Young Mennos ‘occupy’ Wall Street and Winnipeg

November 9, 2011 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent

Mennonites have a legacy of resisting the violent, unjust ways of government and the world. Some have registered as conscientious objectors, others have protested against the justice system, and others are currently protesting the corporate greed and inequality of the world’s financial systems.

This is exactly what Lyndon Froese has been doing for the past month—participating in the Occupy movement.

Occupy Wall Street began in the financial district of New York, N.Y., earlier this year when a group of people began demonstrations in Zuccotti Park, a private park owned by a Canadian property developer. Occupiers are protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and the undue influence of the world’s wealthiest over governments. This protest spurred similar Occupy protests worldwide.

Froese, a 26-year-old who grew up attending Springstein Mennonite Church, Man., spent a week in the middle of October in New York City sleeping on the sidewalk alongside 300 other Occupy Wall Street protesters that spend the night in the park.

Because Wall Street was where the Occupy movement started, Froese decided to go there to make the strongest statement of support he could.

Although he admits that he doesn’t have a good understanding of economics or politics, Froese says he believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement about the civil rights era: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Froese wanted to be part of “the good people” breaking through what the “appalling silence.”

“There are 300 people who are choosing to live on the street and they have no other plan other than to overhaul the entire political system,” he says. “They are questioning everything.”

And the Occupiers are not living comfortably, Froese notes from first-hand experience. The park has no toilets and tents are not allowed, according to Froese, who acknowledges that Occupiers sometimes relieve themselves in public, while others use the washroom in a nearby McDonald’s. They sleep on the street in sleeping bags with tarps to protect themselves from the snow and rain. They are living very uncomfortably with the belief that “you can and should take action on things you don’t like that you’re seeing in the world,” Froese says, all the while facing taunts from business people who work on Wall Street.

Froese was originally involved in Occupy Winnipeg, Man. He was there for the kick-off on Oct. 15 and even spoke, suggesting that the First Nations be involved in decision-making. He left for New York the next day.

Froese is not the only Mennonite participating in the Occupy movement.

Stephanie Coughlan Enns and Tim Coughlan, her husband, who also attend Springstein Mennonite, participated in Occupy Winnipeg by marching with the Occupiers on the first day of the movement.

Stephanie works as a social worker for Nor’West Co-op Community Health Centre in a poor area of Winnipeg, where she sees first-hand how the breakdown of democracy and the inequality of wealth has affected people there. “I am angered by the breakdown of democracy in this country,” she says.

Although the movement has been criticized for its lack of clarity, the fact that so many people can come together to say that something is wrong is a great start, Stephanie says. “Community development requires community involvement,” Tim adds.

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