“Look, look!” The strangers around me were shouting and pointing. I spun around. From my position halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, I could see a large circle of light on the Verizon building, prominent in the New York City skyline. Inside the circle were three symbols that would have meant very little just three months earlier. But on that day, November 17, 2011, they were a beacon of hope and a cause for celebration, two nines and a percentage sign.
“We! Are! The ninety-nine percent!” We shouted in time to the flashing symbols as we took part in our protest march, delighting in this surprise subversion of corporate space. We laughed and cheered as the messages changed, scrolling through favorite chants. Finally the display reached its conclusion: Happy Birthday Occupy Wall Street! The social movement that had started with a motley crew of activists camping out in Zuccotti Park turned two months old that day.
The dose of joy was sorely needed. Two days earlier, I awoke to frantic messages on my phone. The police had arrived in the middle of the night and torn down the tent city I had come to love during my shifts with Protest Chaplains–NYC. I rushed down. The tents, kitchen, and library, the diverse and passionate crowds, were gone, revealing bare concrete guarded by police.
So we carried visceral anger and fresh sadness with us as we marched on November 17. Still, we celebrated. We celebrated because we knew we had already changed the world. The Occupy movement had shifted the national conversation about economic and political issues. We had encouraged folks to come together and live into their values in radical ways. So we celebrated our victories in the face of recent heartbreak and defeat.
We knew the road ahead would be rough. When Zuccotti was raided, the occupiers had become homeless. Still, we hoped. Our hope that night was not rooted in optimism for the future but in the reality of our powerful gathering. It grew from the certainty that we were standing on the side of love that night as we marched. It was nourished by the sense of connection we felt as we danced and sang and hooted with joy, the loving interconnection that sustains all life, that which I call God.
We must dare to hope and celebrate in that manner. We have faced disappointments and instances of defeat. We have seen the brokenness in individuals and social systems. And yet, we must celebrate. We must celebrate who we are and how we are changing lives, communities, laws, and society for the better.
When we celebrate our highest values and find that sacred hope within us, we are spiritually energized and driven in divine directions. We are moved toward one another, into loving interconnection, into deeper relationship with all that is holy.