live and work, and it is co-operative grassroots economics.

2. Make things ... We live in a convenience driven, throw-away culture. We’ve lost our connection not only to the seasons and the land but to each other and the work of our hands. A few years ago, I learned to knit in a run-down local yarn shop. Now when I knit sweaters or hats for my friends and my tinies, I find there is prayer in every stitch. Handmade work is creative and life-giving, unique and desirable, not menial and degrading. Work can be a partnership of co-creation, perhaps as it was meant to be all along. My home may not look like an HGTV model with our homemade furniture, quilts and handknits, but oh, it makes me happy.

3. ... or buy handmade. I make many of my purchases at big-box stores for the same reason as everyone else: price, convenience and selection. However, I do try to give my business to handmade artists. Mr Gigantic Discount Retailer won’t miss my money, but my purchases could make a real difference for the woman selling jewelry in Rwanda to put her daughter through school.

4. Put the government out of business wherever you can. If it is not the government’s job to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister life to the wounded, then perhaps it is time for us to prove it. I find this deeply challenging, but I try to find ways to gather around the ones in need in our church and community in real, tangible ways. I want to be the hands and feet of God, making space for His way of loving people one-by-one. I much prefer the organic life of God, the yeast in the bread of life, handed out freely. Stuffing food bins for the poor. Helping out-of-work friends with résumés and contacts. Collecting coats for the homeless when the weather gets cold. Making meals for my neighbor who is sick or even offering a night of babysitting to young parents.

5. Manage money responsibly. It seems there is always more money left at the end of the month in this stage of our life: that aforementioned mortgage, three tinies, one moderate income, a high cost of living. We are asking ourselves hard questions about all of it, still deciding how to best live our values in this area. But here it is: I want to live simply and I want the stress of money removed so we are free to give and live and move where God leads. We are learning to be prudent and disciplined (never very popular words, are they?), living on a budget to save, to pay off our debts, reduce our cost of living. I’m not that interested in piling up loot, but I do want the freedom that comes from discipline.

6. Repent of our own selfishness, greed and consumerism; believe that we have enough. We are convinced we always need more in our culture: more space, more food, more money, more clothes, more things (or nicer versions of what we do have). We tend to form our identity by what we own instead of who we are. But what if we believed we have enough? Contentment is a beautiful, radical virtue of the Christian faith and so perhaps we, too, need to repent along with the system.

7. Listen to stories of economic inequality and powerlessness. There are many that dismiss the Occupy Wall Street protests as a bunch of spoiled, jobless socialists. But this is not usually true, and sometimes the first step to any useful change is to listen. Listen to the other, listen to the stories of people, real people, in your neighborhood, in your family, in your city and tune our ears to our brothers and sisters around the world. Listening is a form of loving and may lead you to meaningful action.

8. Address systemic inequalities. I do have problems with our economic system, such as the weird relationship between corporations, lobbyists and our governments on everything from food to the environment to banking to housing to health care. I believe there is much in our current system that can—and should—change. And as much as it matters what I do with my own small corner of control, it also matters that I lend my voice to the collective advocating for change.

9. Sponsor a child. I’ve been convinced of the child sponsorship model by reputable NGOs like World Vision and Compassion International to make a difference in the lives of children, their families and their communities directly. Consider sponsoring to lift them out of poverty, yes, but also consider committing to write letters, send photos or drawings, to pray for one another.

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10. Be a giver, not a consumer. Whether you feel strongly about tithing an exact 10 percent or not, a suggestion or a commandment, whether it goes to people as you feel led or directly to an official nonprofit status ministry, just do it. Give away some of your money, on purpose, consistently.

There are many of you much further along in this journey of redemptive economics, and we all look forward to your wisdom in the comment section below. There are many ways to live a better economic truth.

Sarah Styles Bessey is a nonprofit marketing director, writer andsimple living/social justice wannabe. She lives in Abbotsford, BritishColumbia, with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.emergingmummy.com. 



i occupy commented…

I appreciate the article as a person of faith and as an activist. The OWS movement is important and has its place and has started a national and global conversation - the nation needs change - it starts on personal levels and hopefully will have an effect on the larger picture. Many of your calls to actions are the same calls to action that the OWS movement has urged and supports. I have been very involved with the Occupy Movement. I have been in planning meetings, OWS Outreach events, training sessions, General Assemblies, I've handed out OWS newspapers and fliers, I've occupied overnight, I marched on Wall St. I held a sign high, I marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. I have sought God on the issue of my personal involvement. *There are some very practical ways to cited in your article for those who don't feel urged to occupy or hold a sign to still protest. WE ARE THE 99%


Robtreppendahl commented…

Sarah, well written article. This reminds me of the Ghandi quote, "Be the Change you wish to see in the World." Small steps taken by individuals can move toward redeeming this world and claiming it for the Kingdom. Matthew 24 says the gospel will be preached to All Nations, but the question that we have to ask ourselves is: Will we be a part of this movement? Through actions like the ones you suggested we can move forward, in practical daily ways to claim the Kingdom for Christ and help advance the Gospel to the ends of the earth.


LIbuffaloinCincy commented…

Thought it was a great read. Thanks Sarah.



Rebekah commented…

I think what the essence of what Sarah was trying to express with point #4 is in response to a common reply of, "It's not the government's job." Her point there, I believe, is, "If it is not the governments job ... then perhaps it is time for us to prove it" by going out there and DOING something.
Instead of just saying things, start doing something, act on what you are saying, what you believe. This is a call to action, a call to integrity: do the things you say should be done when it is possible for you to do so.

Richard Jamieson Woerner


Richard Jamieson Woerner commented…

Sister Sarah, Thanks for your contribution, However quietism is not the answer. OWS was a critique of deep structural problems (the finanacialization of the US economy, wage stagnation, unemployment/ underemployment, government bailouts and the failure of regulatory agencies ...) The only way to address systemic issues is broad social movements that hold our institution accountable. Sorry Sister, but civil rights advancements weren't made by thoughtful well-wisher, standing by the sidelines of history, but courageous men and women, who organized and jump faithfully into the fray, some paying the ultimate price.
I agreed with your points (and practice most of them myself), however they are by no means an alternative to social action ( or the "right way to Occupy")
Your thesis is fundamentally flawed because it limits the ultimate horizon of social action. Behind your micro-politics is a late-modern dispair that conceeds the field to the powerful. I would encourage you sister to not be afraid to plant your tent pegs in "enemy" territory, we need people like you, peace.

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