Occupy 2.0? Church leaders join movement

Activist Benjamin Chavis listens as Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant tells why black pastors are joining the Occupy movement.

Story highlights

  • A group of African-American church leaders announce they'll join the Occupy movement
  • "We are occupying until poverty is eradicated," says pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant
  • The two groups plan to gather during a national "day of action" scheduled for January 16

A group of African-American church leaders announced Wednesday their intention to join ranks with the Occupy movement in the nation's capital, bolstering what some consider a mutual message of condemning income inequality and social injustice.

The move comes against the backdrop of evictions of Occupy protesters encamped in city parks and squares across the United States, raising questions about whether the two groups can capitalize on momentum gained by the months-long movement.

"We are occupying until poverty is eradicated," pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, near where a core group of activists remains encamped.

The two groups plan to gather during a national "day of action" scheduled for January 16, set to coincide with the commemoration of former civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

But could Wednesday's announcement signify that Occupy is now shifting toward more established forms of influence?

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"Every successful movement begins with a grievance and turns into an agenda," said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

By linking up with black church leaders, he said, the group can tap into a community with years of experience in social movements.

Since September, activists have gathered to draw attention to corporate greed and the excesses of the so-called 1%, a reference to the nation's elite, who protesters say wield disproportionate influence over the rest of the country.

Their message, though popular, has also been criticized for its lack of focus.

But on Wednesday, church leaders outlined a more specific call to lawmakers, asking for a moratorium on foreclosures, an increase in federal Pell grants to students and added national funding for job training.

In past months demonstrators have largely shunned established political figures, wary of being co-opted by outside influence. And yet outside groups have largely been involved, swelling demonstrator marches with union ranks in cities like New York, where activists first encamped in a lower Manhattan park.

"When they had physical spaces, then the point was to be there," added Galston of the encampments. "But the movement has to move from occupation to something else."

Last month, authorities in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia dismantled tents and arrested protesters who refused to leave city parks and squares.

On Saturday, police arrested 46 people in Boston, sweeping through a downtown square to evict people rooted there since late September.

"I think there is a danger" the movement could lose momentum without these physical spaces, said Elisabeth Jacobs, a Brookings fellow in governance studies. "But I'm not sure that it's a foregone conclusion.

"There's a pretty lively Web space for this community."

But whether the movement can evolve into an "Occupy 2.0" could be key to its survival as a relevant social movement in the months and years ahead.

That evolution may also require adopting more institutional forms of influence, such as lobbying and use of the courts, which protesters have often labeled corrupt.

"People might be a little frustrated that the movement is taking a new shape," Jacobs said. But with the loss of landmark encampments in places like Manhattan's Zuccotti Park and Boston's Dewey Square, "I'm not sure what they're actually trying to accomplish if they don't adapt."

The group's Twitter feed, meanwhile, remained abuzz with online activity on Wednesday.

"How do we take back our govt from corrupt and incompetent elected officials?" read one post.

"Keep the dream ALIVE," read another.